By Bill Adams
This article addresses 2½-inch fire pump hose connections on midship-mounted pumps, the part the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) plays when purchasers specify them, and their approximate costs.
At trade and equipment shows, manufacturers, their dealers, and sales representatives (vendors) are constantly asked, “How much does it cost?” As mentioned in previous articles, vendors giving ballpark or approximate prices are not being ambivalent or deceptive. Often, multiple questions must be answered to provide definitive costs. Vendors and purchasers alike should exercise caution when pricing is discussed out of context. Context refers to all the circumstances or conditions that should be defined before a question is asked and an answer given. Simply put: You quote a homeowner a price to paint his small ranch house and you learn later it’s actually a large 2½-story home that he wants painted for the same price. Similar scenarios occur in the fire truck world.
When 1,000-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pumpers were considered high-volume and 2½-inch fire hose was the mainstay, it was generally accepted that there was a 2½-inch discharge for each 250 gpm in pump capacity. A 500-gpm pump had two, 750-gpm pumps had three, and so on. Departments that commonly laid supply lines hydrant-to-fire (forward lay) often specified like numbers of 2½-inch gated suction inlets but seldom more than two per side. Little changed with the use of 3-inch hose with 2½-inch couplings. Even with the use of large-diameter hose (LDH) and multiple high-volume preconnects, some departments still specify the same number of pump-panel-mounted 2½-inch discharges and inlets they did 50 years ago. They could be expensive ornaments.
There is no intent to disparage departments that regularly use 2½-inch panel-mounted discharges and inlets. Their fireground operations are not being questioned, nor should they be. Departments that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on preconnects, rear discharges, and LDH might find it both firematically and financially feasible to eliminate or relocate some of their side-panel 2½-inch connections.
NFPA 1901 Minimum Standards
Some in the fire service believe NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, mandates the quantity and size of hose connections on fire pumps. It does not. Chapter 16-Fire Pumps and Associated Equipment sentence 18.104.22.168 states at least two 2½-inch discharges are required on pumps rated 750 gpm and higher. The words “at least” are key. It is a minimum requirement perhaps coinciding with or justifying Chapter 5-Pumper Fire Apparatus, which requires that a 2½-inch smooth bore nozzle and a 200-gpm handline nozzle be carried on each pumper.
Purchasers are responsible to specify the size and quantity of all discharges desired. Sentence 16.7.1 states: “Discharge outlet connections of 2½ in. (65 mm) or larger shall be provided to discharge the rated capacity of the pump at flow rates shown in Table 16.7.1.” The words “or larger” are key here. In numerous places, NFPA 1901 acknowledges using LDH in lieu of multiple 2½-inch lines. Flow rates by discharge outlet size (hose thread) in Table 16.7.1 are 250 gpm for 2½-inch, 375 gpm for 3-inch, 625 gpm for 4-inch, 1,000 gpm for 5-inch, and 1,500 gpm for 6-inch. Valve and piping sizes, friction losses, and actual flow rates are topics for another day; however, they should be carefully researched prior to writing specifications. They’re important.
The Gated Inlet
Another misconception by purchasers and even some vendors is that at least one separate 2½-inch gated suction inlet is required by NFPA 1901. That also is not true. Yet, almost every pumper is supplied with at least one—usually on the pump operator’s panel. Sentence 16.6.3 states: “At least one valved intake shall be provided that can be controlled from the pump operator’s panel.” Sentence 22.214.171.124 says: “The valve and piping shall be a minimum 2½-in. (65 mm) nominal size.” It does not say it has to be a separate standalone intake. It does not specifically require it to be 2½-inch. And, it does not say it has to be located on the operator’s panel.
I find it confusing that NFPA 1901 says the inlet “can be” controlled at the operator’s panel whereas it specifically states discharges “shall be” controlled there. Is it giving the purchaser a choice to control it wherever it chooses? “Could be” is ambiguous. There’s no wriggle room with “shall be.”
Interestingly, Chapter 5-Pumper Fire Apparatus sentence 126.96.36.199 states: “If none of the pump intakes are valved, a hose appliance that is equipped with one or more gated intakes with female swivel connection(s) compatible with the supply hose used on one side and a swivel connection with pump intake threads on the other side shall be carried.” It appears that NFPA 1901 says you shall have a gated inlet in one place, but in another it says if you don’t, you can carry and use something else—perhaps a suction siamese.
A standalone 2½-inch gated suction inlet costs about the same as a 2½-inch gated discharge. There are options. If a rig is equipped with front, rear, or side gated inlets for LDH, consider carrying a 5-inch Storz by 2½-inch female swiveling adapter that costs approximately $150. Chances are, if you use LDH, you already have one. If you don’t use LDH but have a gated NH steamer inlet, one option is a long-handled double swivel female 6-inch NH by 2½-inch for less than $300. Problem solved, and you saved a grand. If you’re worried about the adapter extending beyond the running board, sentence 188.8.131.52 says it doesn’t have to be mounted on the inlet: “If the apparatus does not have a 2½ in. intake with NH threads, an adapter from 2½ in. NH female to a pump intake shall be carried, mounted in a bracket fastened to the apparatus if not already mounted directly to the intake.”
It may be politically incorrect for a vendor to infer or tell an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) it should become more educated in the product it is purchasing, that it should know the standards the product must adhere to, and that it should know the operational criteria the product is to meet. It could be equally awkward to ask if the APC had in-house discussions with or received directions from the fire department hierarchy as to how the rig is to firematically function. Asking either question could be fiscal suicide for the vendor, jeopardizing a possible sale.
Vendors might cringe when asking an APC how many 2½-inch discharges it requires and the APC answers, “We just need whatever is standard.” There is no standard. Equally frustrating is receiving the proverbial “deer in the headlights look” from APC members when they’re asked and can’t answer how many discharges they need. The APC should know. I call it being firematically accountable. Astute vendors will politely and discreetly attempt to seek the answers without being offensive. Some vendors might let the APC believe there really are standard quantities and sizes for discharges, but that is not right. Vendors must be responsible as well as being held accountable. APCs entrusted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a pumper should familiarize themselves with chapters 16 and 5 as well as the applicable recommendations and comments in the standard’s appendix.
Creating a Local “Standard”?
Recognizing how OEMs and vendors formulate a purchasing specification might help purchasers understand how and why each may proffer its own discharge and suction package. They build a pumper including the pump and plumbing on paper using various computer software programs. In one, they might choose a predesigned, preengineered, and popular pump package usually exceeding NFPA 1901 requirements. All necessary components are incorporated into a spec document. OEM-generated specifications reflect basic plumbing packages commonly found on apparatus they sell nationwide. Specification verbiage, option availability, and component part pricing can differ for stock, demonstrator, and program apparatus.
Perceptive local vendors may well develop their own in-house specifications including hose connections that are popular in their immediate marketing area. Both OEM- and dealer-generated specifications serve as paradigms. They’re excellent tools to expedite and facilitate working with APCs. However, the suggested hose connections and locations in these template specifications could be construed by prospective purchasers as being an industry standard. They could even be misinterpreted as being an actual NFPA 1901 requirement. They are not. Vendors are remiss or misleading if they infer otherwise. Purchasers should be aware that OEM- or dealer-generated 2½-inch discharge locations could be proposed because of low cost and ease of installation.
Out of Context
Vendors can inadvertently be placed in no-win situations by questions asked out of context. An attendee at a trade show points to a rear 2½-inch discharge on a pumper and asks the price to add a second one. The vendor might reply around $2,000 and let it go. Visualize the attendee returning home and giving that price “for another 2½-inch preconnect” to an APC that has already designed and priced a pumper. Asking that same vendor the same question in an APC meeting format could result in a mini interrogation and a much different price. “You’re going to use that additional rear discharge as a preconnect? What is the desired flow? Is the controller manually operated or electrically operated? Can the booster tank be sleeved or notched to run the pipe? How high off the ground do you want the discharge located? How much hose are you going to preconnect? What size hose? Will it be packed single- or double-stacked? Will an additional hosebed divider be required? This will cut down on the number of lays in the main hosebed, which is tight already, so do we add higher hosebed side sheets? You’ve designed the pump panel so all discharge controls and gauges are in a single row, and it is full. So, can this controller and gauge be separate, or do you want to go to a longer pump house, which will increase the wheelbase?” Is the vendor trying to confuse or take advantage of the APC? No. He’s doing his job. APC members ought to appreciate it.
Vendors contacted nationwide concurred that “approximately” $1,600 is a reasonable figure to quote for a 2½-inch pump-panel-mounted discharge. Prices below are purposefully ambiguous. There are far too many variables to definitively say the price of a widget manufactured and installed by a New York City OEM will be the same as one manufactured and installed in Eureka, Montana. Prices are wild guesstimates—not reflective of any apparatus manufacturer, dealer, vendor, or geographical area. They’re ballpark prices.
2½-Inch Gated Discharge Options
A panel-mounted 2½-inch discharge is around $1,600—about the same as a panel-mounted 2½-inch suction inlet. A 2½-inch discharge to a crosslay or to the rear of the rig could run $1,900 to $2,200. And, one piped to the front bumper is about $800 to $900 more than on the side. Most purchasers have a tendency to leave whatever side discharges they consider, or are told, are “standard” and add additional ones to meet their needs for preconnects. Consider relocating some of those side discharges to the bumper, the rear of the rig, or a crosslay. Do the math.
Often, one or more 2-inch discharges are piped to the front bumper for a trash line or preconnects. Consider deleting the 2-inch ($1,800 each) and run a single 2½-inch. A gated 2½-inch by a two-1½-inch-leader-line wye should cost $300 or $400. Using a single 2½-inch discharge with a leader line wye at the back of the bus is very common with departments in New England to supply two rear 1¾-inch preconnects. Caution: Determine the flows desired for the preconnects and what flow is available from a single remotely located 2½-inch discharge at a reasonable pump pressure. Naysayers may bemoan having to open two valves to charge a preconnect—one at the pump panel and one at the leader line wye. I counter that most pump operators will “check the bed” to ensure all the line is pulled before charging it. Open the second valve then.
Another consideration is not piping crosslays. “Dry” crosslay beds might run $600 to $800 each. At recent trade shows, some departments attached their crosslay bed lines directly to the side panel-mounted discharges—usually one on each side. There is nothing in NFPA 1901 prohibiting the two NFPA-required 2½-inch discharges from being used to supply preconnected 1¾-inch handlines, although I believe the intent is for them to supply 2½-inch handlines.
Many OEM-suggested piping packages are designed to discharge the total pump capacity from side panel-mounted discharges. APCs then commonly add multiple discharges for preconnects that occasionally can more than double the pump’s capacity in discharges. Individual departmental fireground operations and common sense should dictate the number of 2½-inch discharges actually needed. How often have you used side discharges in the past few years? How many have you used at one time?
The APC’s being fiscally responsible is commendable; however, use a degree of caution. Don’t nickel and dime to death the efficiency of your apparatus. If a proposed pumper is over budget, don’t immediately start eliminating fireground capabilities to save a buck. Investigate if there are less expensive alternatives that will accomplish the same mission. Cutting back on or designing 2½-inch discharges to do double duty may be one way. Good luck.
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.