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Cantankerous Wisdom: 2½-inch Playpipes and Stacked Tips

By Bill Adams

Before the Raisin Squad’s morning coffee clutch was banished from local firehouses over this pandemic stuff, one topic of conversation was about playpipes and stacked tips. They all know what a deuce-and-a-half playpipe is. Half knew you could buy one with stacked tips but couldn’t remember why you would. One geezer said older brass playpipes had a single 1 1/8-inch tip, shut-off, long barrel, two frayed rubber reinforced “rabbit ear” handles and a hook to secure it to a ground ladder’s rung—that nobody used. Using a playpipe’s hook on an extension ladder is like using a suicide knob on a steering wheel. If the hook slips, the hose, you, and the ladder might end up heading south. One eccentric old timer thought playpipes had something to do with Woodstock, “ smoking a pipe to feel groovy” and the 1960s.


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We tried getting some younger guys involved with our babbling, but as usual, if you asked questions they couldn’t answer, they got mad and accused you of stirring the pot or being a sphincter’s orifice. They don’t realize most of us either can’t remember the answers or were never taught them. Fifty plus years ago, a rookie would never think to question an officer. If they told you to pull a certain line or pump x number of pounds pressure into a line, you did it. You didn’t have to know why.

NFPA 1901
Times have changed, and today’s troops are better educated. However, there’s still some wandering about who aren’t quite up to speed. One said National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, says you have to carry a playpipe. That’s not true. NFPA 1901 Section 5.9.3 says you have to carry “one (1) 200-gpm handline nozzle, two (2) 95-gpm handline nozzles and one (1) smooth bore or combination nozzle with 2½-inch shut-off that flows a minimum of 250 gpm.” It says a smooth bore OR a combination. It doesn’t say anything about a playpipe or handles. Remember, using a 2½-inch handline without a playpipe is inherently dangerous. Want some fun? Ask the local fire equipment supplier what the difference is between a smooth bore, a spray nozzle, and a combination nozzle, and if any have to have a playpipe.

ISO
The Insurance Services Office (ISO) references NFPA 1901 to “evaluate” the equipment carried on each engine company. HOWEVER, its 2012 Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, Appendix A, Table 512A calls for one (1) 2½-inch combination spray nozzle; two 1½-inch or 1¾-inch combination spray nozzles with shut-offs, and one (1) 2½-inch playpipe with shut-off and 1-inch, 1 1/8-inch, and 1¼-inch tips. The number of points a department might be “gigged” for not having the playpipe with stacked tips may be insignificant. That’s not the point. Not knowing if they will gig you is.

Flows and Nozzle Pressures
Most white hairs believe a deuce-and-a-half handline is supposed to flow 250 gpm. Geezers don’t understand, care about, or really want to learn about 1¾-inch, 2-inch, and 2¼-inch hoses with combination high-flow low-pressure nozzles. We are from simpler times when you pulled a booster line if fire was visible from one window. From two windows you pulled an 1½-inch and if it looks like a “good one,” you pulled the big line with the straight bore.

A couple of Squad members asked some active guys in different houses what the best nozzle pressure is to get the required flow from a straight tip. Answers were across the board. Most of the brass manufacturers (nozzle people) have printed charts. At 50-psi nozzle pressure, one chart shows a 1-inch tip flows 209 gpm, a 1 1/8-inch tip flows 265 gpm, and the 1¼-inch tip flows 326 gpm. Don’ ask if pump operators are taught or have access to a chart showing the different friction losses per 50 feet of 2½-inch for each of the flows. You might get a few “deer in the headlight” stares and replies ranging from “Who cares,” to “what difference does it make to you?”

One firefighter said you can get an effective stream through a straight tip at 40-psi nozzle pressure. One white hair disagreed: “The 1 1/8-inch tip is supposed to flow 266 gpm at 50 psi which is the whole purpose of lugging around a deuce-and-a-half. Any nozzle pressure less than 50 psi might result in a poor performing and weak looking stream.”

Reality
Bottom line: it looks like NFPA 1901 and the ISO combined came up with the playpipe and stacked tips—for what it’s worth. One Squad member chimed in: “Running stacked tips is stupid. You guys preach a 2½-inch line is supposed to flow 250 gallons per minute, but that’s from the middle tip on the pipe. Ya gotta take the small tip off to use it. And, you’ll probably lose the damn thing anyhow.” Another added: “Other than training, I can’t see anyone shutting down the nozzle in the heat of the battle to switch tips. A length of deuce-and-a-half with water weighs over 100 pounds. Who’s gonna drag that around—Paul Bunyan? Why the hell do they bother with three tips? It’s just something else to confuse us black coats.”

Some of the young guys, book learners, and training people promote the depth and penetration of a large caliber handline. I can’t disagree with them, however, someone somewhere has to tell the black coats (and line officers) “how and when” to use a 2½-inch playpipe with stacked tips and which tip to use. And, equally important is telling the pump operators how to supply one.

Realistically, the Raisin Squad’s main concern is when will they let us back in the firehouse kitchen to “tell lies, lay hose, ask stupid questions, and stir the pot.”

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.