Cantankerous Wisdom: Dad and Rusty Piping

By Bill Adams

In 2012, I wrote Part 1 about my father being a volunteer then later a call man (paid volunteer) from the early 1930s to the early 1960s. I forgot to do Part 2. Anyhow, before he passed away at 103, I shared my fire service magazines and journals with him. He always passed judgement on them as well as fire scene photos in local newspapers. Some of his comments included, “What the hell are those people doing just standing around? Why aren’t they helping?” He didn’t understand the concept of a rapid intervention company, saying, “If they put the damn fire out to begin with, they wouldn’t be needed.” After looking at a couple others, he let loose with, “Why are all those white hats just standing there? There are too many chiefs and not enough firefighters. They look like a bunch of tourists.” He did not comprehend command posts, safety officers, accountability officers, and staging areas. If a former firefighter can get those impressions, “regular” citizens might too. It might be worthwhile for today’s white hats (or PIOs) to educate the press and perhaps “help” with captions and commentary for photographs.

Don’t believe everything old people say is gospel or even politically correct. I picked him up at his retirement home and brought him to a local eatery/sports type bistro for his 100th birthday dinner: steak and beer. I realize white hairs have a tendency to be loud and obnoxious, but he really embarrassed me that time. From our table we could see a television showing the local news and a good working structure fire with a crew advancing a deuce-and-a- half up some stairs and a real quick knock-down. It was a text book stop and all on TV. Dad was quarterbacking the fire in a not too soft voice at the same time a waitress was taking an order from the table behind him. He said, “She’s a good one.” The waitress glanced over her shoulder smiling. “They’ll have a tough time humping that.” The waitress looked over again and this time she wasn’t smiling. “Look at that. She ain’t smoking. She’s steaming.” She told me I was rude, crude, and abrasive. Dad laughed. We were asked to leave.

Speaking of old, did you ever look at the piping under an older rig before you specified the same thing on a new one? The other morning the raisin squad was debating (a polite term for arguing) the benefits of using stainless, galvanized, or plain steel piping for front and rear suctions. One said it didn’t matter. One said stainless was too expensive. Another didn’t understand what galvanized meant. Some agreed that if you paint the pipe, it wouldn’t matter. The one who forgot his medication that morning mumbled something about how much road salt they use in the winter and dozed back off.

Past Chief Mahlon Irish of the Homer (NY) Fire Department provided some interesting photos of the undersides of the piping on three different manufacturers’ rigs that were between 10 and 20 years old.

Photo 1

Photo 1 shows the low point of what appears to be 5-inch galvanized piping that drops down from the passenger’s side steamer inlet before it rises up to be routed to the rear. It looks like the galvanizing has peeled off or deteriorated, possibly because of heat from the exhaust running next to the pipe. Look low to the ground?

Photo 2

Photo 2 was taken from the floor looking upward into a pump house. The 5-inch and 2½-inch piping is galvanized or stainless. Regardless, what is interesting is the OEM fabricated a two-piece mild steel bracket that’s welded to the bottom of both pipes. Are they mutually supporting each other? Is that legal? The welds are rusting.

Photo 3

Photo 3 was taken inside a pump house looking toward the rear. The suction pipe is stainless and is running alongside the booster tank whose edge is just visible on the right side. What is interesting is that it appears to be a mild steel coupling/weldment/weldette or whatever you want to call it on top of the pipe for the primer tap. Irish says it’s not a burn mark; its rusting.

Photo 4

Photo 4 is looking inside a pump house from a side panel access door showing the rear stainless suction piping. This department specified all hard piping to be painted. Note the two weldments for the primer tap. One is obviously an oops (aka an engineering error). It was too close to the rear suction valve’s manual valve override to be piped. Plug it, paint it, and hopefully no one will see it! 

I have no preference for painted or unpainted plain steel, galvanized, or stainless piping or even brass piping if the local water supply is overly corrosive. Consult your local vendor for advice and pricing. Protect piping from exhaust heat and the elements. Hangers and supports shouldn’t rust off. When setting up to draft at “the big one” a rusting primer weldment may render a half million dollar pumper impotent. Nobody wants their fire truck unable to perform.

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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.


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