Ideas Abound On Both Sides Of Pond

As the folks at Disney like to tout, it’s a small world after all, and one needs to look no further than the exchange of apparatus ideas from Europe to North America and back to prove that point.

In the late 1980s the North American fire industry saw a substantial influx of European apparatus design influences. It happened because of several reasons.

First, a few United States builders, E-ONE in particular, went out into the broader world to aggressively sell their products. Next, American fire industry people like Alan Saulsbury and Bob Barraclough were traveling the world to fire shows like Interschutz in Germany.

At the same time, American Fire Pump Company (Barton America) was purchased by the British Godiva Pump Company and renamed American Godiva. All of this led to an influx of ideas and new products.

From that influx, North America got roll-up doors, rear-mounted pumps, diagrammatic pump control panels, new ideas about compartment equipment mounting, top-of-body coffin compartments and full-depth, high-side compartments.

By the late 1990s, the flow of information and ideas was actually going the other way, with ideas from the United States going back to Europe. Those ideas from the U.S. to Europe included Class A foam systems, CAF systems, pressure governors, electronic tank level indicators and the concept of adding a fire pump to an aerial, an apparatus we call a quint.

Reducing Weight

All the while, American suppliers were selling products to European fire apparatus manufacturers, and European and American companies were buying each other.

Moving up in the timeline, today European apparatus builders are the leaders in reducing the weight and space needs on apparatus to perform specific firefighting functions. They’re also very advanced in compartment equipment mounting. Europeans have always had narrow congested streets, and that continues to get worse. Compounding the problem are high fuel prices and the fact that European chassis are very expensive and rise in price as weight carrying capacities increase.

As a result, European apparatus builders are the leaders in reducing the weight and the space needed on the apparatus to perform specific firefighting functions.

So the game in Europe is to put the biggest performance class apparatus package on the smallest possible chassis. Many times this leads to designs that would never stand up to U.S. pot-holed roads or aggressive use by our personnel, and the resulting repairs would strain our commonly limited municipal shop budgets. Roads in Europe are generally in better condition, crews are trained differently and larger shop budgets are more common.

Here in the U.S., we can expect to see some lighter apparatus, but probably not as light as those seen in Europe. Additionally, we do not have the selection of short front overhang, tilt cab commercial chassis, which have very high payload capacities, to build these compact and light apparatus.

The other major weight and space reduction for Europeans is in their aerial apparatus, which use advanced electronics to control extension, rotation and angle of the aerial based on load and outrigger deployment. The electronics allow the aerial to be built lighter and still safely do the job. This technology is available in the U.S. now.

The other big difference between Americans and Europeans is how they attack a fire.

Different countries do things differently. England, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium commonly use a high-low pump that can simultaneously produce 100 psi to 150 psi and 400 psi and 600 psi. The high-pressure side of the pump is limited to 100 to 130 gpm. These countries commonly use 3/4-inch booster hose reels to attack interior structural fires.

They will even add hose lengths to fight apartment fires. This approach, of course, produces small flows giving mixed results totally dependent on the fire loads encountered. Consequently, there have been some unacceptable structural loses. Some departments are trying one-inch booster hose to improve performance.

In Germany, Sweden, and France it’s common to see single-stage pumps using one-inch booster hose and flat hose approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter used for structural fire attacks, but not at the higher flows we try to use in the U.S.

The reason why U.S. firefighters use higher fire flows than those in Europe is because we generally have higher fire loads and larger rooms. The larger loads and larger rooms require larger fire flows.

Europeans build apparatus based on the assumption they will rarely see big fires and when they do, they can just call in more apparatus and more personnel. It is common for them to use flow rates of 30 gpm to 40 gpm for interior attacks, while it’s far more common for firefighters in the United States to use 200 gpm to 300 gpm.

Structural building styles in Europe, however, are changing and new building construction practices are following more closely with those found in the U.S. So fire loads in buildings are increasing and the need for more water and higher application rates will inevitably follow.

Europeans will likely increase pump sizes from 500 gpm to 800 gpm. It is unlikely, however, they will ever move up to the U.S. norm of 1,250-gpm to 1,500-gpm pumps.

Improving Fire Flows

Europeans will improve their fire flows a little at a time, but not with big pumps. Their chassis do not have the carrying capacity for large booster tanks, nor do they have the pto capacity and engine horsepower to drive big pumps. Additionally, European municipal water systems cannot handle the bigger pumps typically found in the U.S.

Given the exchange of ideas that has been transpiring between Europe and the U.S., it’s logical to think that we’ll see smaller pumps in the U.S., but they won’t be as small as the ones in Europe. It’s likely we’ll see more 750-gpm to 1,000-gpm pumps, but the big apparatus with the big pumps will still be part of the mix. They’ll respond to the big fires where big apparatus performance is required and there’s sufficient water supply to use them.

Comparable Costs

It’s likely some of you are thinking there’s money to be saved through the purchase of a small European pump. When considering all the components needed, including basic manifolding, drive shafts, ptos and gear boxes, a 1,000-gpm high-low aluminum European design pump costs the truck builder about as much as a single-stage, fully-manifolded cast iron 1,500-gpm midship pump.

While its not likely we’ll ever see a time when European and U.S. apparatus are built to the same specifications, we will continually exchange ideas to solve our challenges – some of which are the same and others very different.

Editor’s Note: Gary Handwerk is global pump product manager for Hale Products. He has been involved with the fire service industry for 36 years working for various fire apparatus or pump manufacturers and has been a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Apparatus Standards Committee for 15 years.

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