Let’s face it: Pump testing is a long, arduous, and thankless job that has to be done on a regular basis.
While many fire departments perform this task on a yearly basis on their own, often using a training facility with a pump test pit or heading to a surface water source, other departments opt to have a mobile pump testing company come to their locations and pump test apparatus in their home stations.
Pump Testing Units
Gary Weis, chief operating officer of Weis Fire & Safety Equipment and inventor of the Draft Commander 3000 A/T Mobile Fire Pump Testing and Training Unit, says many pump test pits installed at training facilities years ago are now obsolete. “Some fire pumps today perform at 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm), and a lot of those older pits won’t function at that rate,” Weis says. “Also, the water in those pits often is dirty from runoff and sediment, which can allow grit and other solids to get into the pump, damaging it by sandblasting the interior. Our Draft Commander pump tests only with clean water that we recycle.”
The Draft Commander has a 3,000-gallon T-shaped reservoir made of one-inch polypropylene that is attached to a heavy-duty DOT-rated transporter so it can’t twist or flex. The drafting pit section of the reservoir has four antiswirl plates and a water temperature gauge to monitor the water temperature. The Draft Commander is fitted with drafting tubes and swivels, hard suction hose, aluminum inlet manifolds for flowing water and pitot gpm readings, a pump testing monitor station, a handheld monitor, and storage areas for hose and equipment.
|1 Weis Fire & Safety Equipment personnel use a Draft Commander 3000 A/T Mobile Fire Pump Testing and Training Unit to pump test a U.S. Air Force pumper. (Photo courtesy of Weis Fire & Safety Equipment.)|
Weis says many of the problems he sees during pump tests can be traced back to maintenance issues. “When we perform pump tests, we have numerous tank-to-pump valves leak,” Weis says. “Also, a lot of discharge valves leak. People don’t realize the wear and tear that valves take, and we also see pump seal rings wearing out from getting sand and grit in them. We have a 64-point checklist to review during a pump test, and it covers everything from A to Z.”
Dan Kreikemeier, president of Danko Emergency Equipment, says his company makes the Draftmaster Pump Tester and Trainer. The Draftmaster has a 2,400-gallon UPF water tank and can handle pumps with capacities up to 2,500 gpm. The unit has a forced-air water cooling fan system, stainless steel manifold, stainless steel diffuser with a flowmeter, hard suction hoses, adapters, and an operator’s panel-all on a tandem-axle trailer with a 7,000-pound weight rating and DOT trailer brakes.
|2 The Plymounth (MN) Fire Department uses Emergency Apparatus Maintenance to pump test all of its pumps. (Photo courtesy of Emergency Apparatus Maintenance.)|
The Draftmaster also uses a diffuser on the top of the unit that atomizes water into smaller particles and creates a venturi, bringing air into the flow. The flow then goes through a series of baffles to eliminate the air bubbles, cooling the water, which helps keep the entire unit cool during the pump testing process.
Weis says his company also has introduced several options that can be fitted to the Draft Commander, including a fire hose test, a gauge calibration kit, a kit for testing low-gpm/high-pressure pumps, and a fire nozzle tester.
“We offer our services in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Missouri,” Kreikemeier says, “and handle pump testing for fire departments from big to little.” He notes that Danko recently was awarded a pump testing contract for 20 pumpers from the Lincoln (NE) Fire Department and has tested pumpers for the Omaha (NE) Fire Department as well.
|3 The ExxonMobil facility in Billings, Montana, had Emergency Apparatus Maintenance pump test its Engine 5. (Photo courtesy of Emergency Apparatus Maintenance.)|
Kreikemeier points out that sometimes Danko will be contracted by a municipality or fire department at a central location, where neighboring departments will bring their pumpers to be pump tested. “Often we’ll have 10 to 20 pumpers lined up when we’re doing a central location pump test,” he says, “and that allows us to pass along a cost savings to all who participate.”
Kreikemeier has advice for fire departments on how to make sure their pumpers pass their annual pump test. “Make sure you do the regular maintenance on your pumpers,” he says. “If a department doesn’t do maintenance, when we pump test the pump we usually find problems like leaking valves, leaking air on the vacuum test, and leaking packing on the pump.”
Kreikemeier adds that an advantage of the Draftmaster is that besides using it as a pump tester, Danko can set up training scenarios for firefighters on problems like loss of suction, broken hoses, variations in pressure, and limited water supply.
Weis points out that the Draft Commander also is used as a training tool for pump operators. “We can do hands-on training exercises on water flow and pump operation, all while recirculating water back into the fire pump, saving millions of gallons of water,” he says.
Pump Testing Vendors
Mark LaGreco, owner of FireFlow Services, says his company does mobile pump testing in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. “We’ve even been as far south as Virginia, where the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico has us pump test nine of their pumpers every year,” LaGreco says.
LaGreco says FireFlow uses a Draft Commander 3000 to handle its mobile pump testing chores, having purchased a unit from Weis Fire & Safety in 2011. “We’re doing pump testing for all sizes of fire departments,” he notes. “Recently we’ve done a number of New Jersey departments like Edison Fire Department, two districts in Toms River Fire Department, and three districts of Brick Township Fire Department.”
|4 Emergency Apparatus Maintenance staff set up their equipment to pump test a Maple Grove (MN) Fire Department pumper. (Photo courtesy of Emergency Apparatus Maintenance.)|
LaGreco adds that FireFlow tested 610 pumps in 2015 and expects to test 750 this year. He believes the growth in mobile pump testing is mainly because of potential legal issues. “Liability is the biggest reason,” he says. “A fire department wants to be sure the tests were done correctly when ISO (Insurance Services Organization) checks its records. And, third-party testing is a great convenience for fire departments too.”
Dave Schreier, owner of Emergency Apparatus Maintenance (EAM), is a former fire chief of the Lake Johanna (MN) Fire Department and knows the value of keeping pumpers current with their pump tests. “Firefighters need to have a safe vehicle, and that includes the pump,” Schreier says. EAM will pump test an entire fleet or a single pumper for a department, he notes. “Some departments will have us do 40 pumpers; others only a couple.”
Schreier thinks that convenience is the number one reason fire departments use mobile pump testing services. “That way they get trained people to do the test, a company that’s fully insured, and the independence of a third party,” he says. He adds that EAM tests nearly 4,000 pumps annually for customers of all types, “from one truck to 50 and everything in between.”
|5 Danko Emergency Equipment Co. makes the Draftmaster Pump Tester and Trainer, shown here pump testing a commercial chassis pumper for the Elk Point (SD) Fire District. (Photo courtesy of Danko Emergency Equipment Co.)|
Harry Remz, chief of the Prairie Du Chien (WI) Fire Department, says EAM pump tests the pumps on the department’s three pumpers and one aerial annually. “When I took over as chief nine years ago, I didn’t know the last time our pumps had been tested,” Remz says. “I got a recommendation for EAM and then met them at a conference. They’ve been doing our pump testing ever since, and we’ve gone from an ISO rating of 5 to a 3 after pump testing.”
Prairie Du Chien is a combination department with a paid full-time chief and 34 volunteer firefighters, covering a city of 6,000 residents that is fully hydranted. Remz notes that EAM also spotted a problem in a pump that might easily have been missed. The department had a pumper blow an alternator during a winter fire call at below-freezing temperatures. “By the time we got the pumper towed, it’s possible the pump froze. EAM checked it, detected hairline cracks in five valves, and was able to fix them right away.”
|6 The Lincoln (NE) Fire Department had Danko Emergency Equipment Co. test the pump on this paramedic engine built on a custom chassis. (Photo courtesy of Danko Emergency Equipment Co.)|
Kurt Kramer, deputy chief of the Maple Grove (MN) Fire Department, says his department has 10 paid full-time firefighters and 90 paid on-call firefighters operating out of five stations to cover 36 square miles and runs 1,000 fire and rescue calls a year. “All our pump testing is done by EAM, and they do our regular truck maintenance as well,” Kramer says. The department has eight pumpers and two aerials with pumps and water tanks, as well as a tractor-drawn aerial with no pump or water tank.
“All our pumps are Waterous 1,500-gpm models except for one Rosenbauer pump,” Kramer notes. “By using EAM, we have minimal personnel tied up during a pump test. We bring the pumper to our main shop, where EAM does the testing and any maintenance work necessary.”
Third-party mobile pump testing is a pretty seamless process, Kramer says, adding that pump testing is an important part of fire protection services. “Public safety equipment needs to be maintained to aircraft standards,” he says. “It needs to start and pump water every time.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.