By Mike Murphy
Have you ever looked behind the pump panel, into the pump house, and seen how much grime and dirt collects in there? It seems like every particle of dirt gets in there and a good majority of it takes up residence. If you are experiencing issues with gates sticking closed or being hard to open and close, it could be because of the amount of grime that has built up on everything from the valve itself to the linkages that connect the valve to the pump panel.
Most fire trucks have no issue with tank-to-pump and tank-to-fill opening and closing because these are regularly exercised with weekly or morning truck checks. This keeps these linkages cleaner than most because of the frequency with which they are operated.
If you inspect the other linkages and valves behind the panel closer, I’m sure you’ll find that the linkages that connect the handles on your pump panel to the actual valves on your pump are caked with road dust, grime, or possible debris.
With the apparatus NOT running, the easiest way to access most of the gate valves is to pull one of the side panels off the truck and make access from the left or right of the pump house. Underneath the truck is not the way to go, as you will be using a spray lubricant to loosen the motion of the valves and linkages, and dripping is probable. A quick and easy way to clean these is to spray the linkages and valves with a penetrating lubricant like PB Blaster or WD-40 as they are being exercised. Focus on one linkage and valve at a time. Take time and care to hit every friction point along the way. Depending on how the pump and apparatus are designed, there could be many.
Mid-mount pumps may have more linkages because of their design than traditional side-mount pumps with straight access from the pump panel. Spraying the linkages allows the grime to be carried away and allows the lubricant to free up the motion of the valves. Use a terry towel or some other form of nonpaper towel to clean as you go. Spray and wipe so you can remove as much of the grime and lubricant as possible from the linkages.
As you exercise the valves, you should see some improvement in their operation. Regularly checking these linkages and regularly operating all the gates on the pump panel while the truck is turned off should assist in keeping the valves in good working order. Remember, it’s like a tornado in the pump house while driving down the road or responding; you don’t want to leave excess lubricant on the valves, as this will assist in collecting more grime in the future.
As the lubricant penetrates, it will begin to loosen up the entire system and allow for a smoother and better operation. Also, you may find a Zerk fitting behind the panel. Don’t be afraid to top it off as you find one, but be sure to verify with the manufacturer that you are using the correct grease for that fitting. This is a relatively quick means of ensuring your pump is ready to go next time you need it.
MIKE MURPHY a 17-year fire service veteran of Southern Manatee (FL) Fire Rescue and Canaveral (FL) Fire Rescue and is a 14-year apparatus driver/operator.