Chassis Components, Pumpers, Riley

Fire Apparatus Front Inlets


Front inlets have been a way of life for me on most apparatus that I have been fortunate enough to ride or operate. Originally, these front inlets consisted of a fixed pipe in the center of the front bumper with a storage tray underneath to hold the length of hose desired by the department or company. This fixed pipe in the center was made possible mostly by the fixed cabs of that era. With the manufacturers having to meet the new engine requirements, the fixed cabs went away. This forced departments that still wanted a front inlet to run it up the side of the rig and into the side of their choice on the bumper. The inlet could sit on top of the bumper with a swivel attached, or a current trend is to run the fixed pipe straight through the bumper. Either way, I feel that the front inlet is a good option to have on your apparatus.


Engine companies have one main job: to receive water and to pump water out and put water on the fire. If we look at just the receiving part, the front inlet is a great way to get water into the pump. The skill of positioning the rig to use the front inlet is something that has to be practiced by those who drive the rigs. The challenge of positioning for the front inlet can be greatly reduced with a top-mounted inlet with a swivel. The swivel assists the operator in reducing kinks, and with enough practice and ingenuity, he can produce a series of operational positioning and hookups that can benefit the fireground and later-arriving apparatus.


Most of the front inlets I have been exposed to have been the same size as the side inlets on the fire pump—six inches. The inlet, regardless of being a straight pipe through the bumper or on top with a swivel, usually ended as a male thread. This just required the department to purchase the soft sleeve hose of its desired length with a six-inch female swivel on one end and usually the female swivel on the other with the size thread of the local hydrants. Of course, many rural departments that use the front inlet could also just have a section of hard sleeve or suction hose attached to the inlet with a drafting adapter on the other end. Both types of setups are based on a department’s operating procedure, water supply options, and geographic response areas.

The front inlet placed on your rig can sometimes be a contested item. It is an expensive item with all the piping and valves associated with it, along with all the drains that need to be placed on it to assist in drafting and to remove the water during cold weather. The pipe that runs up the side of the rig from the pump usually takes a path through the engine’s wheel well area. This pipe position can possibly affect the turning radius of your rig depending on the size of the pipe and the manufacturer’s engineering. So, consider the advantages of the front inlet related to the cramp angle of your rig. Only your response area and street configuration can determine that decision for your department.

There are some arguments about the number of bends in the pipe and how it might relate to friction loss and full flow to the pump. I agree that there might be some loss, but the advantage of positioning the engine while using the front suction outweighs the negative of the flow issue. If the operator feels like he needs the full flow of the hydrant, then he should place hydrant gates on the spuds of the hydrant. That way if they need to do a heavy hookup, he will not have to shut the hydrant down.


Another interesting use of the front suction was suggested to me by Assistant Chief Larry Williams of Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue on a group of engines that his department purchased. On the end of the piping for the front suction, the department added a Storz coupling for its large-diameter hose. The department normally had a 30-foot section of five inch attached to the front inlet. If a crew needed a longer section to reach a hydrant in front of the rig or around a corner, they could just use a piece of supply line to make the stretch without using a series of adaptors. They also used the front inlet in case the second-due engine had to do a reverse lay from the first-due engine to the hydrant. They could hook the supply line up to the front inlet by using the Storz couplings, keeping the supply hose in line with the engine. By not using the side inlet, which could possibly block the street because of the arch and loop needed to prevent kinking, they keep the street clear for later-arriving apparatus.

The use of the front suction is a department option. It is one of many ways to get water into the engine with the evolution of valves behind the pump panel and valves that can be mounted right on the side of the rig. The department’s decision could be just to use the side inlets with longer hoses attached to facilitate reaching hydrants behind and in front of the engine. But, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, and they have to be weighed by an individual department. How it obtains water on the fireground, street sizes, number of apparatus dispatched, and the building stock all are factors that need to drive the department’s decision on whether to go with a front suction or not. But for me, they are a good investment, and with the right amount of training and firefighter ingenuity, they will prove their worth when establishing a water supply quickly and efficiently on your fireground.

RICKY RILEY is the president of Traditions Training, LLC. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire & 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 also is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.