By Ricky Riley
In the past when purchasing an engine for a career department or the volunteer firehouse, we usually were only concerned in getting the operational options that would make the apparatus perform better on the fireground and for the firefighters. And when that rig broke, we always wanted it fixed in minutes and hours rather than in days. Having a piece of apparatus out of service for the community is never a good thing, especially if your department does not have reserve engines. So, the speed of the repair is crucial to your area’s fire protection and service to your citizens.
One of the areas that we have concentrated on in a number of our recent purchases is reducing the size of the pump house. In the past, these areas were rather large and afforded the layout of the piping and associated valves to be spread out a little and allow for easy access—usually from the officer’s side of the rig. This allowed the mechanic to have great access to do his work without having to remove a lot of equipment or taking apart parts of the pump house to gain access. This access had to be done, and the pump house spread out becasue this was usually the only way into the pump because of the large number of fixed cabs. These cabs did not allow access from the front of the pump like we have today with the tilt cabs on apparatus.
When looking at the overall wheelbase of a rig, this reduction in pump house size certainly helps out in reducing the overall length and the turning radius. In recent years, the pump panel that we have strived to use is the 45-inch pump panel to with a 1,500-gpm pump, many discharges all over the rig, and adding intakes to the front and sometimes the rear. This small 45-inch pump house is jammed with barely and inch to spare inside. When we received the apparatus and we had achieved all the operational goals, we were happy. The problem was when we had an issue with the pump, valves, or any equipment located in the pump house, our repair time would sometimes be drawn out.
After initially complaining about the length of the out of service time, I decided to ask the mechanic who was working on the apparatus one day as to why it was taking so long to complete the repair. After the mechanic used some colorful words to explain to me how difficult even simple repairs were, he explained that the compact and tightness of the pump house made it difficult to make the repairs—even just a simple valve replacement or rebuild—and that gaining access and the ability to get tools into this area was difficult on the finished product. He was sure that they had built the pump house to my specifications and it worked for the firefighters in the field. But, it was built as a separate unit at the factory and was accessible from all sides—top and bottom during the construction. Once the cab and body were put on, this now restricted their access to the components that may need repair.
After getting my education from the mechanic, my next call was to my salesperson. We explained to him that we needed to provide better access for the mechanics to our nice short and compact pump house. When we got to our engineering conference, we were offered some suggestions on how to provide better access to all sides and areas of the pump for the mechanics who make the repairs.
On our most recent apparatus purchase, we found some more chances to assist the mechanics and were able to incorporate them in the build and will do so going forward in the future. We wanted to share with you some of the options that we asked our manufacturer to incorporate for the men and women who are tasked with repairing and servicing our apparatus and keeping them on the road.
The pump panel on the officer’s side of the apparatus is removable by using a number of lift/turn latches and after removing discharge elbows and the piston intake relief, providing great access to that side of the pump. Depending on how much access you would like, the lower portion of the pump panel could be made removable also; you just would have to probably move all the drain valves to another location.
The operator’s side pump panel has normally had a small access panel where the gauges were mounted. But just because of the complexity of this side of the pump panel more access usually was not possible. Our manufacturer came up with a way for us to have a hinged panel on the operator’s panel that, after removing the discharge elbows, allowed for greater access for the mechanic to work on and service the gauges, valves, electronics, and piping on this side of the apparatus.
One of the areas that we improved on was accessing the top of the pump. This is done by removing all the equipment from the dunnage area over the fire pump and then unscrewing all the screws that attach the floor to this area. Being exposed to the weather as often as this area is certainly can cause some issues for the mechanics as they try to remove these screws. Usually the sound of a drill drilling frozen or corroded screws can be heard from the shop. So, we decided to add a hinged floor in this area, once again using some lift/turn latches and a piano hinge. This access allowed the mechanic to once again use another angle to reach the components in the pump house.
The front of the pump has been accessible for them by simply raising the cab of the engine.
These options, of course, cost money. But, that spent money comes back to the department in reduced out-of-service times and comes back two-fold when the mechanic is happy—because if the mechanic is happy he can make the firefighters’ lives very happy.
RICKY RILEY is the fire apparatus manager for the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He previously served as the Operations Chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire and Rescue, and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as the rescue-engine captain at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.