Veteran Pump Operator Says Get Back to Basics

In the great pump debate, I am firmly in the camp of Michael Farrell and the editor of Fire Apparatus magazine. Big pumps are a waste of taxpayer money that could be better spent on other things rather than a pump that might be used once.

Let’s clarify what we are talking about. In my book, a “big” pump is 1,750 gpm or greater. In an article in the December 2006 issue of Pennsylvania Fireman, author Edward Tochterman Jr. concludes that from an engineering perspective, the ideal pump size is 1,000 gpm minimum and 1,500 gpm maximum. I agree 100 percent.

There are several arguments presented in favor of big pumps and I have responses to each of them.

First, while it may be true that a big pump does not cost much more than a smaller one, after specifying the necessary engine and chassis components, the extra cost is considerable.

The argument that even if the big pump is only needed once, it’s worth the extra expense doesn’t hold up. By that reasoning, every Podunk junction should have several engines, a ladder, tankers, and an airport crash truck for the event that may never happen.

For those who think the bigger pump is required for improved Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings, I believe two smaller pumpers will provide more capacity and will not leave you unprotected when the big engine is out of service.

Some think they need a big pump to sustain 1,000 gpm at 250 psi. A big pump will certainly do that, but realistically, when have you ever had a practical application that required you to supply that kind of volume at that pressure?  Probably not often, and I would bet never.

Some people think that they need the big pump to do a lay from the pond at the edge of town to the scene. I can assure you that won’t happen.  You’ll rely on the tanker shuttle.

Put Two At Drafting Site

There are the folks who think a big pump will mean they will only need one pumper at the drafting site. That is a little shortsighted considering you have eight other mutual aid pumpers sitting at the staging area. I assure you that two 1,500 gpm, or smaller pumper can easily lay out their 5-inch supply lines and be working long before the 2,000 gpm pumper can get into a suitable position to use the dual suctions required to get the expected flow.

There’s always the silly argument that 2,000 gpm is a nice round number. I can’t argue with that. I believe there are only a few reasons to buy a big pump and none of them are legitimate. There are fire service creeds like bigger is better; it is good to outdo the neighboring fire companies. Then there is the really nonsense axiom that some is good, more is better and too much is just right. Those are not reasons to buy a big pump.

Understanding Hydraulics

Another facet of this debate is that many fire officers and operators do not fully understand hydraulics and pump operation. A 1,500 gpm pump will pump in excess of its rating from a strong hydrant or relay.

I know the “good old days” are long gone, but my department’s 1951 Mack pumped in excess of 75 percent over its rated capacity at draft in its Underwriters Laboratories test.

It has been my observation that you will run out of water, hose, or personnel long before you run out of pump capacity.

Let’s get back to the basics and only buy what we need and what is practical.

Editor’s Note: Harvey Eckart is a noted author having written seven books on Mack fire apparatus. He is a former firefighter with the Defender Fire Company, Berwick, Pa., and has been a pump operator for more than 50 years.

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