BY BILL ADAMS
When first introduced, the 500 gallon-per-minute (gpm) capacity portable “attack monitor” (aka ground monitor) was an innovative and revolutionary tool for firefighters. It still is.
Task Force Tips (TFT), Akron Brass, and Elkhart Brass manufacture variations of the unit. Each has unique fireground operational and safety features and product enhancements that can include automatic shutoffs, electrically controlled operation, and increased flows.
Individual features shouldn’t be obscured by manufacturers’ sales hype about who did what first and when. The topic here is the monitors’ unique level of safety and performance and their fireground advantages that unfortunately can be both misunderstood and underused.
WHAT IS A GROUND MONITOR?
Similar to deck guns, monitors, deluge sets, turrets, and battery wagons, there is no official definition for a ground monitor. It is not officially recognized by regulatory or standard-generating entities.
1 Many horse-drawn hose wagons featured permanently mounted deck guns fed by a siamese. This 1957 Mack delivered to Los Angeles, California, continued the tradition. (Photo courtesy of Harvey Eckart.)
2 Akron three-inlet deluge sets were popular on 1950s and 1960s era American La Frances. The four-inlet portable is an oddity. Deluge set advertisements from that era seldom advertised a set’s capacity. (Photo courtesy of Mahlon Irish.)
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Appendix A, sentence A.5.9.3 recommends pumpers carry a “Master stream appliance, 1,000 gpm minimum.” Sentence 220.127.116.11 describes discharges supplying directly connected “deck guns or monitors,” but it does not define what a deck gun or monitor is. The Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) 2012 Fire Suppression Rating Schedule Appendix A, Table 512A Pumper Equipment and Hose says a “Master Stream Appliance (1,000 gpm minimum)” is required. A 500-gpm ground monitor does not meet NFPA 1901 or ISO criteria.
Today’s “master stream appliance” was traditionally called a deck gun, when permanently mounted, and a deluge set if it was removable, which seldom happened—especially with the older cast units. Commonly referred to by their manufacturer’s name such as the McIntyre, the Eastman, and the Stang, they were extremely heavy, awkward, and difficult to remove from the top of a rig. Most, but not all, pumper deck guns were, and are, sized to a rig’s pumping capacity. Don’t confuse them with the immensely huge master streams generated by fire boats, the Chicago (IL) Fire Department’s “Big John,” and FDNY’s “Super Pumper” system.
Master stream appliances didn’t change much until the break-apart two-piece “combination deck gun and portable monitors” were introduced in 1984. Usually limited to 1,250 gpm when piped directly from the pump and to 1,000 gpm in the portable mode, it could be time-consuming to remove one from the top of a rig, find its portable base, and stretch a line or lines to it—if the rig carried enough hose to do so. Some Web sites and commentators have different opinions and descriptions of master streams. Paul Shaprio says in “Fixed Master Stream Operations Using Smooth Bore Tips” (https://www.fireengineering.com/2011/06/24/264253/shapiro-smooth-bore/), “A master stream is used when flows surpass 350 gallons per minutes (gpm), becoming too difficult to be delivered from a handline operation because of nozzle reaction.”
3 A TFT BLITZFIRE with a dual-pressure automatic nozzle alongside its optional mounting bracket and a set of stacked tips. The hold-down strap on the bracket prevents the barrel from bouncing up and down on rough terrain. The stacked tips are embossed with various nozzle pressures and their corresponding flows. (Photo courtesy of TFT.)
4 This is Elkhart Brass’s basic ground monitor, the Rapid Attack Monitor Xtreme Duty (RAM XD) Model Number 8296. This unit shows its legs in the extended position and is equipped with a deluge tip. (Photo courtesy of Elkhart Brass.)
5 Akron calls its basic ground monitor the Style 3444 Mercury Quick Attack LE™ Portable Ground Monitor. This one is equipped with Akron’s adjustable-flow (250-, 375-, and 500-gpm) nozzle set at 250 gpm. (Photo courtesy of Akron Brass.)
The following observations of ground monitors are not reflective of any particular manufacturer. They reflect theoretical fireground scenarios when using a ground monitor.
- It provides what I call a single intermediate heavy caliber stream (500 gpm)—twice as much as a single handline but less than a master stream.
- It provides an intermediate heavy-caliber stream remote from the pumper such as around a corner or down an alley.
- It can provide the flow of two side-by-side 2½-inch handlines without having to staff them.
- It can be preconnected and pump discharge pressures precalculated.
- A monitor weighing about 24 pounds preconnected to 2½-inch hose weighing about 30 pounds per 50-foot length or 3-inch hose weighing about 36 pounds per length should be capable of being put into service quickly with limited staffing using the same procedure pump operators are taught in how to hand stretch a large-diameter supply line to a hydrant.
- There is no rule, regulation, or law saying the line supplying a monitor cannot be a combination of 2½-inch hose and 3-inch hose with 2½-inch couplings.
- Friction loss in 50 feet of 2½-inch flowing 250 gpm is about 6 pounds per square inch (psi). It is one half that with 3-inch.
- Friction loss in 50 feet of 2½-inch flowing 500 gpm is about 25 psi. It is one third that with 3-inch.
- Regardless of a monitor’s rated flow, it will only deliver what is pumped to it.
- Caution: Any portable device improperly positioned can be inherently dangerous.
To be objective, manufacturers were asked to comment solely on their “manually operated, 500-gpm capacity single 2½-inch inlet portable ground monitor.” Responding are Chris Martin, director, product marketing for Safe Fleet’s Fire, EMS & Industrial group, for Elkhart Brass; Phil Gerace, vice president of marketing for Task Force Tips (TFT); and Andrea Russell, senior product manager for the Akron Brass unit of IDEX.
Elkhart’s basic ground monitor is the RAM XD Model Number 8296. Akron calls its ground monitor the Style 3444 Mercury Quick Attack LE™ Portable Ground Monitor. TFT’s is the BLITZFIRE.
Do purchasers use ground monitors in lieu of or in addition to NFPA 1901 recognized master stream appliances?
Russell: Most use portable monitors in addition to master stream appliances. The traditional master stream monitor is typically truck-mounted and rated for higher flows and not typically removed from the truck. The truck is a limiting factor in moving its monitor closer to the fire. There are circumstances where the portable ground monitor is used as an interior attack tool. Since a portable ground monitor is attached to a hose for rapid attack, it can be moved closer to the fire. The flexibility with regard to portable monitor movement and the ability to put more water on a fire than a handline, especially those that are closer to the ground, makes the portable monitor a great solution. The Akron Mercury features low elevation of 10 degrees and high elevation of 50 and meets NFPA 1964, [Standard for Spray Nozzles andAppliances].
Martin: We see many departments choosing to outfit their apparatus with one RAM lightweight portable monitor and a fixed monitor up top in lieu of the dual-purpose type monitor.
Gerace: Most customers use portable monitors in addition to an NFPA 1901 master stream appliance with the exception of the CROSSFIRE®, which can be used on the apparatus or on the ground.
Do purchasers intend to use the monitor solely as an unmanned 2½-inch handline?
Russell: Some do, but the majority use the portable ground monitor as a complementary tool to support initial attack without the need for additional personnel resources.
Gerace: Some do, and that is certainly one use that helps departments with manpower shortages or departments with a desire to minimize high flow stresses on firefighters.
Ground monitor stream shapers are short in length. Can a longer one be used?
Gerace: You can always use a longer stream straightener, but it is going to add length and weight. With an increased shaper length comes decreased pressure and flow. The stream shaper would be best paired with a smooth bore or set of stacked tips, as most combination master stream nozzles already have internal vanes that shape the stream as it exits the nozzle.
Martin: We have a standard size shaper and a mini, which is about half the size. The mini is typically used with our RAM monitor to keep the unit compact and lightweight. There is a noticeable difference if one is not used, but the difference is marginal, if at all, if using a long or short. The internal design of the shaper can also affect this. For example, does it have “fins/vanes” that crisscross the entire opening, or is the center of the waterway open with fins just on the outside? We have a horizontal vane right before the exit discharge of the monitor to start shaping the stream at the swivel—the most turbulent area.
Russell: Akron’s Mercury ground monitor has an integrated stream shaper. By having the integrated stream shaper, the monitor is providing the best performance without having to specify a stream shaper as additional equipment. This also keeps the entire unit as small and compact as possible. A larger stream shaper could be used, but there is no real benefit to the user.
Monitors are equipped with straps to physically secure the device. Is that a requirement in your device’s operation/maintenance manual or merely a recommendation?
Russell: Akron states that the monitor should be secured prior to deployment for the safety of the firefighter. Both legs and the safety strap must be fully deployed with all three spikes in contact with the ground before use. When flowing 500 gpm, the stored kinetic energy and reaction force can be intense. Safety is critical in firefighting, so having the portable monitor physically secured is extremely important. Akron Brass has a new device called the FlowGuard™ that can be specified with a new monitor or retrofitted to the older style Mercury. If the monitor or hose realizes excessive movement, it activates to reduce the flow through the monitor, working to help stop any unwanted movement.
Gerace: All TFT portable monitors include a strap to secure the device. TFT recommends the use of the strap, and NFPA requires such in accordance with NFPA 1964 (2018 ed.) 18.104.22.168, “A portable monitor, except a portable ladder pipe, shall have an attachment for at least one tiedown.”
Do you recommend the supply line to your ground monitor be laid “straight back” from the device for at least 10 feet?
Martin: Yes, if at all possible; it will improve the stream reach by not creating additional turbulence before entering the monitor. Also, the hose will want to tend to straighten out on its own if you have a sharp bend right behind the monitor inlet; keeping it straight will reduce this and also improve stability. Yes, this adds weight right behind the monitor, allowing the RAM’s rear 45-degree-angle spikes to dig into the terrain.
Russell: Akron recommends that there is a minimum of 10 feet of straight hose behind the monitor when deployed. The Mercury has carbide tips on the end of the two spikes and the base of the monitor body to aid in stability while flowing. Additionally, having the straight hose behind the monitor provides another level of steadiness to help avoid unwanted sliding or movement. The additional weight in line with the monitor while flowing will only add to reducing risks on the fireground.
Gerace: This is good practice for any portable monitor. The hose will naturally want to straighten out because the fiber strands of the hose were woven straight, and the strands tend to equalize and align under pressure. If the hose is not set straight back, the hose will attempt to move the portable monitor as it adjusts. BLITZFIRES are equipped with a Safety Shut-Off Valve which automatically shuts off the water if the units start to slide or lift.”
Are there advantages and disadvan-tages when using stacked tips or a single deluge tip?
Gerace: TFT doesn’t usually advertise portable monitors with stacked tips but more often with a combination nozzle. However, stacked tips are a popular choice, allowing the flexibility to shut down, thread off a tip, and get a larger smooth bore tip to deliver a higher flow rate vs. a deluge tip only. If you use a single deluge tip, you are limited to that size only, and if you want more water, you will have to overpump the device.”
Martin: Some departments may want to keep it simple and just go with a single size tip. If they are putting this device in service, it is likely that big water flow is needed. Some prefer the stacked for the following: reducing flow rates and thus stretching out the available water onboard, increasing vertical or horizontal reach and “punch,” and having the ability to spin tips off and reduce to a handline. When the tips are spun off, a standard NHT hose thread is exposed [so the] RAM can now be utilized as a manifold, feeding a smaller line.
Russell: The advantage of a stacked tip is that you can adjust your flow if you need more or less by using a stacked tip. The deluge tip is a single flow. Typically whether a stacked tip or a deluge tip is used, it is the fire department’s preference based on its own [standard operating procedure].
Part 2 will continue with the ground monitor manufacturers addressing the use of various types of nozzles on monitors, storage, maintenance, vertical and horizontal reaches, words of wisdom, and recommendations.
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.