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Electronics and Fire Pumps: Modern vs. Traditional

By Alan M. Petrillo

Electronics have changed the look of today’s fire apparatus in many ways and continue to do so with new ways to control the pump at the pump panel.

Pump makers and apparatus manufacturers are using electronics in ways that continue to satisfy those with traditional tastes in fire pumps, as well as those who trend toward more modern pushbutton and touchscreen technologies.

Total Pressure

Class 1/Hale’s electronics line includes the Total Pressure
Governor Plus (TPG+) that automatically controls discharge
pressures, eliminates the need for master and discharge gauges,
and monitors engine functions and data. (Photo courtesy of Class
1.)

 

Gaining Acceptance

David Guynn, business line director of vehicle electronics for Class 1, says that although it’s no secret the North American fire industry lags behind the rest of the world in terms of its comfort level with electronics on fire apparatus, the industry has still made large leaps in electronics use. “Twenty years ago an electronic pressure governor was a product that an apparatus maker put on a fire truck only if the fire department said it wanted one,” Guynn says. “Today, 90 percent of the fire vehicles being built have an electronic pressure governor on them-so much that it has become the default standard.”

Guynn believes that a combination of factors has led to the wider acceptance of electronics on fire apparatus. “A lot of younger firefighters coming into the industry are more in tune with using electronics,” he says. “The industry has gained a lot of reliability in its products, and the value of the cost of electronics over the old vernier throttle has risen.”

Sentry

The next evolution of the pressure
governor from Class 1/Hale is the Sentry,
which uses full color display technology
and can control a pump from multiple
locations. (Photo courtesy of Class 1.)

 

Class 1’s electronics line includes the Total Pressure Governor (TPG), used to automatically control the impact on discharge pressure as firefighters open and close various hoselines rather than an operator manually adjusting engine speed. The TPG also accommodates preset pressures and monitors engine oil pressure and temperature, battery voltage, as well as intake and discharge pressures on all valves.

Guynn says the Class 1 TPG Plus adds more diagnostic features and eliminates the need for six-inch master and discharge gauges because all that information is shown in a display window. “The next evolution of the pressure governor is the Sentry, which uses full color display technology,” he points out. “With Sentry, you can control the pump from various locations so that if you have a side-mount pump, you can have the same Sentry display on each side of the truck and can dictate which side controls the vehicle.”

Steve Toren, director of North American sales and marketing for Waterous, says he sees electronics continuing to become a bigger part of the fire service. “As electronics became more efficient, reliable, and durable, they were better accepted in the fire service,” Toren notes. “I’m surprised the use of electronics hasn’t moved faster but think the economy slowed down the use of electronics in fire vehicles.”

Most of the products that Waterous makes are electronically controlled, especially its foam control systems and the OneStep compressed air foam system (CAFS), Toren says. “The programmable logic controller (PLC) handles all the functions such as a pump’s foam proportion control where you hit a button to flow a certain amount of foam and water to your preset,” he points out. “With OneStep, the PLC controls electric valves to adjust the right amount of air, water, and foam for a perfect and efficient mix.”

OneStep for compressed air foam systems

Waterous makes a number of electronically controlled products,
including the OneStep for compressed air foam systems. OneStep
is available in display controllers in seven-, 10½-, and 15-inch
sizes. (Photo courtesy of Waterous.)

 

Consolidating Control

Toh Meng, president of FRC, a division of ROM Corp., says that FRC was the first company to introduce an electronic pressure governor for a fire pump in 1972-at a time when all governors were mechanical. In the late 1980s, he says, FRC built the first electronic pressure governor for electronic engines.

“Early on, the unit was called the ElectroGovernor,” Meng says. “But, now we have various types of electronic pressure governors, with the two most popular being InControl and the Pump Boss. InControl has a display for intake and discharge pressures and other information and is very compact, so it saves panel space. The Pump Boss uses analog gauges because some customers prefer that type of display.”

InControl 400

InControl 400 is one of FRC’s most popular electronic pressure
governors, displaying intake and discharge pressures along with
other pump and engine information in a compact space. (Photo
courtesy of FRC.)

 

Meng says he envisions an electronic controller that integrates all pump and engine controls into a single controller in the near future. “Different companies make controllers that handle the human interface differently, so an operator has to be aware of those differences,” Meng says. “FRC has been working on this for two years to integrate all those controls, but some hardware still is not ready for the harsh environments, like cold and hot temperatures and lots of water, that are found on a fire truck.”

FRC manufactures an LED screen concept to display all the electronic pump and engine functions, a 24-inch screen version displaying data from the electronic pressure governor, electric valves, water tank, foam tank, the vehicle’s engine, flowmeters, and camera images. “The biggest challenge is the hardware itself,” Meng observes. “It has to be able to handle the environment.”

For Pierce’s Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC) pump, the company uses an electronic pressure governor it developed with FRC. “The pressure governor is what drives the heart of the system, so you need bulletproof transducers to monitor intake and discharge pressures,” Chad Trinkner, director of product management, aerials, pumpers, and fire suppression for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., points out. “FRC took our vision of what we wanted in an electronic pressure governor and made it happen, which developed into our proprietary model.”

Pump Boss electronic pressure governor

FRC makes the Pump Boss electronic pressure
governor that uses analog gauges for
departments that prefer a more traditional look
on the pump panel. (Photo courtesy of FRC.)

 

Wireless Control

Kyle Darley, a design engineer for Darley Co., says his firm is working on a system to wirelessly control a pump’s flow intake and discharge as well as the engine speed. “Any connection to the Internet will allow the app to interface with the pump,” Darley says. “The system also can monitor service issues, such as if you are running low on fuel or any element that can shorten run time or potentially harm the pump.” At this point, the app would not be able to control individual valves, Darley notes.

“We currently have the capability to monitor and do diagnostics and maintenance points on a pump that’s operating half the country away,” Darley points out. “We also can remotely start, stop, operate, or shut a pump down. We even can put it into a relay state and have a GPS map of all the pumps in an area so we could control them all from the single device.”

Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC) pump

Pierce Manufacturing uses a proprietary electronic pressure governor
to control its Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC) pump. (Photo
courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

 

Presently, the application is being used outside of the fire service-for water transfer and the oil and gas industry, Darley says. But, he adds that the app can easily be applied to fire pumps. “We’ll be able to develop the opportunity to couple monitor flows together and have servo motors to position the nozzle spray,” Darley says. “In the near future we will be able to gate the pump discharge flow and modify the engine rpm to change pump pressure.”

Guynn also believes in consolidation of various components on the pump panel into a display. Class 1 introduced the UltraView 700 display last year that controls multiple valves and intakes, as well as the entire electrical system on a fire apparatus. “The next thing we’re looking at is to get specific information directly from the pump, which is where wireless technology would come in,” he says. “You would use an iPhone to dial into a truck wirelessly and get the pump pressure, heat, flow, water and foam levels, and even the location of the vehicle. There’s also a maintenance piece to the system where it can download critical information from the vehicle about the engine, pump hours, water used, and diagnostic data.”

CANBUS Control

Scott Oyen, vice president of sales at Rosenbauer, which makes the N series single-stage and NH series multistage pumps for its fire apparatus, says his company uses programming that is handled by a vehicle’s CANBUS controller for many applications, including Rosenbauer’s GreenStar vehicles and all its Smart Aerial features.

“We buy standard CAN-based hardware and write the code that goes into its computer to control other CAN or nonCAN-based devices,” Oyen says. “For instance, controlling the chassis engine or the pump is feasible using a CAN-based touchscreen where you control the engine rpm, the electronic pressure governor, and the electric control valves.”

Oyen says the North American fire industry is one of the last in the world to adopt CAN-based control technology on a wide basis. “It’s taking a much stronger hold in Rosenbauer’s world and is amazing at what it can do,” he says. “Joystick controls on aerials are CAN-based, as are touchscreens on all our apparatus and remote controls. I think it won’t be long before we will be able to use an iPad or iPhone to run a pump.”

Steve Schultz, chief engineer for Darley Co.’s fire truck division, agrees that electronics are poised to play a much bigger role in controlling fire apparatus. “Electronics have changed how fire pumps operate, although they haven’t changed the pumps themselves,” Schultz says. “The crux of the system is the electronic pressure governor itself, which controls the engine speed electronically instead of with a mechanical vernier throttle.”

Trinkner notes that centrifugal pumps “have been around for 100 years and are bulletproof. But, we want to make their interface as smooth as possible, and electronics allow for simplified use.”

Smart Aerial controller

In the future, all CAN-based functions on a fire apparatus-the
pump, vehicle engine, and ladder-might be accessed by a single
control station, similar to this Smart Aerial controller on a
Rosenbauer quint. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

 

Electronics’ Future

Trinkner notes that electronic pressure governors have become “the lifeline between the pump and the vehicle where the operator is aware of coolant temperature, fuel level, battery voltage, as well as pump information on rpm, pressure, discharges, and intakes.” He sees a touchscreen with a single interface on the horizon for fire apparatus. “I think we’re five to seven years away from allowing that touchscreen to completely operate the pump,” he observes.

Toren thinks that electronics have a future to involve more pump functions through use of PLCs. “You’ll see PLCs used for overheating protection, pressure management, priming, shifting, and vacuum readings,” he says. “That information will be readily available to a pump operator on a touchscreen. It becomes a computer on the pump panel.”


ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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