When looking to introduce CAFS into a department’s operations, buying new isn’t the only option.
Consider the Pearland Volunteer Fire Department, in Pearland, Texas, just south of Houston. In 2005, while working on another apparatus purchase, the department also looked to upgrade its Engine 41, a 1995 Smeal on an International cab and chassis, and to retrofit it with CAFS.
“The reason we decided on the retrofit was a simple matter of economics, the costs of the retrofit versus the cost of a new engine,” said Capt. Philip T. Yochum, of Pearland Fire Station 4. Ultimately, the department purchased a Hale system for its new engine and retrofitted the Smeal with a Waterous system.
“What we gained was the ability to have a CAFS-equipped engine as either the first-due engine or second-due engine to any point in our district,” Yochum said. “We also have the ability to evaluate two very different CAFS systems, and it is likely we will choose one of them for our future purchases.”
As was the case in Pearland, CAFS retrofits can make a lot of sense, said Ray Frey, sales engineer with Waterous Arizona, Peoria, Ariz. Frey was among the CAFS experts at the 2007 Southwest CAFS Symposium Feb. 9-11 in Rosenberg, Texas.
“A lot of departments have started out doing retrofits,” Frey said. “The question becomes, ‘Can we do that on our truck?’ I’ve found very few that can not.”
Frey said he has done an estimated 80 retrofits since 1993. Typically, he said, if a department is considering CAFS, has an engine with remaining service life and plans to keep the engine in service, a retrofit is a viable option.
As for the question of what apparatus could be candidates for retrofits, he said, “Any truck that does not have CAFS. I’ve not run into a truck I cannot do a retrofit on.”
When looking at a retrofit, Frey said first consider these factors: the unit’s existing plumbing; available room to accommodate the CAFS components; and the vehicle’s weight-carrying capacity. A typical system adds 300 to 500 pounds to the truck.
“Every truck is different,” Frey said. “A retrofit is pretty much a hands on experience.” Because of that, he said, flexibility is crucial.
While the department may want specific discharges or discharge locations, it might need to make some concessions.
“The truck is already built, so the technician has to become the engineer,” Frey said. “He has to engineer the system into your truck. The pump is already there. The discharges are already there.”
Departments also need to be realistic in their specifications, he said. Do not make them so stringent as to eliminate flexibility or options.
“The whole thing is communication,” he said. “There must be communication with the service center and the people doing the retrofit.”
Generally, he estimated a retrofit takes 80 to 100 hours. That also applies to smaller systems, because they still take the same components as larger systems, and those components still need to be mounted and connected, just as with larger systems.
Costs can also vary. They can run from the below $30,000 to more than $40,000.
“I’ve seen as low as $28,000,” Frey said. “There are systems to fit every budget.”
As far as the systems themselves, all require some basic components: a compressor; foam tank; a foam proportioner; and-obviously-a pump and water supply.
And, as with any apparatus specification, there are a myriad of options for each component. For example, there are a variety of available compressors – typically of the rotary-screw type – which can be pto-driven, hydraulically-driven or driven by auxiliary engine.
“The type of system is going to depend on what room there is,” Frey said. The department may prefer a pto-driven compressor, but that requires an available pto port and a certain amount of room. If that’s not an option, an auxiliary engine-driven system might be considered.
Some smaller systems use 140-cfm compressors, though Frey said they can be as small as 80 cfm, which will supply CAFS to two crosslays – or a maximum of two discharges – and use a smaller proportioner.
“We do prefer that we go with a pto-driven compressor because of horsepower requirements,” said Dusty Cotton, service manager with Emergency Vehicles of Texas, located in Fort Worth. That company, a Rosenbauer dealer, has been doing retrofits for five years and has completed nearly two dozen of them on various makes.
“We retrofitted every [major] manufacturer now, all the way back to an ’84 model Hahn,” said Cotton, who also stressed flexibility, pointing to a retrofit the company did with a 1990 Grumman. “Their plumbing techniques 20 years ago are very different than they are now.”
In addition to a foam tank – the size and location of which can vary – the system also requires a foam proportioner, which injects foam concentrate into the water stream.
“You have to have some kind of proportioner, not just an eductor,” Frey said, because eductors are typically restricted in terms of distance and elevation. “Eductors are limited,” he said. “Eductors have their place. They’re a tool. A proportioner is another tool. …Typically, an electronic, direct-inject system is the best way to go.”
Other factors entering into the equation include the pump compartment itself and how much room may be available to accommodate the system’s components. Discharge layout and panel components – items such as an automatic sync control that balances air pressure to water pressure; the compressor temperature gauge; air pressure gauges; and air valves for every discharge – must also be considered.
In Pearland’s case, Engine 41 features a Waterous pump rated at 1,250 gpm and a 750-gallon water tank. The truck is equipped with four CAFS discharges: Two 1.5-inch, 200-foot preconnects; one 2.5-inch, 150-foot preconnect; and a left-rear discharge on the tailboard.
The CAFS is the Waterous Eclipse system, a pto-driven compressor and a FoamPro 2001 foam proportioner. Emergency Vehicles of Texas did the conversion in about five weeks, and the system and retrofit cost $41,000, about one-tenth the cost of a new engine, Yochum said.
Pearland also had to be flexible as well, Yochum said. For example, the department initially wanted CAFS through a deck gun.
“We were advised against this because of the extensive plumbing that would have been required and also the deck gun would take the entire capability of the system leaving nothing for handlines,” Yochum said. They also wanted side-discharge on driver’s side.
In the end, however, the department has been happy with the conversion.
“The system has been working perfectly,” he said. “The first time we used it on a fire ground, we extinguished a fully-involved car fire with 83 gallons of water.”