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Firefighters Design Nurse Tanker For One-Person Operation

Issue 9 and Volume 15.

Hambden's tanker  is equipped with a tilting chute to carry a portable tank that can be deployed by one person.
Hambden’s tanker, built by Rosenbauer, is equipped with a tilting chute to carry a portable tank that can be deployed by one person. (Photo by Danielle LaMadeleine)

When Hambden (Ohio) Fire Department officers found it was time to replace their 1985 Mack nurse tanker (tender), they looked for a piece of equipment that could safely be set up by one person.

The rural township in northeast Ohio has no pressurized hydrants and has seen a gradual change from 100-acre farms to 4,000-square-foot homes over the past 20 years. The required gpms for fires are pumped from dry hydrants, hauled to the scene by tanker shuttles and nursed to the attack engine from portable tanks on the roadway.

This nurse tanker setup has proven efficient through the use of a frontmounted pump and portable tanks set up diagonally on the road. This keeps the road open for shuttles and allows tankers to easily dump from either direction.

Dangerous Job

Although the tactic was highly successful in keeping the attack engine supplied, statistics showed the tanker responded most of the time with only one volunteer. This firefighter was forced to unload the 3,000-gallon portable tank and drag it to the front of the truck for set up.

The swing-down bracket assisted in lowering the portable tank close to road level, but it still had to be lifted out of its cradle. Worse yet, if the fire happened to be on the right side of the approaching tanker, it had to be unloaded in the ditch. Follow that with a trip to the top of the truck for a suction line and another compartment for a low profile suction strainer and it soon became a dangerous, time-consuming job when water was the most vital.

Three Requirements

The officers set out to find the perfect replacement vehicle, with three requirements:

  1. Pump 1,500 gpm from a “red portable tank” into a “yellow LDH hose.”
  2. Keep one lane of a township road open for the shuttle.
  3. Safely setup quickly with only one firefighter.

It didn’t take long to find out there was no such animal. The last 25 years of engineering has been great for engines, aerials and rescues, but it seemed as though the tanker was stuck in a time capsule. Every vehicle considered was able to achieve the first requirement, and some could comply with number two, but everyone laughed at the last one.


Even the National Fire Academy Online class for alternative water supplies refers to rural water flow operations with limited manpower as “not only time consuming, but the operation presents several safety concerns.” It became apparent that the solution would have to be totally designed by the end user.

Members of the fire department decided that a rear-mounted pump would be the most efficient. Besides the fact that the portable tank and suction hose could unload to the rear where it would be needed, it would allow the tanker to pull into a driveway one truck length, keeping the operator off the road.

Large diameter discharges would be added to both sides, allowing quick connection of the 5-inch LDH, no matter which side of the truck it ended up on. A through-the-tank design would enable storage of the 6-inch suction hose with a low profile strainer pre-connected for speed of setup. The majority of the hosebed would be reserved for a portable tank rack that could be deployed by one person safely.

Sketches on napkins evolved into scale models, and a local metal fabricating shop agreed to build it. The portable tank rack would basically be a roll-off, tilt-down chute utilizing Teflon slides as a braking system. The chute would hold the folded tank with a single pin for quick deployment.

Rosenbauer was chosen to build the truck due to its experience in building tandem-axle trucks with rear mounted pumps. In addition, Rosenbauer’s engineering department was incredibly accommodating in changes needed to make the entire system work.

In an effort to keep costs down, a Freightliner commercial cab was chosen, and no plumbing was extended forward of the rear axle. The department’s mechanic also helped with the plans, insisting that the rear compartments be of an open design with a “school bus heater” installed. He suggested a strong heater for the pump and the plumbing, and it has the added benefit of warming the pump operator.

When the truck was delivered in December of 2009, it was clear that it was worth the time the firefighters put into it.

At first glance, it’s nothing fancy. You won’t find a chrome bell, hydraulic generator or air conditioning. But watch it pull up to 1,000 feet of 5-inch on the ground, supply up to 1,500 gallons per minute from its 3,000-gallon tank in less than 30 seconds, then set up for draft from a 3,000-gallon portable tank in less than 2 minutes – all with only one firefighter – and you’ll become a believer.

If you’d like to see the tanker in action, go to youtube.com and search for “Hambden Tanker.” You’re not going to see a crew of four meet those times. Instead, you’ll watch a 17-year-old Explorer. Too bad Alisha isn’t old enough to drive it. As for the future of nurse tankers out there, welcome to 2010.

Editor’s Note: Don Zimmerman is the assistant chief of the Hambden Fire Department in Chardon, Ohio.

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