Apparatus Purchasing: What Price Preconnect?

One option for adding a preconnect to a program pumper is fabricating an open hose trough into one of the side running boards and attaching the line to one of the side 2½-inch discharges. (Photo by author.)
One option for adding a preconnect to a program pumper is fabricating an open hose trough into one of the side running boards and attaching the line to one of the side 2½-inch discharges. (Photo by author.)

A budget-conscious fire department ordered an inexpensive program pumper (sometimes referred to as a stock or demonstrator unit) from a major apparatus manufacturer—a stripped down, bare-bones unit that just meets the minimum requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. It includes a four-door commercial chassis, standard pumper body, 1,250-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump, 750-gallon tank, dual 1¾-inch crosslays, and the usual 2½-inch discharges—two on the left side, two on the right side, and one at the rear. Being a standardized unit, the base price was very attractive, just meeting the department’s limited budget. Manufacturers usually do not allow major changes to the basic body configuration, cab and chassis components, or tank size of program apparatus. However, most do offer limited options.

If the apparatus was ordered before starting down the production line, there may be flexibility in choosing options. To maintain the continuity of flow in the manufacturing process, some builders even limit minor deviations at a set time prior to the start date. Add-ons and changes to the original specifications may have to wait until the apparatus has been completed. They may be done in an area away from the primary assembly line or at a local dealer’s service facility, especially in the case of an already built unit being shown as a demonstrator. As such, the cost to add an item later is usually substantially more than at the time of purchase. It is not necessarily the vendor taking advantage of the customer, because the contract has already been signed. It is a matter of economics. When departments make last-minute changes and additions during the manufacturing process, the efficiency and productivity reaped with preengineering and prescheduling can be lost.

Deciding After the Fact

In the case above, the fire department asked if it was possible to add an additional 1¾-inch preconnect capable of flowing 200 gpm after placing the order. Its local salesman recommended extending the front bumper and adding a discharge at that location. After all, he said, extending the front bumper would not affect the wheelbase of the apparatus. The location would not require major body modification, which would be cost-prohibitive, if even possible. He said the location would make life easy when pulling and reloading the hose. It would also make an excellent place to mount the siren. And, as the department originally wanted to transfer a bell from its old apparatus to the new one, there was now a place to mount it. The department bought it without exploring other options.

Know Your Options

The salesman was negligent because he did not point out all the options available. The front bumper extension increased the overall length of the apparatus by a foot and a half, which substantially increased the wall-to-wall turning radius. Both can be important operational concerns to many purchasers. And, financially, it was the most expensive location available. Prices noted here are estimates and shown to illustrate differences in cost based on location. Actual costs vary from builder to builder.

The cost was $1,375 to extend the front bumper; $400 to build a hose well with a cover; $350 for the treadplate gravel shield on top of the bumper; and $1,475 for the valve, piping, controller, and pressure gauge. The total cost was $3,600. The vendor was remiss because he should have given the purchaser all the options available to add another preconnect. He should have explained, in depth, estimated costs, physical ramifications to the apparatus, as well as firematic advantages and disadvantages. Only then could the purchaser have made a sound decision based on operational characteristics as well as value received for monies expended.

Other Considerations

Fire pump plumbing and pump panels are engineered with valves and controls in predetermined locations. Some manufacturers determine the front-to-rear width of a pump house based on the number of discharges specified—especially those designs where all discharge controllers are located on a single horizontal line. Adding a discharge after the fact may result in the controller and pressure gauge being in a location remote from other controls and gauges. Although seemingly minor, it may be a concern to some purchasers. Additionally, the option to sleeve or “T” the tank for remote discharge piping may not be available. Piping may have to be run under the body, in compartments, or in a combination of both. Consider the friction loss in lengthy piping with numerous fittings. Pumping identically sized preconnects at the same flow rate—one a crosslay and the other a remote rear- or front-bumper preconnect—may require different discharge pressures. How often does a fire department physically test the flow rates and calculate the required pump discharge pressure for each preconnect? You may be surprised.

Additional Options

There are many alternatives to a front bumper preconnect. For example, an electric rewind hosereel could be mounted on top of a midship pump house or in a compartment with the associated two-inch plumbing and accessories for around $3,200. A disadvantage is it may not fit in or above a congested pump house. If compartment-mounted, it would virtually wipe out one of the largest compartments available in a standard pumper body configuration.

Some manufacturers purchase prebuilt pump modules as complete assemblies with the pump preplumbed, framework built, and pump panel control handles and gauges premounted. Modifying such a preordered vendor-supplied component is very unlikely. Manufacturers that build their own pump enclosures may not consider the pump enclosure as part of the basic body and may allow modifications within a set time prior to completion of the apparatus. If that were the case, adding a third 1¾-inch crosslay would cost about $900 for the hosebed flooring, chicksan swivel and divider and another $900 for all the associated plumbing. The total cost would be $1,800.

A disadvantage is the location. There may not be enough room with a top-mount pump enclosure, and there is the safety factor with crosslays above a side-mount pump operator’s panel. There may be interference with ground ladder storage in both scenarios. Add-on crosslays may be hard to access and harder to repack.

At one time, underbody compartments, costing in the neighborhood of $700, could be supplied on both sides of a pumper. Exercise caution on the right side because of the increased room today’s exhaust systems require. However, if one were added for a preconnect, add about $650 for the plumbing, for a total cost of $1,350. Add another $1,000 for a slide-out tray.

Although seldom mentioned, the angle of approach for the rear wheels is just as important as the angle for the front wheels. Mounted wheel chocks or low slung underbody compartments mounted between the wheels are magnets for curbs and speed bumps.

If there is room in the main hosebed, another option is having a two-inch discharge piped to the front of the bed for around $750. Add an additional $390 hosebed divider and, for $1,140, a department will realize the third preconnect. Or, providing a reducer for the rear 2½-inch discharge reduces the cost to that of the hosebed divider. Disadvantages are the potential loss of supply hose capacity and possibly the use of the rear 2½-inch discharge for its own 2½-inch preconnect. Purchasers should bear in mind that a program apparatus may only have the minimum sized hosebed capacity. The width of a standard hosebed is approximately 70 inches. Two side-by-side tiers of 1¾-inch hose will take up about seven inches, or 10 percent of the total hosebed width.

Another option is fabricating an open hose trough into one of the side running boards for around $400 and attaching the line to one of the side 2½-inch discharges. Disadvantages include subjecting the preconnect to the elements and the safety factor of a firefighter attempting to use the running board trough area as a step. Purchasers should note that any preconnect stored at or below frame rail height is a magnet for water, moisture, road debris, and road salt and is subject to freezing in winter months. Even with a cover or door, hosebeds in this area usually end up being damp, dank, and nasty smelling.

Another option, as a last resort, is to pull an adaptor off an existing rig and two or three bungee cords that should only cost a few dollars at the hardware store. The new rig has five 2½-inch discharges. Use the reducer on any one of them and bungee cord the preconnect on the running board, on the rear work platform, or on top of low side compartments. Whether a bungee cord is OSHA-compliant and meets NFPA “hold-down criteria” is an altogether different subject. Look at photos of rigs from the 1940s and 1950s. See what the firefighters did back then. Don’t forget the fire department in upstate New York that coined the term mattydale with a few pieces of plywood and a handful of nails.

Let the Buyer Beware

The intent here is not to bastardize a new fire truck or promote the haphazard bungee cording of fire hose. It is to make the purchaser aware that the cost of adding a preconnected discharge is directly related to location, especially on program apparatus.

Safety is paramount. Preconnects should be located in safe accessible locations, easy to deploy, and just as easy to reload. Purchasers have the right to know all the options, and vendors are obliged to state them. For every location, there are advantages and disadvantages. The purchaser should be made aware of those also. Apparatus vendors should be, and the majority are, up front and honest in informing the purchaser of all available alternatives, the pros and cons of each, and operational concerns as well as the costs. There should be a degree of mutual trust, faith, and confidence between the buyer and seller during the apparatus purchasing process. It makes for a better day and a better fire truck.

BILL ADAMS is a former fire apparatus salesman, a past chief, and an active member of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has more than 45 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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