Water Supply Simplified With Vacuum Tankers

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The E-ONE Water Master vacuum tanker can load 3,500 gallons of water in under three minutes and dump in under two minutes without the use of a fire pump.

In a traditional tanker operation, something has to nurse the tanker, especially if the tanker doesn’t have a fire pump of its own. Often that something ends up being a pumper, which requires additional personnel and more room in the staging area during a fire.

Manufacturers of vacuum tankers hope that the current economic crisis will be a boon for their products, which do not require pumpers to fill, can draft from almost any water source and need only one person to operate them.

A handful of companies make vacuum tankers, including Firovac Power Systems of Apple Creek, Ohio, and EAM of Miami. Now a larger manufacturer, Ocala, Fla.-based E-ONE, has joined the club.

Reggie Ridgway, chief of the Central Lamar Volunteer Fire Department in Lamar County, Miss., developed the Water Master vacuum tanker with two business partners and sold the company to E-ONE when demand outgrew their manufacturing capacity. Ridgway now works for E-ONE as the Water Master product manager. 

“When we had a fire, I began to realize there was usually some surplus water pretty close,” he said. “We tried to use the conventional tanker systems to utilize that water, and it took a lot of equipment and personnel to get that water. So I looked for a better way.” 

He said various industries were already using vacuum tankers to move loads of liquids or semi-solids, and he simply applied that process to fire department water supply. The Water Master, he said, is self-filling from just about any water source, be it pool, pond or puddle. No pumper is required, saving apparatus and manpower for the actual fire. 

“The tanks are sealed,” Ridgway explained. “We pump the air out of the tank, create a vacuum, then put a hose in the water supply and atmospheric pressure pushes water into the truck. It moves up to 2,000 gpm from a six-inch hose.” 

The technology is not new. As Ridgway points out, any fire engineer can tell you how to create a vacuum and a draft in an apparatus with a pump, simply by manipulating the primer at the right moment. But Ridgway said the difference is how the vacuum tanker takes advantage of the process, automating it and making it several times faster than the traditional method of filling a tanker. 

“A 3,500-gallon tank with one six-inch suction line can fill in three minutes,” he said. “You can even get the pump going while you are maneuvering into place and get a little vacuum built up into the line, so you can reduce that fill time to 2 minutes.” 

Ridgway said the most effective use of the Water Master that he’s seen is to set up a folding tank, let a hydrant fill it and then let the vacuum apparatus use a six-inch hose to draw from the tank. It can also draw effectively from water supplies at a much lower elevation, for example filling from a river while parked on a bridge up to 25 feet above it. The height slows down the process a bit, he said, but it’s still faster than any other option.

The Water Master vacuum tanker also acts like a regular tanker when needed. “It smoothly interfaces with a conventional water system,” Ridgway said. “If you have an area with hydrants, you just pull up, open the vent because the tank is a sealed vessel and get out and do the rest of the process like a conventional tanker.” He also pointed out that with the sealed tank, there is less risk of dripping or dumping water on the street, which can create a slip hazard in colder weather.

The Water Master comes in tank sizes ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 gallons. So does the Siphon vacuum tanker, made by Miami-based EAM, where National Manager Tony Pimentel developed the Siphon based on his experience in volunteer fire departments.

“We used to have two of them in our department,” he said. “We’d assign one person to each. There’s low man-hours at volunteer departments during the day, so you use what you have when you can.”

The Siphon has a 430-cfm vacuum pump system, along with LED switches and video cameras on the rear and side of the apparatus to make one-person operation even easier. “Most of the truck features are standard,” Pimentel said. “Where it varies is in types of pumps, foam systems, department requirements, SCBA seats, that type of stuff.”

Pimentel said the Siphon is nearly the same price as a conventional tanker, depending on the manufacturer.

The Water Master also comes in at or under the price of a regular tanker, according to Ridgway, while reducing the number of firefighters required to operate it. 

“That’s why I developed it,” he said. “It’s more difficult in our area these days to get volunteers than it was in the past. So that’s one of our bigger selling points.”

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