Apparatus Purchasing: Boston’s Pumpers
BY BILL ADAMS
In some fire departments not using an apparatus purchasing committee, the department’s hierarchy and administrative staff solely determine the type and specifics of apparatus to be purchased.
Progressive departments seek input from active firefighters and officers (aka the operations division or the line). Astute departments pursue and evaluate the recommendations of repair and maintenance personnel (aka Maintenance; Logistics; the Shops; Fleet; or, as historically called in Boston, Massachusetts, the Motor Squad). I admiringly call them wrench spinners. My observation is the Boston Fire Department (BFD) approach to specifying new pumpers (aka engines) incorporates—at a committee level—the ideas, concerns, and suggestions of both the Motor Squad and operations division as well as identifies past experiences with apparatus previously purchased.
PURCHASING COMMITTEE OBJECTIVES
In 2014, the BFD, under the auspices of Fire Commissioner Joe Finn, established standard operating procedures for an apparatus and equipment committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Chief Robert Calobresi. One of its missions was “to research and develop specifications for engine and ladder apparatus.” In turn, the committee makes specification recommendations to the fire commissioner.
I reference specification documents and interviews with BFD’s Fleet and Logistics Division Lieutenant Jim O’Brien and paraphrase a 2017 Fire Engine Design summary. O’Brien, a 33-year veteran of the fire service, has previously been assigned to Rescue Company 2 and Ladder Company 4. Opinions and observations are my own and do not reflect official BFD protocol and procedures.
In designing the department’s pumpers, the committee’s objective was to expand performance, achieve maximum reliability, and minimize out-of-service time because of repairs and collisions. Past apparatus shortcomings were identified. Fireground operational concerns, objectives, and future planning were addressed. Special attention was given to safely responding and maneuvering in Boston’s highly congested environment by addressing apparatus size and collision avoidance. From personal experience, I categorize Boston’s secondary streets and alleys as very narrow, extremely narrow, and “don’t even think about trying it.” Lanes and paths laid out before the Revolutionary War are not conducive for today’s heavy traffic, parked vehicles, and 20-ton fire trucks seeking the right-of-way.
The committee defined problems, needs, and ways to improve fireground operations. It established best-way solutions in a process technically called a Systems Approach, which I define as white coats, black coats, and wrench spinners getting together and specifying a workable and reliable fire truck. The committee objectively looked at the successes and shortcomings of previous department purchases. What worked was kept; what didn’t wasn’t. Previously discontinued features that had worked well in the past were reincorporated. There was synergy between wrench spinners, the operations people, and the administrative staff. Minimum engine company staffing is one officer and three firefighters.
In 2017, the BFD began placing the first of a 23-pumper order in service (photos 1 and 2). The successful bidder was Greenwood Emergency Vehicles of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, representing E-ONE. Highlighted are several items in Boston’s design specifications.
The fire department was not asked to prioritize design criteria. The items below are not in any specific order of importance. I believe it best to let readers determine if any could be advantageous in their individual response areas. A short, compact, highly maneuverable rig may not be as important as the pump, tank, and plumbing configurations for a rural department located in the Texas panhandle. Rather than listing the makes and model numbers of the widgets and design features specified, this article shows some of the reasons they were chosen.
Cab and Chassis
PUMPS AND WAGONS
According to the Boston Fire Historical Society, the BFD organized Engine Company 53 in 1921, making it the 50th land engine company in service. Most were two-piece companies consisting of a pumper and hose wagon. Three fireboats on the roster also carried the engine company designation. Land engine companies decreased in numbers to 48 in 1955, 37 in 1981, and 34 in 2019. The conversion to single-piece companies began in 1954. BFD’s 1947 Annual Report showed 43 “hose cars” (BFD terminology) in service. There were four in the 1981 Annual Report. In 1958, Engine 8 became the last two-piece company to lose its hose wagon. Thanks to the Boston Fire Historical Society for access to and providing the historic data used herein.
Boston specified a Darley PSM split-shaft-driven 1,250-gallon-per-minute (gpm) single-stage pump with an enlarged impeller eye midship mounted. Jason S. Darley, North American sales manager for W.S. Darley & Co.’s pump division, says, “Boston really did their homework and spent significant amounts of time researching all aspects of these new pumpers including visiting manufacturers, attending trade shows, and reaching out to other cities. I really appreciated being able to work with them in providing what we all came to believe was the best solution for the city and I am confident will be for the long term. Greenwood has a great staff and sales team, their service capabilities and the professionalism embodied by their sales staff led by Vice President of Sales and Marketing Audra Jaconetti and all the way through the company is impressive.”
Darley continues, “The PSM is a single-suction impeller split-shaft-driven pump rated from 1,000 to 1,500 gpm that utilizes our Magnatrans™ transmission with helical cut gears. The large eye impeller is an offering within the P-series product family, allowing the customer higher ‘throughput’ from a pressurized source. Boston’s pumps are National Fire Protection Association [(NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus] rated at 1,250 gpm. Large eye impeller technology combined with the gear ratios selected significantly increased the pump’s performance.”
O’Brien says, “The large eye design increased the flow-through ability and, when adequately supplied from a pressurized source, it can easily deliver 1,800 gpm (photo 12).”
Darley adds, “The PSM shipped for Boston weighed a total of 660 pounds compared with full-bodied midships that can exceed 1,500 pounds to achieve the same thing at the end of the nozzle. Its 20 percent more compact design helped meet Boston’s criteria for a narrow pumphouse.”
O’Brien adds that another benefit of using the PSM pump design was that the apparatus manufacturer engineered a discharge manifold and piping allowing a compact pump house with low crosslays while maintaining the desired short wheelbase and overall length.
LOSS OF WATER
The committee addressed equipment failures, especially those having possible catastrophic consequences on the fireground, including the loss of or failing to secure a water supply. In doing so, and to reduce out-of-service time and facilitate all repairs, anything electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically controlled was made mechanically operated where feasible.
Piston-type large-diameter hose (LDH) intake valves and internal relief valves on the operator’s panel had a high frequency of fireground failures impacting water supply—a critical failure. A lower profile intake valve with a 4½-inch stainless steel ball and a close-fitting circular control handle was specified. Electrically and air-operated controllers on the pump panel for front suction valves was another common fireground choke point. They routinely failed. A manually operated actuator and gearbox controlled at the pump operator’s panel was specified (photo 3).
The failure rate of fire pump relief valves because of clogging up and sticking open on the fireground was becoming problematic. The downtime to repair was becoming unacceptable. An exception to avoiding electrically operated controls was specifying an electronic pump pressure governor. It was more responsive than relief valves at lower flows, giving more protection (firefighter safety) in typical initial attack operations.
Older pump panel features that had worked well were incorporated into the 2016 design specification to create a user-friendly layout to enhance fireground operations. O’Brien calls it an intuitive design. The committee examined all the physical tasks done by the motor pump operator (MPO) and designed the panel so movements are made in a logical and natural sequence where the MPO doesn’t have to reach or contort himself to search for a particular control or gauge.
Master pump gauges are six inches in diameter, enabling them to be read at 15 feet from the panel—a normal distance where a pump operator may be while performing multiple initial tasks. The larger size allows instant recognition of master gauges and eliminates confusing them with smaller individual line gauges. Locating them one above the other is efficient use of pump panel real estate. Water “in” on the lower gauge and water “out” on the upper gauge is similar to the usual location of suctions and discharges—water “in” on the bottom and “out” on the top. Locating the throttle and tank-to-pump control below and in line with the master gauges enables the operator to naturally look up rather than scanning the panel looking for the appropriate gauge (photo 4). All gauges are limited to a 300-pounds-per-square-inch (psi) reading because they are easier to read than 400-psi or 600-psi gauges. They are located immediately adjacent to their discharge controls for quick reference. The pump pressure governor readout is used for situations requiring higher discharge pressures. The tachometer is immediately adjacent to the master discharge gauge and the foam and booster tank level indicators are above it. Primary pump controls are logically located on the right side of the panel away from the crosslays.
Pump panel labeling was addressed. Lettering on suction inlets and their controls, drains, and gauges is white on black labels, including the tank-to-pump control. Conversely, discharges and their controls, gauges, and drains and the tank-fill control have black lettering on white labels. Black labels mean water in and white means water out. To allow instant identification of foam-capable discharges, their controls are labeled “foam,” and their gauges have red lettering on white labels (photo 5). The deck gun, rear discharge, and both left-side discharges are foam-capable.
BOOSTER TANK AND BODY
Boston’s minimum water tank requirement is 500 gallons with a 30-gallon integral foam cell. O’Brien says, “Integrating a universal foam was part of the strategy for a reliable operational improvement.” A larger booster tank was desired, but the department did not want a bigger or longer rig or to compromise hosebed capacity. O’Brien adds, “The requirement for a low hosebed height and short overall apparatus length led to choosing an L-shaped tank. Working closely with the OEM’s engineering staff on its design, the tank capacity was increased to 560 gallons in addition to the foam cell. The L-shaped polypropylene tank promised better weight balance for braking and handling.” Boston requires a treadplate shroud to protect both tank fill towers (photo 6). The tank drain was eliminated because it hung low—a hazard. The tank can be drained through the main suction inlets.
Boston has used extruded aluminum bodies since the mid 1980s, although there have been some purchases of nonextruded bodies. The successful bidder had a proven system of building with extruded aluminum, and the department wanted corrosion resistance for the usable life of the apparatus—at least 15 years.
Body configuration and, in particular, compartmentation in any apparatus design can be influenced and even dictated by cast-in-concrete design criteria. Boston’s maximum overall length requirement was 28 feet 3 inches. The specified five-person cab required, as with most manufacturers, was 58 inches from front axle to back of cab. Bumper functions required a 16-inch extension. Pump, plumbing, and crosslay configurations dictate the fore-to-aft width of any pump house. Mindful of the short wheelbase requirement, the OEM’s engineering expertise and purchaser’s willingness to prioritize and compromise determined the final design of the hosebed, tank, and body. The photographs reflect Boston’s final design. The resulting 165-inch wheelbase met the criteria for a compact, maneuverable rig. Shutter-style compartment doors were specified, enabling access on narrow congested streets.
Boston’s pumpers have six discharges: two left-side 2½-inch; one right-side 2½-inch; one 2½-inch at left rear of the body; one 3-inch to the deck gun; and one 3-inch on the right side to 4-inch Storz. A benefit of the committee working close with the dealer, the pump manufacturer, and the OEM’s engineering team was a fore-to-aft pump house length of less than 40 inches.
A recycled feature from the department’s 1992 purchases is a removable panel in the crosslay bed to access the upper portion of the pump house for service (photo 4). D-ring handles with a rigid two-point latching system allow quicker access than a panel secured with multiple threaded fasteners. The entire curb-side pump panel is removable with push-to release latches.
The BFD’s minimum hose loads for the 88-cubic-foot capacity main bed is from left to right: 200 feet of 1¾-inch, 300 feet of 2½-inch, 300 feet of 2½-inch, and 600 feet of 4-inch LDH. Company captains can opt to carry additional hose, and some companies carry 700 to 800 feet of LDH. The bed is large enough to support later in-field modifications. One was when 3-inch hose was reintroduced. Photos of loaded beds show there is room for expansion (photos 7-10).
After the first deliveries, it was discovered that the area above the ladder tunnel was unused. When adding a removable divider, the area became available for use at the discretion of the company officer. Depending on primary response areas, some companies use it as a general utility area (photo 8) or for rolled forestry hose (photo 9), high-rise packs, or additional attack line storage (photos 10 and 16).
Rear retention webbing was specified, but a full cover over the main hosebed was not (photos 8 and 10). It complicated hose loading and discouraged the troops from making attack line stretches off the rear. The OEM suggested adding a hinged treadplate windscreen at the front of the hosebed to prevent leading edges of packed hose going airborne because of aerodynamic wind effects (photo 11). A usable 14-inch rear step with angled corners was specified as well as a ¾-inch-width intermediate treadplate step beneath the hosebed to facilitate repacking (photo 8).
3-INCH HOSE REINTRODUCED
Previously used as a supply line, 3-inch was discontinued in the mid 1980s when replaced by LDH. According to O’Brien, “It was restored some years ago for use in supplying standpipes only.” Subsequent field testing showed 3-inch could augment water supply from a hydrant and maximize the flow capabilities of portable deluge sets and ground monitors. Testing showed the preconnected 5-inch soft suction on a standard hydrant delivered around 1,400 gpm. A length of 3-inch off a hydrant’s 2½-inch port increased the flow to 1,800 gpm (photo 12). An old-school rule of thumb is 3-inch hose with 2½-inch couplings effectively flows 1.7 times more than 2½-inch—from 250 gpm to 425 gpm.
The BFD’s combination deck gun/portable monitors are fed in the portable mode by a siamese with two 2½-inch inlets. Dual 2½-inch lines supplying it did not efficiently make use of the monitor’s rated capacity of 900 gpm when used as a portable. The 3-inch can. Additional testing showed the department’s one-inlet ground monitors rated at 500 gpm are better served by 3-inch than 2½-inch.
Boston calls an “Emergency Augmentation” a water supply tactic where a later arriving engine can quickly supply the first-due with an attack line. Again, the 3-inch works better. A need for an immediate water supply could be a sudden or catastrophic loss of water because of a mechanical failure, a burst supply line, being tied into a poor water distribution system, or working on a highway without hydrants. To facilitate speed in hooking up, each engine is equipped with a dual 2½-inch gated suction siamese on the officer’s side steamer port (photos 2 and 12). A single 2½-inch gated inlet is on the operator’s panel.
O’Brien reiterates, “We resurrected the 3-inch and put it back in the hosebed. It increases the fireground efficiency of portable master streams and ground monitors. It augments water supply from hydrant to the pump and emergency augmentation of water from pumper to pumper as well as supplying sprinkler and standpipe fire department connections.” Fireground photographs show the BFD is well served by the orange colored 3-inch.
CROSSLAYS AND PRECONNECTS
The first record of preconnected attack lines on pumpers in BFD’s 1959 Annual Report describes the mechanical work done on pumpers being converted to single-piece companies. It states: “This work included changes in pump piping to allow auxiliary suction connections for preconnected 1½-inch attack lines ….” It mentioned some pumpers of remaining two-piece companies were also being piped for preconnects (photos 17 and 18). Future pumper purchases included dry crosslays. Photos of some rigs in the 1970s and 1980s show a crosslay preconnected to a side discharge, presumably for use as a trash line.
The new pumpers maintain the dry crosslays. Specifications require the forward one hold a double stack of 100 feet of 1¾-inch hose and 100 feet of 2½-inch. The rearward one holds a triple stack of 250 feet of 2½-inch. Crosslays are 66 inches from ground level. There is ample room in the 32-cubic-feet crosslay storage area for later modifications.
O’Brien says, “Attack lines are not preconnected as required lengths vary depending on the order of arrival as the first-, second-, or third-due engine. Lengths can vary from 150 feet to 250 feet for the same building depending on where the apparatus has to stop. Company commanders (the bosses) often preconnect a 1¾-inch trash line off the rear discharge (photo 7).” Fireground photos often show attack lines are 2½-inch, and the 3-inch is used quite often. An observation is engines always leave access to structures for multiple ladder companies. That, combined with narrow streets, can necessitate long stretches for both attack and backup lines.
TANKS AND REELS
In 1929, Boston started specifying 80-gallon water tanks on its pumpers and wagons. Before then, hose wagons and some ladder trucks were equipped with chemical tanks and booster hose coiled in baskets. Around World War II, 150-gallon water tanks and rear-step booster reels were specified for both pumpers and hose wagons. When tanks rusted out, they were replaced with 400-gallon tanks. Several 1940s-era wagons were equipped with Cardox systems, but they were discontinued after rusting out. In 1957, booster reels were no longer purchased except for a short rerun from 1968 to 1970. They were totally discontinued in the 1980s.
The new rigs feature a 2½-inch discharge piped to the left rear of the apparatus. Although it was a traditional location, in recent years, it either hasn’t been specified or was piped to the curb side. The committee recommended standardizing the left rear location throughout the department. O’Brien states, “Some companies will preconnect a trash line using a wye or just a reducer. As long as the required hose load is carried, the final dressing of the discharge is up to the company captain.”
The committee recommended that new pumpers eliminate carrying the 12-foot roof ladder and replace the 24-foot extension with a two-section 20-foot extension. Some basic reasoning given was a 24-footer will not reach a third floor but can reach a second floor. The 20-foot ladder will also. The 20-foot ladder is adequate for minor uses on still alarms, and ground ladders are seldom used on the fireground by most engine companies. Boston can provide a robust complement of ground ladders on its 22 ladder and tower companies, one of which usually arrives simultaneously with the first-due engine.
FRONT SUCTIONS AND BOSTON BUMPERS
Around 1970, Boston began using front suctions piped through the front fascia of early nontilting custom cabs. When using both tilting custom cabs and tilting cab-forward commercial chassis, the front suction was piped to a swiveling elbow above an extended bumper. To meet the requirement for a short maneuverable pumper capable of making tight turns on narrow congested streets, the committee worked closely with the OEM’s engineering staff to design a bumper and front suction interface. A reinforced, painted steel, 16-inch extended bumper (photo 13) has a front suction connection “boxed in” a cutout that was enlarged to accommodate a 5-inch-long handled female cap. The 5-inch pipe was recessed far enough behind the bumper to allow and protect a transition to a 4-inch Storz fitting and cap (photo 14).
A mechanical siren is similarly boxed in on the driver’s side. An open hose well is provided in the center, and an electronic siren speaker and two air horns are fully recessed behind the bumper. Aggressively angling the bumper’s front corners gained six inches in the outside wall-to-wall turning clearance. An oversized front cornering mirror (photos 2 and 15) enables the MPO to simultaneously see both corners of the front bumper when maneuvering. The rear tailboard was also angled to facilitate turning while backing up (photo 8).
The preconnected front suction is 25 feet of 5-inch with a 4½-inch NST long-handled female swivel on one end and 4-inch Storz on the other. O’Brien notes the 25-foot length allows the MPO to “loop” the suction hose when necessary (photo 12), saying, “It’s an operational improvement over the swiveling elbow. Not having the elbow increased flow by seven percent and saved $7,000.” The benefit of the 4-inch Storz on one end is that the 25-foot length can also be used at the main intake at pump panel. This is useful when one must drive by a hydrant. If it’s on the opposite side, the MPO can use a 50-foot donut roll of 4-inch carried on each pumper. We got this whole idea from a New Hampshire fire department.”
This is not the first time Boston addressed bumpers. Photos 17 and 18 show massive treadplate bumpers supplied on some 1940s-era pumpers and hose wagons. It appears they were intended to “move” hazards rather than being designed to reduce the turning radius to avoid hazards.
GREENWOOD EMERGENCY VEHICLES
Mark MacDonald, president of Greenwood Motors, states, “It is truly a privilege to work with the Boston Fire Department. Greenwood and E-ONE have forged a long-standing relationship with the BFD that spans over 30 years. We have delivered close to 200 trucks to the city during that time. With the latest pumper purchase, the apparatus committee in Boston really did their due diligence in order to update their specifications and drill down to their top priorities for developing a ‘city engine’ that would best meet the needs of their firefighters. Key performance indicators were determined and included requirements for overall length; wheelbase; hosebed and crosslay heights; corrosion protection; cab and body layouts; and, of course, pump and plumbing configurations. All of the requirements then factored into the specification development process. We have been fortunate enough to earn Boston’s business in the past, but we certainly do not take that business for granted. We are constantly working to provide the highest levels of service and support for the BFD, as well as our entire customer base.”
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.