Apparatus Purchasing: Pump Modules

By Bill Adams

Fire pump manufacturers customarily ship pumps and loose accessories in a crate to fire apparatus builders.

They can also ship complete fabricated pump modules compliant with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. The modules, informally called pump houses, include the pump mounted on a contiguous subframe within an enclosure. Most are 100 percent finished with plumbing and controls installed, labeled, wired, tested, and ready for chassis mounting by the apparatus original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The process, while not new, can place OEMs and pump suppliers in unique, untested, and uncomfortable marketing relationships. It can also put apparatus vendors in equally precarious and unenviable positions. The intent of this article, focused only on midship pumps, is to explain the process and its advantages and disadvantages. It will address all sides of the spectrum. It will not take a side, indicate a preference, or make recommendations.

Although Mack delivered a custom pumper in 1911 with a Goulds pump mounted behind the driver’s seat and ahead of the hose body, most early motorized rigs had midship pumps located beneath the driver’s seat. Coinciding with the increased use of commercial chassis in the 1930s, OEMs started mounting pumps behind the cab at the front of, and sometimes even inside, the apparatus body. They installed pump enclosures, piping, and appurtenances after mounting the pump on the chassis. Many still are. Later designs featured removable pump panels and ultimately flex joints between the enclosure and the body. Eventually, most manufacturers mounted pumps inside separate free-standing enclosures, allowing the pump, plumbing, and controls to flex independently of the body. That principle is applicable today. Seagrave’s Web site states that its pump house’s “floating module design eliminates chassis stress transfer and provides long-term structural integrity.”

Six prefabricated pump modules ready for shipment from the Darley factory.
Six prefabricated pump modules ready for shipment from the
Darley factory. (Photo courtesy of W.S. Darley.)

OEMs-including Seagrave, Barton-American, American LaFrance, Darley, and Ahrens Fox-would only supply pumps they manufactured on their respective apparatus. Other OEMs purchased pumps from sole source suppliers, usually within restrictive contractual agreements. If you bought a Mack, you got a Waterous pump. If it was a Maxim, you got a Hale. There was no inbreeding. Civil litigation resulted in OEMs having access to all pumps available on the open market. When, where, and what parties were involved are irrelevant. Today, most pumps are purchased from Darley, Hale, and Waterous. An exception is Rosenbauer, which manufactures a pump that is only available through the Rosenbauer dealer network. This article does not address private-labeled pumps built by a pump manufacturer to a proprietary specification exclusive to and bearing an apparatus manufacturer’s name.

Module Origins

Outsourcing and building pump modules didn’t begin with the independent pump manufacturers. Apparatus manufacturers conceived it, albeit for varied reasons. The earliest is credited to W.S. Darley. Jason Darley of W.S. Darley’s pump division says, “In the 1930s, we sold kits through our catalog to fire departments so they could build their own complete apparatus from the pump and plumbing to the body.” Midship pumps in the Darley kits were, like all apparatus of that era, mounted directly to the chassis frame rails.

Four decades later, apparatus manufacturers started building their own free-standing pump modules. They used fixtures, also called jigs, replicating chassis frame rails to fabricate the modules and mount pumps separate from the chassis. Some were stationary and some were movable. Some were on wheels. Alan Saulsbury, president of the former Saulsbury Fire Apparatus and current owner of Fire Apparatus and Equipment Consultants, says, “National Foam started modules under Roger Ruth, chief engineer, about 1976.”

A Hale prefabricated pump module ready for installation
A Hale prefabricated pump module ready for installation. (Photo
courtesy of KME.)

Dave Wilhide, recently retired after 40 years in the apparatus industry, recalls that around the same time the former Simon-LTI was the first OEM to mass produce free-standing pump modules. They were specifically designed for several large export orders for quintuple apparatus. “The prototype team consisted of Jim Salmi, Scott Hackman, Mahlon Zimmerman, and myself,” he says. “We built about 80 of these units on Simon-Duplex chassis with a Simon-Snorkel aerial device imported from England, a Waterous-Simon-LTI pump module, and a Simon-LTI body.” Wilhide says chassis deliveries in those days were typically late and the major advantage was they could build and complete the pump house and plumbing prior to the chassis and aerial device arriving. He says, “It was a very ahead-of-its-time project.” Saulsbury started building modules in-house in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, many OEMs followed suit.

OEMs and Pump Manufacturers

Today, pump manufacturers offer OEMs complete prefabricated pump modules for NFPA 1901 compliant pumpers-similar, if not identical, to what the OEMs themselves are currently building. Although the modular concept is the same, there can be differences in both finished product and the segments of the market to which they are directed. Both parties seem to be working affably despite building like products.

Jeff Van Meter, product manager, pumps, modules, CAFS for Hale Products, says Hale began marketing modules to OEMs in 2004 and directly to end users in 2010. Darley says the company released its first full line of modules as they are known today to the OEM market in the mid 1990s. Teri Mascotti, global marketing manager for Waterous, says the company expanded into the pump module market in 2008. Gary Handwerk, of Handwerk Consulting Services, LLC, a 42-year apparatus industry veteran who spent three decades directly involved with fire pumps, comments, “The rapid growth in the module business was in the last half of the last decade, and was originally focused on the program trucks, but quickly became more main line.”

A Waterous prefabricated module mounted
on a chassis. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

Jason Witmier, pumper and tanker product manager for KME, says that although KME has been offering outsourced prefabricated pump modules for the past four or five years, the vast majority of its construction business continues to be custom manufactured plumbing and pump houses built in-house directly on the chassis. Many manufacturers still do. Some use both methods.

Alissa McGlone, marketing and trade show manager for Sutphen, says it’s been using prefabricated modules for about 10 years. “The Sutphen line of preengineered, limited-option pumpers is sold with pump modules that are preassembled to our specifications and shipped to us ready for installation.”

Joe Messmer, president of Summit, adds, “Modules work well for us on program trucks,” and that Summit’s been using them for the past eight years. He also cautions, “The OEM is responsible to do the driveline drops and PTO calculations so the truck runs without excessive vibration.”

All three pump manufacturers have standard models, and all offer options and customized modules. Mascotti adds, “Waterous offers a line of top- and side-mount modules tailored to the individual OEM’s specification requirements. We even build partial modules for those customers who prefer to lay out their own panel designs.” Hale offers a complete kit for installation down to just a bare kit. According to Van Meter, “This allows OEMs to determine how much of the package they would like to complete themselves.” Darley adds, “We definitely have a base set of standards but find most sales are typically a combination of our standard offerings and options added at the end user’s request.”

Waterous modules. Note that the 2½-inch discharges are located next to
each other on one unit and above each other on the other. One has two
crosslays and the other has three-demonstrating the customization
available from the pump manufacturers. (Photos courtesy of Sutphen.)

Pump Panel Standardization

Darley states, “[Outsourcing pump modules] allows the end user to specify a pump house that can be bid by all manufacturers without a particular concern to investigate any differences in the OEM’s construction technique in regards to the pump house.” McGlone concurs. “I think that in the case of a large fleet, the pump module can always be the same no matter what the rest of the truck looks like. From a training standpoint, that is a huge advantage.” Witmier adds, “An area where we’ve seen some popularity with the modules is in departments that utilize the same design but allow the individual companies to purchase from different OEMs. For example, if a county has a standard design that it regulates all pumpers must meet, each company can purchase from a different OEM. Utilizing a prefabricated module from one pump manufacturer guarantees that all the panels will be the same despite which OEM builds the finished apparatus.” Van Meter says, “Pump modules are preengineered and preapproved by the truck committee, which ensures uniformity of controls from truck to truck.”

Although standardization has merit and a lower cost, there are apparatus OEMs that have made major investments in engineering and technology in pump-house construction and piping systems. Some are capable of, and excel at, manufacturing highly complex and job-specific installations. A standardized or generic pump house with limited options may not fit every firematic situation.

This Hale module sitting on a fixture shows optional speedlays
stacked one above the other. (Photo courtesy of Hale Products.)

Precarious Positions

Despite pump manufacturers and OEMs working well together, there can be potential discord when one supplier appears to be competing with its own customer for the same business. Although not blatantly advertised, most OEMs have pump preferences-as subtle and imperceptible as they may be. Demo units, brochures, and salespeople in the field can be enlightening. At trade shows, pump manufacturers display their prefabricated pump modules, sometimes near OEMs who offer the same pump but installed in an OEM-fabricated module. That, and the fact many apparatus OEMs pride themselves on the design and workmanship of their own modules, could cause consternation in the marketplace. However, as previously mentioned, there appears to be amicable relationships between pump suppliers and the OEMs. Hopefully, it remains so.

I empathize with fire apparatus dealers who must interact with end users, pump manufacturers, and the apparatus manufacturer they represent. Should the dealer endorse an outsourced module favored by the fire department? Or, should it promote a different outsourced module, preferred by the OEM? What if the apparatus manufacturer prefers its own pump module? Prospective customers may become confused. Dealers can be caught between a rock and a hard place. Thus far, dealers have not been openly complaining, although some are opinionated, and many would not comment.

The Waterous ACCESS Module system. (Photo
by author.)

Andy Kaza, president of Kaza Fire Equipment, a Pennsylvania Rosenbauer dealer, says he does not directly promote outsourced pump modules, although they are used in program pumpers to keep the cost down. Mark Aswad, president of Firehouse Apparatus, New York State’s 4 Guys apparatus dealer, notes, “My sales team has found that the layout and customization required by our customers require the special attention that we get from our apparatus manufacturer. During the manufacturing phase of a truck, such as a prepaint inspection trip, customers often look at their plumbing layout and make changes to allow for better service access, add or delete discharges and valves, add foam systems, move discharges on the truck, and so on. This would be a major problem with a prefab unit.”

Serviceability and Warranty

Compartment space is increasingly more important than pump space on today’s apparatus. Alternative pump locations and compacted traditional pump houses are becoming the norm. Buyers, beware. Someone’s got to fix it if it breaks. Pump houses 24 or 36 inches wide may be difficult to repair on a tilt cab chassis and a nightmare to repair on a fixed cab chassis.

Witmier states, “There is one important concept to keep in mind when debating pump house and plumbing construction: serviceability. KME prefers to build the pump house and plumbing directly on the chassis with the cab and body already mounted. By plumbing directly on the chassis, we are assuring that if the unit can be built, it can be serviced. A prefabricated module is built on the floor, in an open area, where the construction personnel have clear access to the plumbing from the front, side, rear, and bottom. This provides ease of construction but allows the assembler to have a perspective that the service person will never have in the field.” It is fair to note, other apparatus OEMs still prefer to fabricate pump houses on the chassis.

Two views of a rear-mounted end-suction volute pump installation by CustomFIRE
Two views of a rear-mounted end-suction volute pump installation by CustomFIRE revealing the rounded stainless steel tubing that the company uses for both suction and discharge manifolds. Actual flow characteristics are just one of the differences between pressurized square and rounded manifolds that are seldom considered by purchasers. Complex piping systems in extremely compacted pump houses may require job-specific engineering to achieve expected flows. (Photos by Jim Kirvida, president, CustomFIRE.)

Mascotti notes that Waterous offers its patented ACCESS line of modules where “the upper one third of the module swings up, exposing the top side of the pump for service.” The company’s brochures show two models: one for use with tilting cabs and one for nontilting cabs. Mascotti also notes that warranty and service issues would be handled by the same staff who handles pump issues.

Messmer has seen very few problems with prefabricated pump modules. “We have had very few warranty issues come up. The customer sees no difference in service or warranty.” McGlone says, “Surprisingly, Sutphen has had very few warranty issues.” Van Meter adds, “Hale warranties are handled exactly as they would be handled for pump warranty.” Darley agrees, saying, “Warranty issues would be handled no differently than a pump warranty or any other warranties. We would diagnose the problem and work with the end user and the OEM to determine the best route to fix the problem in a timely manner.”

The Future

Darley says, “I would not say there is any distinct disadvantage [to prefabricated pump modules]. I would say it does not always allow the OEM to place the pump in the best place to minimize the impact of the pump house on the overall dimension of the apparatus. In many of today’s multipurpose vehicles, a traditional side-mount module would not be feasible to achieve the goals of the purchaser.” He adds, “The market has grown for modules. In fact, there may be cases where the customer has even purchased an apparatus incorporating a module and not realized that was the case as the pump manufacturers and OEMs have worked together to integrate their specifications.”

Van Meter agrees. “Module manufacturers have adapted their products so there are differences from OEM to OEM and end user to end user,” he says. “In fact, the changes have been so dramatic that some end users don’t realize they own a truck with a pump module. The market will continue to grow in the future.”

These two views are of a midship pump being rough plumbed on an adjustable fixture at CustomFIRE.
Full bodied pumps predetermine the majority of discharge and suction locations whereas end suction
volute pumps have, according to President Jim Kirvida, become an opportunity for apparatus
manufacturers to “shape” their own manifolds. (Photos by Jim Kirvida, president, CustomFIRE.)

Mascotti concurs. “We believe the market is out there for module growth,” she says.

From a dealer’s viewpoint, Aswad says, “There is no advantage [in prefabricated modules] when working with a customer on a new truck. However, when working with a customer on a refurbish project of an older truck, this is where the value may be of a prefabricated unit. If the manufacturer building the body is not capable of plumbing or is not in the business of building pumpers, it may be necessary for it to utilize the prefabricated unit.” He continues, “Disadvantages are split responsibilities in warranty and integration issues, and so on. I am sure all manufacturers of prefab units take pride in making a quality unit. However, as a truck, less the chassis, representative, my sales team promotes our entire system. We then have full control of the design and layout as well as the serviceability features we want to include in the final product.”

On the other hand, Aswad adds, “There will always be a market for these units-however minimal the sales volume. Small manufacturers that do not have the capability of plumbing or mounting pumps, service shops doing refurbishing work, or perhaps even the large manufacturers that find a good fit in a stock style (program) truck would be possible users of these prefab units. As the fire truck market continues to change, I feel the customization of a truck is still the most important factor that will require manufacturers to continue with their own pump-house system. The refurbishing market has been growing and will continue to grow as budgets stay tight. This is an area we have been able to utilize prefab units in our shop at the dealer level.”

According to Witmier, “In KME’s opinion, the market for the prefabricated module has not really grown. The marketing and exposure seem to be growing, but from a builder’s standpoint, we’re not seeing that much increase in the market for this product.”

A Darley LDMBC Auto-CAFS-equipped pump module mounted
A Darley LDMBC Auto-CAFS-equipped pump module mounted
on a commercial chassis. (Photo courtesy of W.S. Darley.)

Kaza predicts, “With limited budgets, they will eventually become more prevalent in the marketplace.” Messmer agrees and says, “The market is growing [for prefabricated modules], especially as the industry moves to produce apparatus for less money.” Handwerk offers, “One product that works well for a module is a package with CAFS, because of the complexity of the systems.” I think that has merit. He also says, “The industry is better because of the module business.”

Pump module suppliers and apparatus OEMs expound on the advantages of standardization. However, it appears the American fire service continuously rejects many industry attempts to achieve that goal. That is evident in the fact that pump makers have to customize their standardized pump modules. Simplicity and cost savings may be negated by many fire departments desiring to “have it their way.”

When asked for words of wisdom on pump modules, McGlone says, “If customers who are on a budget can live within the rules of preengineered options established with prefabricated modules on program apparatus and still get something that meets the needs of the department, why not do it?”

Purchasers, exercise caution when addressing pump houses in purchasing specifications. Whether you want, don’t want, or don’t care if a manufacturer provides a prefabricated pump house is a local matter. Do what’s best for your department. Ensure your specifications reflect your decision.


BILL ADAMS is 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.


Lean Manufacturing

In simple terms, lean manufacturing is a loose amalgamation of principles and theories applied to the manufacturing process to “make it better.” Consult your favorite marketing and manufacturing texts for technical definitions. One example addressing material handling and inventory is called “just-in-time production.” In fire truck speak, it means having all the accessory parts and pieces including separately built components such as a chassis, body, and pump module come together in a cost-efficient and timely manner. Although no pump manufacturer or OEM directly addresses “lean manufacturing,” the following comments lend themselves to the philosophy.

Joe Messmer: “The modules allow for us to produce the truck faster, and that of course allows the customer to receive their truck faster.”

Jason Darley: “A prefabricated module offers OEMs a controlled cost and quicker throughput on the production floor.”

Gary Handwerk: “The mod business has driven widespread adoption of up-front engineering and improvements in assembly floor organization that has spread to many of the OEM fire truck manufacturers.”

Dave Wilhide: “On one specific multiple-unit contract, we reduced hours to one third of what the prototype hours were initially.”

Jeff Van Meter: “It also saves time for [OEM] procurement because instead of buying hundreds of parts, they can order one part number.”

Alan Saulsbury: “It reduced the plumbing [labor] hours at Saulsbury by up to 50 percent.”

Teri Mascotti: “Once the module is quoted, there are no hidden costs or concerns for overrun. So, the OEM can more accurately understand its true cost.”

Alissa McGlone: “In terms of a customer purchasing a program truck [with a prefabricated pump module], it represents a known fixed cost and repeatability. This cost savings is then passed on to the customer.”

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