Don’t Fall Asleep When Specifying Your Hosebeds

William C. Peters explains why it's not a good idea to fall asleep when specifying your hosebed.
The truck committee members were totally involved in deciding the number and location of the Mars lights and the color combo of their Roto-Ray as well as which cartoon character would be depicted holding a nozzle on the side of their new “blacked-out” pumper. Some paid little attention to some of the more important decisions like the configuration and size of the hose storage areas.

Often specifications are extremely vague when describing the hosebed configuration on the apparatus. Some will describe the hose storage area as follows: “A rear hosebed shall be provided to hold 1,000 feet of LDH, 500 feet of 2½, 300 feet of 1¾, and a 200-foot 1¾ preconnect. Three adjustable hosebed dividers shall be provided.” Sure, a manufacturer can supply this, but there are no references to hosebed height, the type of hose being carried, the length of the hosebed, the method of hose containment, or the location of the preconnected discharge. Other manufacturers’ specifications are detailed down to the number of nuts and bolts holding the whole thing together.

First, let’s start with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, requirements for “Hose Storage” areas. This would include all areas where hose is to be stored on the apparatus: main hosebeds, crosslays, speedlays, front bumper, and running board storage areas.

  1. The bottom shall be constructed to prevent the accumulation of water and to allow ventilation to aid in drying the hose.
  2. The interior of the hose storage area shall be smooth and free from all projections such as nuts, sharp angles, or brackets that might cause damage to the hose.
  3. The interior of a hose storage area shall not be required to meet the slip resistance requirements given in the standard.
  4. Reels, handrails, ladders, and equipment holders shall be placed so as not to obstruct the laying or removal of hose from the storage area.
  5. Any hose storage area shall be equipped with a positive means to prevent unintentional deployment of the hose from the top, sides, front, and rear of the hose storage area while the apparatus is underway in normal operations.

Examining the purpose of these requirements, one at a time, reveals the following:

#1 is obviously to allow any water to drain and to allow the hose to dry out. Typically, main hosebeds have a slotted grid constructed of aluminum or other noncorrosive material that makes up the floor of the hose storage area. The open slots allow for drainage and aeration.

#2 is self-explanatory. You obviously don’t want anything sharp that could damage the hose, but beware of sharp angles, especially in hosebeds that wrap around an aerial turntable.

 Hose storage areas need to be clearly defined. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)

 The bottom of hose storage areas needs to allow for drainage and ventilation. This could include plastic gridwork. (Photo by author.)

 Beware of sharp angles and obstructions, especially around aerial turntables that split the hosebed. (Photo by author.)

#3 is in reference to the floor of the hose storage area. It simply identifies the fact that walking is not expected in this area so it does not have to meet the slip resistance requirements of the standard.

#4 is one that we really need to pay attention to, especially when mounting equipment and locating handrails.

#5 is an extremely important requirement that all fire departments need to seriously consider. I was a member of the NFPA apparatus committee when an unintentional hose deployment accident was brought to our attention. A pumper responding to a call made a turn and two crosslays accidentally dumped out of the bed. The hose got caught on a parked car and after stretching a bit was violently released. Two children who were on the sidewalk were struck by the nozzle, killing one and injuring the second.

When the requirement first went into effect, I was on a factory inspection with a fire department that I was consulting with. When some members of the committee saw the cargo netting at the rear of the hosebed, they said, “That will be taken off and thrown in the closet in the firehouse.” I explained the serious liability issues with that remark if they accidentally deployed hose; they reconsidered their position.

Prior to the standard requiring full hosebed restraints, I worked with a large city fire department on pumper specifications. One of the requirements members had was a 36-inch hinged treadplate cover at the front of the hosebed. They explained that it held the front of the large-diameter hose (LDH) load down to prevent it from picking up air and unintentionally deploying on the highway. In addition, they found it useful to mount equipment on the plate.

Hosebed covers run the spectrum from open cargo netting to vinyl cover, treadplate hard covers, and a combination of more than one. Many departments specify hinged treadplate covers on top with cargo netting or vinyl flaps on the ends. This is a popular configuration for crosslays as well. Remember, this requirement is for all hose storage areas including front bumper trays and side running boards. This could be as simple as a couple of seat belt-type straps on a bumper tray all the way up to full containment with a treadplate cover. Many “quick-release” methods have been developed to get to the hose quickly including the use of hook-and-loop fasteners, quick-release buckles, and snaps.

 An unsecured crosslay bed resulted in a serious accident that prompted the requirements for hose storage containment. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)

 A treadplate covering at the front of the hosebed can prevent the front of the hoseload from lifting up when traveling at highway speeds. The whole hosebed needs to be contained either by a cover, straps, or netting. (Photo by author.)

   Various means of securing hosebeds can be employed including cargo netting, vinyl covers, and treadplate covers. (Photos by author.)

Hosebed Configurations

The standard used to require hosebeds to be a minimum of 60 inches in length. Now, hose storage areas are only required to provide a minimum cubic inches of space meeting the above requirements. The amount of space required varies by the type of apparatus being specified. They are as follows:

Pumper: 30 cu. ft. of storage for 2½-inch or larger fire hose and two areas of 3.5 cu. ft. for preconnected hoselines.

Initial Attack Fire Apparatus: 10 cu. ft. of storage for 2½-inch or larger fire hose and two areas of 3.5 cu. ft. for preconnected hoselines.

Mobile Water Supply Apparatus: 6 cu. ft. of storage for 2½-inch or larger fire hose and if equipped with a pump, storage for 100 feet of 1½-inch or larger fire hose for a protection line.

Aerial Apparatus: any space available for hose; if the apparatus has a pump and tank, two areas of 3.5 cu. ft. for preconnected hoselines.

Quint Fire Apparatus: same as a pumper.

Special Service Apparatus: as specified.

Mobile Foam Fire Apparatus: same as a pumper.

Beware of odd-shaped hosebeds that might be a problem deploying hose. I once inspected a quint that was supposed to hold 1,000 feet of LDH. The hosebed was long and straight, with a section in the middle that was projecting to the side. It met the necessary cu. ft. requirement, but there was no practical way to flat pack the hose in the side area.

Some specifications require a low hosebed without explaining what that term means. Is “low” given as a specific measurement from the ground to the bottom of the hosebed? From the tailboard to the bottom of the hosebed? Or is it to the top of the hose load? Sometimes packing hose in a very deep hosebed is a difficult process.

All apparatus specifications are a series of trade-offs. To get a low hosebed, quite often committees specify an “L-shaped” water tank with a low area under the hosebed and a larger upright section at the front of the body. This results in the floor of the hosebed being low but a shortened length. Larger water tanks typically result in higher hose storage areas. In some cases, the body side sheets need to be extended above the side compartments to accommodate the hose load.

 10  Bumper and running board trays can be secured by straps or full treadplate enclosures. (Photos by Ron Jeffers.)

11  The orange straps activate quick-release buckles, clearing the end of the hosebed for deployment. (Photo by author.)

12  The deep cutouts in the center of the hosebed dividers will help when packing hose. (Photo by author.)

When describing the amount of hose that you want to carry, it is important to identify the type of hose—i.e., “double-jacket 2½-inch fire hose in 50-foot lengths or 5-inch rubber-jacketed LDH in 100-foot lengths with Storz couplings”—for two reasons. First, the manufacturer needs to provide enough cubic feet of space for the hose load; second, it needs to calculate the weight of the hose to help develop the capacity of the rear axle.

Accurately describe exactly how you intend to divide the load. While adjustable hosebed dividers are typically specified, you should give a description, left to right, on how you intend to pack the hose. If you are specifying one or more hosebed preconnects, also describe their location. As an operational tip, you might consider having a short length of hose that runs from the front of the hosebed preconnect to the ground at the rear of the apparatus. This makes it much easier when you need to disconnect the preconnect instead of getting up in the hosebed and trying to reach the coupling.

Beware of packing hose extremely high if there is a crossbar across the upper rear of the hosebed. You might need to pack the bed more forward to avoid couplings striking the crossbar, especially large LDH coupling sets.

Also describe the interior finish of the hosebed. Some require it to be painted; left as a natural finish; or with another popular finish—spray-on vinyl bedliner, which provides a durable, long-lasting coating.

Reaching the Top of the Hose load

We discussed the height of the hosebed, but reaching it is another story, especially when repacking the hosebed. Three methods of climbing are fixed or folding steps, platforms, and ladders. Several manufacturers make folding ladders that provide safe and convenient access to high hosebeds.

13  Folding ladders add safety when reaching high hosebeds. (Photo by author.)

14 Pull-out platforms add safety when packing hose. (Photo by Ron Jeffers.)

15  Cut-outs at the end of hosebed dividers provide hand holds when climbing. (Photo by author.)

NFPA 1901 has several requirements for steps and access. The distance from the ground to the first step needs to be 24 inches or less and not more than 18 inches between steps, both vertically and horizontally. In addition, handrails must be provided where steps or ladders for climbing are located. Pull-out platforms provide additional safety when packing hose.

Handrails and handholds must be constructed so three points of contact (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet) can be maintained at all times while ascending or descending. Some manufacturers can provide cutouts at the end of hosebed dividers to assist in climbing.

Give it Some Thought

Just from all the hose storage considerations discussed here, it is obvious that specifying apparatus is an involved process. You must carefully examine, research, discuss, and document each area. Obtaining a copy of NFPA 1901 will assist you in this endeavor.


WILLIAM C. PETERS retired after 28 years with the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department, having served the last 17 years as battalion chief/apparatus supervisor. He is a voting member of the NFPA 1901 apparatus committee and the author of Fire Apparatus Purchasing Handbook (Fire Engineering) and numerous apparatus-related articles.

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