Adams, Apparatus, Chassis Components, Features

Cantankerous Wisdom: Dinosaurs Running Your Pumps

By Bill Adams

What started out as a quiet Monday morning coffee with the Raisin Squad erupted into a week-long donnybrook about pump operators, relief valves, pressure governors, and why young drivers don’t know how to pump the pump anymore.

It started out when one of the white hairs commented most fireground photos in the trade magazines seldom show a pump operator glued to the panel. They ended up disparaging today’s pump operators, driver training in general, and young people in particular. The consensus was the Squad’s familiar “never trust someone who hasn’t retired yet, still has all their original teeth, and perfect hearing.” One miserable old geezer classified fire truck drivers as:

  • Class 1: Has driven apparatus with open cabs (no roofs, no doors).
  • Class 2: Has driven apparatus with semi-cabs (doors but no roof).
  • Class 3: Has driven apparatus with roofs and doors and open canopy jump seats.
  • Class 4: Newbies: they don’t count because they haven’t paid their dues yet

He says only those who’ve driven rigs with a manual transmission should have the right to weigh in on the subject. Now you know why past-their-prime volunteer and career firemen (my gender-neutral term) are called dinosaurs. Most of us deserve it. We should be thankful the younger guys even allow us to watch fire trucks drive by.

None of the Squad had anything good to say about governors. They couldn’t even agree what to call them—engine governors, pressure governors, pump governors or just that new fangled electronic crap. One says: Nowadays they just push a damn button, and they don’t know what the hell is happening behind the panel. Another said a built-in engine governor should just control the motor’s top rpm. It ain’t got nothing to do with the fire pump. He said: Besides, they put throttles on the dashboard so you don’t have to keep your foot on the gas pedal on long trips. He can’t remember if he’s talking about driving an over-the-road tractor trailer or the last pumper he drove. This coot considered himself to be a Class 1 operator. In reality, he has a handicap driver sticker on his windshield, his wife drives him most of the time, and he can’t parallel park. What is scary is not that long ago this old fool was on an apparatus purchasing committee. He moaned and groaned when diesel engines became popular and would specify a two-speed rear end if he could have gotten away with it. He is irrelevant.

Most old people don’t understand computers, microprocessors, sensors, and electrical gadgetry are today’s and tomorrow’s technology for everything—including fire apparatus. They probably can’t fathom or want to believe their own automobiles or half the stuff in their houses have computers. Keep them away from the apparatus purchasing committee. They understand a fire pump’s relief valve uses a combination of springs and water pressure to relieve excess discharge pressure. But, they also believe: Your foot or knee should always be resting on the suction line because them compound gauges don’t always work.

What is ironic about relief valve advocates is they will not publicly admit relief valves can fail or have failed. But, they always taught new pump operators to plan for and how to react to running a pump without using a relief valve! You know the drill: put nozzles on two 2½-inch discharges and flow water at the same pressure. When the instructor shuts off or partially closes one nozzle, the pump operator has to throttle down, and when it’s reopened the operator has to throttle back up to maintain the desired discharge pressure. That’s how you learn how the pump and the relief valve work. Hypocrites.

Some geezers can’t fathom the pressure governor does it for them. Its electrically operated so they hate it. Forty years ago, it would have been blasphemous to predict the pump operator would just have to punch a button and be on his or her way. Most of us old timers can’t even use the television remote. Thank God for grandkids or we’d miss the six o’clock news flashes. And, them new Smart Phones don’t live up to their names either. Today, there can be viable and justifiable arguments between relief valve and pump governor advocates. Raisin Squad members should not be allowed to participate in such discussions.

Another thing geezers can’t accept is the fact pump operators have additional responsibilities on some firegrounds. Except in rural staff-strapped (aka no manpower) departments, most old time drivers responded with plenty of people on the load. They would never consider making a big fire hook-up by themselves or making a back-stretch to a hydrant without help. They go into vapor lock when they see an unmanned (also my gender-neutral term) pump panel. You gotta keep your eyes on the gauges and ears listen’n to the rpms.

Officers really have to ride herd on overly seasoned drivers despite them being revered by some newer members. I remember one who began his driving career on rigs that only had 100- or 200-gallon booster tanks. Even with the newer rigs with 500-gallon tanks, he would only charge a booster line off of tank water. It didn’t matter if he laid a line in, he wouldn’t charge an 1½-inch line unless he was on hydrant water. You had to watch him all the time.

Younger firefighters should be aware when more than two or three Raisin Squad members are together. One might lie and the others will swear to it. They’ll pull your leg so hard and so often, you’ll walk with a limp. Don’t take it to heart. We’re just jealous we can’t do it anymore. It’s your turn. Stay low; be safe.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial 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.