Apparatus, Pumpers

Mini Pumpers, Part 2: Today and the Future

Issue 3 and Volume 20.

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By Bill Adams

“Mini Pumpers, Part 1: How Well Do They Really Work?” (September 2014) described the experiences of two fire departments with mini pumpers purchased in the 1980s.

It appears the fire service is giving mini pumpers a second look. Why? What’s new? What are people purchasing? I asked apparatus manufacturers of all sizes. Their answers to some specific questions follow.

Are mini pumpers becoming popular?

Mike DuFrane, vice president, Florida Products Government Sales, Pierce Manufacturing: “Mini pumpers have an inherent size advantage over larger apparatus. We continue to see growth in mini pumper sales.”

Trapper Meadors, sales engineer, Precision Fire Apparatus: “Mini pumpers can fit into very specific roles that a lot of departments have yet to see a need for. However, once the need is realized, they’re perfect fits.”

Mike Watts, national sales manager, Toyne Fire Apparatus: “Yes. They are finding a new purpose in the fire service.”

Jim Kirvida, president, CustomFIRE: “There seems to be considerable interest, mostly for short-staffed duty crews.”

Grady North, product manager, E-ONE: “The mini pumper concept is showing renewed interest.”

Doug Kelley, mini pumper product manager, KME: “Yes, and growing. However, they’re still a very small portion of the market overall. As a reference, there are fewer than 150 mini pumpers sold each year vs. about 2,500 to 3,000 full-size pumpers.”

Joe Messmer, president, Summit Fire Apparatus: “Yes. We are finding fire departments want smaller trucks with a bigger punch. They are looking for more agile apparatus with four-wheel drive.”

Are fire departments looking to accomplish specific missions with mini pumper purchases?

Kelley: “The educated customer is trying to take advantage of the mini’s smaller size combined with the all-wheel-drive capability for tasks similar to accessing the backside of structures, such as garden apartments, with a master stream device; using the truck as a manifold truck up long driveways where larger trucks have a hard time accessing; using the all-wheel drive in disaster situations where roads may be partially blocked; and using the truck to access incidents in hard-to-reach locations, especially in heavy traffic or small streets.”

Messmer: “They’re looking for smaller trucks that weigh less and can get into tighter spots. Some departments are attempting to reduce the wear and tear on larger, more expensive apparatus to stretch the budget a little further.”

Dufrane: “Departments responsible for protecting hard-to-reach areas where they can’t get a traditional pumper or tanker through narrow, unpaved roads find the maneuverability of mini pumpers is an advantage. Pierce is seeing some being used as “first-out” vehicles instead of traditional pumpers. Departments with emergency medical service (EMS) responsibilities can run them with their emergency medical technicians on board.”

Kirvida: “Initial response for both EMS and fire calls.”

Meadors: “Smaller departments experiencing an influx of new, younger members are wanting a small unit people can feel more comfortable driving. They are having an easier time getting new drivers comfortable in a standard vehicle such as the Ford F-Series in lieu of the larger custom or commercial chassis.”

Watts: “For motor vehicle accidents, firefighting, and quick response. One is using its mini because its state requires commercial driver’s licensed (CDL) drivers for the larger units. Many volunteers work during the day, so if a crew arrives and does not have a CDL among them, they can respond. That makes their response time quicker, and they have full pumping capability-if they have a water source other than the small tank on the unit-as well as the ability to start extrication without waiting for a pumper.”

North: “Fire departments realize that approximately 80 percent or more of their calls are EMS-related and responding with a smaller multipurpose type apparatus will handle a majority of these calls. Some issues become more of a problem when the mini pumper’s role is expanded to include major firefighting scenarios. Budget cuts are forcing front-line pumpers into extended service lives. If a mini pumper can respond to calls not requiring a full-size pumper, it helps reduce wear and tear of more costly larger apparatus.”

What features are purchasers looking for in a mini pumper?

Dufrane: “Higher capacity pumps. It’s pretty common to see 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm). You can achieve more water flow and, with the addition of foam and compressed air foam systems (CAFS), departments can conserve water. Other popular components Pierce has noted include a midship pump; power takeoff (PTO) driven pumps, which allow pumping in motion; and a small generator. Tank sizes are typically 300 gallons. Having four-wheel drive available on a smaller chassis is a significant benefit that is very popular.”

Meadors: “Hydraulic generators, light towers, and foam systems are pretty common.”

Watts: “A major feature Toyne has seen requested is the ability to mount a split-shaft pump, allowing the smaller truck to have a fully rated pump.”

Messmer: Usually a minimum 750- to 1,000-gpm pump capacity and, of course, as much water as the truck can carry. Equipment-wise, we usually have to keep the overweight factor in front of purchasing committees.”

North: “Many departments look for large pump flows, thinking the ISO will give points for pumping capacity. E-ONE has seen a number of requests for a 1,250-gpm pump rating-although we are not sure that the staffing and other firefighting components on a mini pumper can really take advantage of a 1,250-gpm rating. Another trend is improved scene lighting and light towers.”

Kirvida: “Not necessarily large capacity but a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Chapter 5 rated capacity of at least 750 gpm. Pump-and-drive is not a priority.”

Kelley: “Most are equipped with hose reels for brush and trash fires. Many have generators, including hydraulic generators. Good scene lighting is a must, especially telescoping lighting on the front. Winches and brush guards are common for off-road use. Everyone wants as large a pump as possible.”

Are there common mistakes mini pumper purchasers make?

Messmer: “The mistake we see most is not staying within the truck’s weight limits. Summit has guided many fire departments through unrealizable weight expectations.”

Kelley: “Yes. Overloading it.”

Watts: “Trying to make the mini into a full-size NFPA 1901 Chapter 5 compliant pumper.”

Dufrane: “One of the biggest issues we often see is departments trying to overload the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the truck. They try to make them full-size pumpers, but it simply isn’t possible. Pierce is careful to check equipment and where that equipment will be loaded on the vehicle. It’s an easy thing to overload a mini pumper because of the expanded compartment space that’s now available.”

North: “Exceeding the predetermined primary mission of the vehicle.”

Kirvida: “Expecting a mini pumper to do more than it is capable of. A mini pumper Super Duty chassis is little more than a king-size dually pickup with automotive-class components, some of which might not handle the rigors of extreme continuous duty.

“For purchasers requiring pump-and-drive capabilities from a vehicle-powered fire pump system, the weakest link in the power train is the automatic transmission’s single PTO application. This one PTO application not only has limited horsepower and torque capability, but its access is blocked from use by a lobe on the 4×4 transfer case. While some aftermarket vendors have a transfer case modification that provides a PTO drive yoke extending through and exiting rearward of the 4×4 transfer case lobe (for a mechanical driveline), the available torque and horsepower at the repositioned yoke are nevertheless limited by the PTO drive gear within the automatic transmission. If a fire pump system requires torque and horsepower exceeding the automatic transmission’s published ratings, it is uncertain whether the automatic transmission PTO drive components and the aftermarket PTO will survive a ‘continuous-duty’ situation, as is expected from NFPA 1901 Chapter 5 rated pump systems. The question becomes: ‘Do you expect continuous duty or intermittent duty from your PTO-driven fire pump system?’

“For those not requiring pump-and-drive capabilities, there are alternatives when selecting a fire pump system: capacities exceeding that of a PTO-driven system and midship or rear-mount locations of the fire pump itself. These large-capacity pump systems require attaining full engine horsepower, a follow-on benefit of which is a 100 percent duty cycle. There are only a couple of ways to attain the full horsepower of the vehicle’s diesel engine. One is the engine front crankshaft, but a front-mounted pump system, with its required bumper extension, will most likely exceed the limited front gross axle weight rating (GAWR) of a Super Duty chassis. The other is interrupting the vehicle driveline extending from the 4×4 transfer case to the rear axle and installing a split-shaft pump transmission, which then drives the pump impeller assembly. This split-shaft transmission allows the engineer to drive or pump, thereby negating the ability to pump and drive. Some may say: ‘So, you end up with an off-road-capable all-wheel-drive vehicle that cannot pump while driving.’

“The maximum fire pump capacity driven by a crankshaft or driveline is dictated by the chassis engine. Some manufacturers advertise an available 1,500-gpm rating. However, at CustomFIRE, and specific only to the Ford 6.7-liter diesel engine, we have chosen to not exceed a 1,250-gpm rating because of the marginal-in most cases, lack of-reserve horsepower available with this particular engine at 1,500 gpm. Additionally, the requirement to provide two large-diameter suctions (one each side on midship pumps) compromises the apparatus body design. This may not be the position taken by other apparatus manufacturers. However, we opt to conserve a margin of horsepower.”

Are purchasers trying to replace NFPA 1901 Chapter 5 full-size pumpers?

Dufrane: Some try to replace a traditional pumper with a mini pumper, but they really can’t. They’re in danger of having an overloaded truck that will not perform as intended.

Watts: “It cannot be done.”

North: “A mini pumper cannot replace a full-size pumper.”

Messmer: “Not really. Most realize mini pumpers cannot totally operate on their own. They are generally purpose-built.”

Kirvida: “Our most recent customer base has employed their mini pumpers either as duty crew apparatus leading a mission-responsible apparatus with their crews or in a rural situation as initial attacks followed by tenders (tankers) and mutual-aid departments.”

Meadors: “Not necessarily. It seems the minis are complementing these trucks and running on specific assignments the larger trucks cannot handle due to sheer size. However, Precision Fire’s build design meets and exceeds NFPA 1901 Chapter 5 in compartment storage and hosebed capacity while complying with ground ladders and water capacity.”

Kelley: “I have not seen any customers that are planning to replace a pumper with a mini, but I have seen customers who try to get credit as a pumper for ISO purposes so they can augment their fleets. Asking if it is possible to supply a mini pumper compliant to NFPA 1901 Chapter 5, Pumper, is a trick question. If you can find a place to put the ladders (not a small feat), if you reduce the personnel allowance, and if you stick with the Chapter 5 minimums, then you could design a truck that gets most of the credit as a Chapter 5 engine company.

“However, keep in mind that Chapter 5 only requires 300 gallons of water, 800 feet of 2½-inch hose, a minimal ladder complement, and a fairly small equipment requirement. In practicality, a mini pumper being used as a full-blown pumper will not have the carrying capacity of the typical pumper that’s actually in service and will therefore have to sacrifice equipment, hose, and water from what the department may be used to.”

Do you have any comments on the weight issue?

Kelley: “When the largest GVWR available from the chassis manufacturer is 19,500 pounds and even less on some makes and models of chassis, it comes down to math. With a diesel engine, a bare chassis will weigh about 9,000 pounds. Most body/tank/hosebed/lighting/pump/plumbing packages weigh in the neighborhood of 4,400 pounds. Actual weights will vary depending on construction methods and materials, but it will still be in the ballpark within a few hundred pounds. Purchased components are common and weigh the same regardless of who builds the body.

“The base crew cab has seating for six, but many departments replace the center front seat with a console. So, the base model mini needs 1,250 pounds for personnel. A typical water load of 300 gallons weighs 2,500 pounds. So, the typical equipment and hose allowance is only about 2,350 pounds. That’s all you can carry in your ‘toolbox.’ On paper, that may be okay, but it’s easy to eat that up very quickly. For example, 1,000 feet of four-inch hose weighs 750 pounds by itself. And if you add a generator, light tower, lots of shelving, a hosebed cover, or a large ladder complement, you get even closer to the edge.

“Another consideration is that these small chassis are confusing in that the sum of the axle ratings is more than the available GVWR. On a Ford F-550, you can get a 7,000-pound front axle rating and a 14,706-pound rear axle rating. But the total GVWR is still only 19,500 pounds instead of the 21,706 pounds you would expect. So even though there may be margin on the axles, the truck can still be overloaded. And if there is an accident, the total weight can still get you in trouble.”

North: “All light-duty chassis, whether a Ford F-550, Dodge Ram 5500, or International Terra Star, have one thing in common: The maximum GVWR is 19,500 pounds. This is the maximum rating for the hydraulic braking system used on these trucks. Customers often mistake the individual axle ratings as the maximum load capacity. If you make successive panic stops with a fully loaded 19,500-pound-GVWR mini pumper, you will quickly understand why there is a GVWR limitation with hydraulic brakes. There is a weight penalty when specifying four-wheel-drive components equaling a corresponding reduction in payload. Four-wheel drive also has limited access to the PTO, requiring an aftermarket transfer case modification (i.e., Live Drive) if pump-and-roll or a hydraulic generator is required.

“The NFPA equipment allowance is 1,500 pounds. Most bodies offer seven or more very generous size compartments, which equates to an allowance of about 200 pounds per compartment. It is very easy to go over this 200-pound limit, which means you may need to reduce water or equipment to stay within the GVWR. The same can be said for personnel. Two people in the cab places 500 pounds near the front axle. For four persons, the total is 1,000 pounds plus any self-contained breathing apparatus equipment. An option might be for a two-door extended cab. This keeps weight off the front axle and provides more space in the cab.”

Kirvida: “Stainless steel bodies are only 300 to 500 pounds heavier than aluminum bodies. Stainless construction seems a worthy consideration in light of its superior structural integrity and corrosion-free aspects. Weight-wise, a booster reel is four to five times heavier than a collapsible preconnect. And, 12-volt LED scene lighting is weight-friendly because no generator is required. There is a fine balance in the successful design of a mini, sometimes not answered with a preengineered ‘program’ apparatus. Mini pumper purchasing specifications need to be better thought out than full-size pumper specifications if the fire department is to receive a safe and reliable product that will outlast the reign of the current apparatus purchasing committee.”

Dufrane: “It is an easy thing to overload a mini pumper because of the expanded compartment space that’s now available.”

Meaders: “I am amazed at the number of these vehicles showing up on a standard F-550 chassis with the 19,500-pound GVWR. I’m concerned that the vehicles are overweight. We went through great lengths to resolve that issue and were successful in the end with being able to produce a complete vehicle that does not exceed the GVWR by offering upgraded chassis features. Precision Fire offers a Ford F-Series chassis with a 24,000-pound-GVWR upgrade authorized by Ford. This ensures the end user receives a vehicle with enough GVWR to handle the intended mission.”

Messmer: “To address weight concerns, Summit Fire produces the 554 Extreme. It is a Ford F-550 with upgraded axles and tires to bring the total GVWR up to 24,000 pounds. This allows the department to have us design tank sizes to 500 gallons and equipment space to carry most anything they desire.”

Do you have any words of wisdom?

Dufrane: “Use the available horsepower and the GVWR of the chassis to its advantage. There are a lot of capabilities with these vehicles, but they’re only intended for what the GVWR can handle.”

Kirvida: “Mini pumper bodies, like ambulances, are perfect candidates for down-the-road remounting onto a replacement chassis.”

Meadors: “Watch the weights. I can’t stress that enough. Weight is the biggest factor to consider and can be easily overrun.”

Watts: “Weight calculation is most critical on these units. Know what you are going to carry and make sure engineering has a chance to verify that the unit meets NFPA weight standards before you order the unit. Weight is only an issue if you do not clarify up front what will be carried on the unit.”

Messmer: “You must be ever vigilant of the weight limitations so that weight does not become an issue. Even with our 554 program, the truck may not be physically large enough to carry all of the equipment required to meet NFPA 1901 Chapter 5, Pumper, requirements.”

Kelley: “KME customers who seem to get the most out of their mini pumpers configure the trucks to meet specific needs rather than try to make the trucks do everything.”

North: “E-ONE does not deviate from our standard 3⁄16-inch extruded aluminum pumper body construction features just because it is a mini pumper. We believe customers deserve the strongest, most durable body and the same features they would expect for a full-size pumper. The duty cycle and application of the product demand this.”

Do you have any final comments?

Messmer: “The absolute most important recommendation is to define the unit’s mission. Without a definitive mission, purchasing committees always wander. If not kept in check, they will design a mini pumper requiring six axles and a 500-horsepower engine. It is important to know exactly what the mini pumper is to do.”

North: “The economic pressures put on fire departments to find low-cost solutions to their operational needs make it very difficult to specify a limited-function mini pumper. Many have foam systems, and some ask for CAFS, creating some challenging packaging solutions. Keep it simple. Every piece of equipment or option adds weight to a very limited payload capacity.”

Meaders: “Make sure the chassis has the appropriate payload to handle the vehicle’s mission.”

Kirvida: “Rear pump mounting allowing additional compartmentation, better vehicle driveline angles, improved underside road clearance, and superior weight distribution as compared to a midship pump location. The operator’s panel can be on either side (allowing for rear large-diameter-hose discharges) or at the rear so as to not disrupt the configuration of rear side compartments. Another advantage of the rear pump is accessibility for service. Removable access panels are provided on three sides of the pump enclosure.

“I have yet to see manufacturers publicize the actual cost of a nonprogram noncookie-cutter mini pumper. Needless to say, it is not under $200,000. Cost-wise, the body, pump, plumbing, audible and visual warning devices, and add-on items such as shelves and trays are virtually the same as that of a full-size pumper. The price of a full-size pumper body is negligible over the cost of a fully featured mini body. A sobering thought is that for an additional $40,000 over a two-wheel-drive Super Duty chassis or $75,000 over a four-wheel-drive Super Duty chassis, except for the low profile of the mini, a medium-duty two- or four-wheel-drive chassis can be acquired, which offers a heavier GVWR with a broader mission capability-including pump-and-drive.”

Kelley: “KME has many of the industry standard offerings that most other companies have: pumps up to 1,500 gpm, tanks up to 300 gallons, full-height storage compartments, CAFS and other foam systems, and so on. But, we also design our mini pumpers to be specific to the strengths and limitations of this kind of unit. We design our standard mini pumpers to emphasize mobility and all-weather response while minimizing the chance of overloading the truck. For example, our base body is designed to fit the equipment and hose allowance so that the truck doesn’t experience ‘mission creep’ down the road that results in an overweight unit. Lastly, we offer a 500-gpm PTO-driven pump system that’s fully capable of pump-and-roll. This bridges the gap quite nicely between a wildland and a full-blown pumper. While we can certainly build ‘me-too’ units, we believe we offer some features that most other builders do not.”

Watts: “Toyne offers a fully engineered 304L stainless steel body and pump house, which eliminates the unseen corrosion on the body. The split-shaft pump, 300 gallons of water, hosebed, storage for Stokes baskets and backboards, Fresno-style ladder, and generous compartments for this size unit give fire departments unmatched flexibility. The 1,000-pound distributed load rating for the compartments is a testament to how strong the unit is constructed.”

Dufrane: “Don’t try to use the vehicle in place of a traditional pumper.”

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.