In my opinion the most important person on a hoseline is the layout man.
Some departments staff 3 to an engine, meaning there is no layout man unless the Officer goes back down the line to make things right.
We run 4 to an engine and for good reason: You need 4 people to mount an effective primary fire attack.
Driver/Engineer: Operates fire apparatus, engages and monitors pump and water supply. Good so far, we have a way of getting water into the hoses, that’s a plus.
Officer: In command of the team. Calls for type, length of hose and where it is to be deployed.
Nozzleman: Operates the valve at the end of the hose, points it at the fire. Really more complicated then that, I know, but than again, so is…
Layout: Ensure the hose is properly deployed from the apparatus and unkinked entering the building. Follow the attack team around corners, untangling and advancing line as needed. Block open doors and move furniture so that when the line is charged it isn’t trapped under something. Stay back from the firefight to pull line back so the nozzle team can redeploy to another location without standing on a load of spaghetti in the hallway. And, possibly THE most important role of the layout position is to slow additional responding companies if conditions are unsafe ahead of you.
Even though the Officer has a good view of the seat of the fire, and a good officer knows the conditions around them, they can’t see what the layout person sees. From a safe distance, possibly at a corner, ready to pull hose while the nozzle gets the “glory,” the layout can scout conditions in other rooms and maybe even get some ceiling fall on them when the truck cuts a nice hole.
The layout knows all the trouble spots that line may encounter if it needs to move through that area again. The first two folks through had their attentions elsewhere.
The layout is also the one who will be assisting the nozzle team should the conditions warrant an evacuation. From that position you know where the exits are, not just where the line goes out, but also rooms of refuge, should they be needed.
When the fire is out and overhaul continues, the layout man needs to make sure that line is still available to knock down hot spots in the ceiling and walls by looping it into an unburnt room and placing the nozzle, with nozzleman still attached in a position to redeploy if necessary.
We should never leave the engine without a tool of some kind, but as the layout we need full flexibility so a sheathed axe can really get in the way. A pump can can also get in the way but makes an excellent door chock and point of no return doorway device. That little can can keep an advancing fire from getting through a doorway if teams are retreating behind you for at least 2-3 minutes when used properly. So what to bring?
Depends on construction, location of fire and your Department’s SOPs. A cop out answer I know, but the truth.
So next time someone else “grabs” the nozzle, remember that they have it easy, now you’ve got the most important spot on the hose line. If the fire goes out you did your job right.
Now get those kinks out and feed line up to the third floor!