A fire hose reel is part of the specialized equipment used to extinguish fires. Firefighters use these reels to quickly distribute fire hoses from their equipment trucks at the site of a blaze. Another kind of fire hose reel is part of the standard safety gear in many buildings. Properly used, fire hose reels prevent water hoses from tangling and allow the hoses to be carried in any direction. The attached hoses can apply water to a blaze even if most of the hose is still wound around the reel.
Firefighting dates to ancient Rome, but the fire hose is a relatively recent invention, first used for this purpose in the 1600s. Advances in engineering and technology made firefighting equipment smaller, lighter, and safer throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. A major challenge during this time involved water hoses; firefighters needed hundreds of feet of heavy, unwieldy hose that could be aimed at the site of a fire within minutes of an alarm. The fire hose reel solved this problem, allowing collapsible hoses to be stored in a compact area and then extended immediately when needed. Fire trucks still use these specialized reels in modern times.
A fire hose reel allows a fire hose to be collapsed or coiled for easy storage. The central spool is engineered to accept the hose without tangling. A built-in guide will sometimes be included to make hose extension easier, and the entire reel assembly often swings out on an attached arm so the hose can be carried in any direction. The end of the hose is attached to a water supply. Water can be directed toward a blaze no matter how much how of the hose has been extended and controlled with a handle and valve in the nozzle.
The fire hose reel is most common on fire equipment trucks. Another version is found in offices and other large buildings. This reel is generally attached to a wall or stored in a recess in a wall and plainly labeled. In the event of a fire, any person can extend the hose, causing an automatic valve to divert pressurized water from the building’s water supply through use of a fire pump. The nozzle of the fire hose contains a specialized valve, called a ball valve, allowing the user to control the direction and amount of water and sometimes the force of the spray.
The fire hose reel is a common sight, especially in skyscrapers. Tall buildings require their own fire safety systems because of the challenge of reaching high-rise blazes with standard firefighting equipment. Hose reels frequently appear in movies, television, and cartoons, often put to a different use than fighting fires. In the 1988 movie thriller Die Hard, Bruce Willis’ character uses a fire hose and reel as an improvised safety rope to escape a rooftop explosion. Peter O’Toole’s drunken swashbuckler makes similar use of a fire hose reel for comic effect in 1982’s My Favorite Year.