|Chris Mc Loone|
At January’s Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) Apparatus Specification and Maintenance Symposium, I sat in on a breakout session titled, “Pump and Plumbing Controls.”
Although the content of the session wasn’t all that new to me-or the other attendees-the discussion that ensued was very interesting and paints a picture of where we sit as a fire service.
Presenters explained different types of controls that exist for pumps and plumbing, including fully mechanical, mechanical/electric hybrid, and fully electronic. The session was not intended to espouse using any one of these methods. Basically the presentation was to let attendees know what was available, the pros and cons of each, and provide insight into where the industry was heading.
Predictably, the idea of electric vs. manual valves generated discussion. During conversations I’ve been in at my fire company, usually the discussion would revolve around serviceability. There is a comfort level in knowing that a pump operator can open the pump panel to take care of a manual valve’s linkage on the fireground if there is a problem. Electric valves, to some, still represent an unknown. And, like many things, when they were first introduced to the fire service, their reliability was easily called into question. What really struck me during the session was how there can be a real disconnect between the operations side of our business and the maintenance side-where the emergency vehicle technicians (EVTs) live.
Think about it: You’re a chief faced with replacing a medium-duty rescue truck and a pumper. You’re faced with delaying either the pumper or rescue replacement or combining both rigs into one rescue-pumper. To do that, this rescue-pumper will likely be larger than either your current rescue or pumper to have all the compartmentation necessary to store equipment. Additionally, the truck is going to be long-probably too long for your streets. But, here’s the great news. If you spec electric valves for all your intakes and discharges, you’ll be able to reduce the size of your pump panel by several inches. Although the new truck will still be longer than your current pumper, it won’t be as long as it would if it had all mechanical valves, and it will be maneuverable around your tight streets. For you, as the chief, it’s a win. You can go before your board of commissioners or city council and explain that you’ll be purchasing one truck instead of two, saving the municipality money and providing the same services that the pumper and medium rescue delivered.
Back at the shop, though, it’s a different story. The great thing about electric valves is they can be placed anywhere but not always in the most accessible of locations. The EVTs back at the shop are now cursing the chief who thought he had done such a great job because it’s going to take them more time to access the valves to make any necessary repairs, whereas on the old pumper they opened up the pump panel and everything was right there and easily accessible.
Serviceability is key to any rig these days, and the smarter these fire trucks get the more technical service becomes. The realities of today’s fire service and our responses are clear, and how departments address these realities in terms of fire apparatus differs from municipality to municipality. The presenters at this breakout session were clear that the industry is moving in the direction of more electronics. It’s just the way it is. To provide what departments demand in terms of storage, wheelbase, and pump panel size, manufacturers are looking toward electronic controls. These controls allow them to deliver what their customers are asking for. But, back at the department, make sure you are keeping the EVTs in the loop and include them on your purchasing committees. They know the realities the chief faces. If they are worth their salt, they are not going to contest electronics just because they don’t like them. But, they will provide insight into how things should be arranged so they can do their jobs and get your rigs back on the street in as short a time as possible. Keep fleet supervisors in the loop early so the operations side of the business doesn’t suffer down the road.