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The Rig: Specifying the Perfect Pumper

By Bill Adams

Many pundits who talk and write about fire apparatus purchasing specifications will astutely and sometimes subtly promote personal agendas. It’s generally accepted. Safety gurus spell out every mandatory, recommended, and desired criterion for firefighters’ well-being. That’s admirable. Maintenance and repair-orientated writers may emphasize more about providing service after the sale than they do in specifying quality components (less likely to require fixing) before the sale. That’s awkward. Legal beagles put the fear of litigation into purchasers when addressing accountability, responsibility, and liability. That can be demoralizing. Commentators affiliated with the apparatus industry find it hard not to promote employers’ preferences such as why one material is better than another or which method of construction is superior. That’s expected. Fire service members may expound on their own fire departments’ partiality for, as example, top-mount vs. side-mount pump panels or single-stage vs. multistage pumps or manufacturers of certain components. That’s almost predictable. I’ve been guilty of most of the preceding.

This commentary is a blatant and biased presentation of what I would specify in a new pumper purchase. They’re my personal preferences—features I’d want if I were still riding the load. I show no concern for cost, partiality for manufacturer, or fear for whether any regulatory standard is met. I don’t care; it’s my rig and this is how I would specify it. I also provide my reasoning.

There shall be no discharges on the pump operator’s panel. I don’t want to get hurt by a burst hose or coupling failure. I’m not comfortable stepping in front of a charged line.

There shall be no suction inlets on the pump operator’s panel. Same as above. I’m less comfortable stepping over a charged line.

The nozzle and “pull loops” for preconnected hose shall be no higher than 72 inches from ground level. I want to reach the nozzle and pull a preconnect from the ground. It is safe.

Discharges shall be no higher than 40 inches from ground level. It’ll make my life easy and convenient making connections around waist level. It’s not safe to climb onto the rig to make a connection.

Suction inlets shall be no more than 32 inches from ground level. That’s around or below waist level. It’ll be less strenuous to connect and disconnect heavy hard suction sleeves and large-diameter hose. I think it’s called being ergonomically efficient.

Suction inlets for supply lines shall only be located at the rear of the apparatus. You don’t forward lay supply hose from the sides of a rig. It comes off the back. That’s where the inlet belongs. It’s quick, easy, and a no-brainer to have the inlet close to where you break the line. When connections are at the rear, it’s easy to gauge what length of a short curb jumper (filler piece) you may need to make the connection.

Large-diameter hose discharges shall be at the rear of the apparatus. You don’t reverse lay supply hose either. It still comes off the back. Besides, large-diameter hose connected to the side of a rig may extend into another traffic lane. It’s common sense.

Lettering on the operator’s panel shall be no less than ½ inch in height. If I’m in a rush to open, shut, or access a control, I don’t want to squint or fumble around looking for my glasses—especially when a white coat is barking in my ear. Lettering less than ½ inch high doesn’t cut it.

Compartment clear door dimensions shall be actual usable dimensions. If the manufacturer says a door opening is 24 inches wide by 36 inches high, I expect to put a 24-inch by 36-inch box into it without tilting, twisting, or jamming it in. If I can’t when the rig is delivered, it doesn’t meet the specs. Take it back.

Compartment depths shall be the actual usable depths with door(s) in a closed position. It’s the same as above. If the specs call for 26-inch-deep compartments and I can’t put a piece of equipment inside that’s 26 inches in depth and close the door, I don’t want the rig.

Folding steps are not allowed on the forward (front) faces of side running board compartments. Running boards are usually about 12-inches deep. My butt’s wider than that. I don’t think they are safe to climb and I’m not going to use them. Why pay for something that’s not safe and the troops don’t like and won’t use?

No firefighting or EMS equipment shall be located in the cab or crew cab. It’s not safe to exit the cab carrying stuff—especially if you’re holding your helmet and you’re in a rush. If you can reach something stored inside the cab from ground level, that’s OK.

The bottom beam(s) of stored ground ladders shall be no more than 60 inches above ground level. That height is convenient for me to shoulder load a ladder to carry it by the bottom beam. I can reach it from the ground. If it can’t be done when storing ladders on the side of the rig or inside the body, spec a powered ladder rack.

Real or imitation gold leaf lettering or striping shall NOT be supplied. If lettering is necessary, it shall be reflective lime-green. Same with striping. Lettering is advertising and striping is vanity. Some people can’t afford either. Reflective lettering and striping might be justifiable for visibility and safety’s sake. Lime green is an obnoxious color; it’ll work best for visibility.”

The visible edges of all compartment doors, shelves, slide-out or swing-out tool boards, and trays in both “in” and “out” positions shall have no less than one-inch-wide lime green reflective striping. Swing-out and pull-out tool boards shall be outlined with the striping. Visibility. Ever see the reflective striping outlining school buses?

Color code inlet caps green and discharge caps red on all connections with sexless couplings. It’ll help identify Storz suction and discharge connections—especially when that white coat is hollering in your other ear.

Line discharge gauges shall not show a vacuum, shall be no less than 3½ inches in diameter, and register no more than 300 psi. Smaller gauges are too hard to read. It’s not necessary to show a discharge pressure higher than 300 psi. Why have a vacuum reading on a discharge gauge?

All white (clear) forward-facing warning lights, including the flashing mode for chassis headlights, shall have a separate shut-off switch accessible from both the driver and officer seating positions labeled “WHITE LIGHTS OFF.” If you’ve ever driven at night and suddenly ran into snow, fog or heavy rain you can appreciate this. A separate switch accessible from the officer’s position may help keep the driver’s eyes on the road—especially in crappy weather.

Three levels of front warning lights shall be supplied: one (1) on the cab roof; one (1) below the windshield above the chassis headlights; and one (1) below the chassis headlights. Warning lights shall not be “in line” vertically or horizontally with the chassis headlights. It makes sense. Besides, I like it.

These are some features I would like to see in a new pumper. Do you agree or disagree with how I spec’d it out? Email Senior Editor Chris Mc Loone at chrism@pennwell.com and let us know what you think.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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