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The Option of a Front Suction on Fire Apparatus

By Ricky Riley

Being from and working in the metro Washington, D.C., area for most of my life, I thought that front suctions were a standard option on all fire trucks. Who in their right mind would not want one of these on their rig? It makes life so much easier. But as I started to travel outside of my little world, I soon realized that this was not the norm across the country. Even when I arrived in Clearwater, Florida, this preconnected water supply option was not in the toolbox.

As we started creating specifications for our new engine companies, our committee agreed a front preconnected water supply line would be a good feature for our units. It helps to achieve our goal of having a quick and reliable water supply. The choice to have this added to your apparatus should not be taken lightly. There are a number of issues to consider when adding this option to your rig.

  • Consider the amount of bumper extension required as this will add to the overall length of the vehicle and turning clearance.
  • Is the piping going to cause any turning radius issues?
  • Do the piping or drains create an approach angle issue?
  • What is the additional weight on the front axle?
  • What is the expense? This should not be a primary concern if it is right for the response area.
  • Does it interfere with the new diesel engine exhaust systems?

All these considerations are valid and must be reviewed by your apparatus committee. But with that being said, if this option is right for your response area and water supply expectations, then it is the right choice. Additionally, the decision to use a preconnected water supply line must be accompanied by training, training, and more training to fully understand how to efficiently use this feature.

A front suction should also be accompanied with a swivel to assist in the spotting and tactical positioning of the engine at the hydrant. Along with the appropriate length of supply line attached to the swivel, this decision is yet another one that comes from knowing your response area. We have seen anywhere from 10 to 35 feet of hose stored in the bumper. The length is based on how you position at hydrants and how well versed your drivers are in positioning the rigs so there are no kinks.

Tactical positioning at the hydrant also ensures other apparatus positioning on the fireground is not blocked. This is where experience and training will come into play so the engine is not angled and taking up a lot of street room or with the butt end of the engine out in traffic.

Your company needs to get out and experiment and train on all the possible positioning scenarios for the front suction and the attached supply line. Your driver must practice this task regularly, through training, hooking up at calls every chance he gets, and experimenting with the swivel and hose lengths. Thinking outside the box is great as long as they have practiced and mastered those skills before they get to a call with fire showing where the speed of the water supply is a top priority.

A number of drivers observed that with the first-generation front suctions, there was low ground clearance when approaching angled entrances or curbs. We just accepted what the manufacturer was giving us for clearance until we looked carefully at the space under the bumper and wheel well while on an engineering trip. The apparatus committee asked our salesperson to have an engineer come out on the floor so we could ask questions. By being inquisitive and trying to make our unit better, the manufacturer was able to raise the piping up a couple of inches getting us more clearance (see photo). This stopped all the minor scraping that was occurring during our operations. So, don’t be afraid to question the norm when you are dealing with apparatus builders.

Another modification we made to our front suction connection was adding a Storz adapter to the threaded six-inch male threads. Originally we had a 25-foot section of five-inch hose attached to the swivel with a six-inch female coupling and a 4½-inch female swivel on the other end for connection to the hydrant. One of our officers made the suggestion to have the end attached to the swivel on the apparatus be a Storz connection. We accomplished this with an adapter from the Kocheck Co. This addition enabled drivers to hook up a supply line to the front of the apparatus, rather than dragging it around to the side intake, thus saving space and room in the street for later arriving apparatus. Using this as an intake for a supply line may be few and far between, but the officer saw a simple solution to enhancing this operation, which fits with the department’s mantra of hooking up and ensuring a water supply as a mission-critical assignment.

The front suction is a great tool in the engine company toolbox. It is a valuable option as long as the company practices the hookups and makes full use of its advantages. So, go out and find the next best and greatest tactical advantage of the front suction with a swivel and tweet a picture to us @FireApparatus1 and @TTCombatReady.

RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.

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