East Coast 15,000-GPM Water Supply Drafting Exercise

The rules of the event were simple: show the fire service something intriguing with regard to water supply operations and move as much water as possible while doing it.
What began as a friendly challenge among two instructors and friends resulted in a large-flow evolution that crossed multijurisdictional boundaries and yielded an unprecedented fire flow.

In November 2020, fellow instructor and good friend Chris Edmundson challenged me to the first ever “West Coast vs. East Coast Big Water Challenge.” He and his West Coast crew were capable of flowing a very impressive 7,500 gallons per minute (gpm) using three pumpers, two hydrants, and a dual pumping operation. After seeing this, I knew my work was cut out for me, and planning for the East Coast began.

The rules of the event were simple: show the fire service something intriguing with regard to water supply operations and move as much water as possible while doing it. After seeing that the West Coast crew chose to perform their drill using fire hydrants, it became obvious that we would perform our operation from a draft. In the three months that followed, extensive planning and logistical efforts took place that resulted in a water supply drill that brought fire departments and firefighters across six states together to flow an astounding 15,000 gpm from a draft (photo 1)!

 On February 6, 2021, firefighters from six states came together to represent the East Coast and flow 15,000 gpm while drafting from the Elizabeth River. (Photo by John Burruss.)

 Engine 3 was nosed in toward the water source and ultimately established a triple tube drafting configuration. (Photo by Curtis Marshall/Altitude Imaging.)

 The Chesapeake trailer monitor was supplied by both boost pumpers through six supply lines and achieved its maximum flow of 5,000 gpm. (Photo by Dustin Weese.)

Almost immediately, it was evident that this drill was going to require a tremendous amount of logistical planning to successfully pull off. Fortunately, close friend Lieutenant Blake Roberson of the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department reached out and said that Chesapeake would be willing to host the event. The plan was set to draft from the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake on February 6, 2021. On the day of the event, we were fortunate to have help from the following fire departments and organizations:

  • Chesapeake Fire Department
  • Norfolk (VA) Fire & Rescue
  • Suffolk (VA) Fire & Rescue
  • Shepherdstown (WV) Volunteer Fire Department
  • La Plata (MD) Volunteer Fire Department
  • Carrsville (VA) Volunteer Fire Department
  • KASE Pumps
  • Task Force Tips
  • Water Supply Innovations
  • Carolina Fire Equipment
  • Specialized Professional Service, Inc.
  • Twisted Fire Industries
  • Various firefighters from across the East Coast who came to participate.

Although one of the goals of the event was to exceed the West Coast’s flow, the biggest intention of this drill was to demonstrate how to move big water from a static source using various methods. This type of operation could be used for the following:

  1. Large-scale fires in the rural environment where the fill site can accommodate multiple pumpers.
  2. Large-scale fires in the urban environment where the fire flow exceeds the capabilities of the municipal water supply system.
  3. Incidents in urban or suburban areas where there is a catastrophic failure of the municipal water supply system.

Regardless of the reason for this type of operation, a municipal engine company will likely be the one to initiate the process. From there, the operation can grow in a variety of ways to meet the flow requirements of the fireground. This drill demonstrated three different configurations for achieving large flow rates when operating from a static source. During the drill, units were assigned to either the “Drafting Group,” the “Typhoon Group,” or the “TurboDraft Group.”

The Drafting Group

The Drafting Group was comprised of four engine companies, one Otter pump unit, and one trailer-mounted 5,000-gpm monitor. The primary objective of the Drafting Group was to use advanced drafting techniques to establish the initial water flow. This configuration was assembled in pieces to demonstrate how this type of operation would unfold during an actual incident.

Shepherdstown Engine 3 was the first engine placed in service. This 2,000-gpm pumper was tasked with nosing toward the river and setting up a triple tube drafting configuration. This positioning allowed Engine 3 to maintain a smaller footprint while also enabling both side intakes and the front intake to be used.

Since a triple tube configuration was employed, Engine 3 was capable of exceeding its pump capacity while simultaneously overcoming approximately 15 feet of lift (photo 2). By splitting the flow between three intakes, the amount of friction loss in the hard sleeve was dramatically reduced; this resulted in the lift being the primary source of pressure loss in the system.

Engine 3 was tasked with pumping its water directly to Norfolk Engine 14. Multiple supply lines were run from discharges on Engine 3 to the intakes of Engine 14. These supply lines were then run from Engine 14 to the inlets of Chesapeake’s 5,000-gpm trailer-mounted monitor (photo 3). During the operation, Norfolk’s engine was responsible for overcoming the friction loss in the supply lines and providing a nozzle pressure of 100 pounds per square inch (psi).

The other half of the operation consisted of Chesapeake Engine 1 and La Plata Engine 11—whose configuration mirrored those of Engines 3 and 14. Engine 1 was also a 2,000-gpm pumper and was chosen to be the other drafting engine. The major advantage of Engine 1 was that it was outfitted with two large master intake valves on the passenger’s side of the rig. This easily enabled a triple tube drafting configuration to be established (photo 4).

 Chesapeake Engine 1 operated as the second drafting engine for the evolution. (Photo by John Burruss.)

Multiple large-diameter supply lines were run from Engine 1 to Engine 11’s intakes. Engine 11 then ran one large-diameter supply to an inlet on the trailer-mounted monitor. La Plata’s crew further enhanced the operation by running three 3-inch supply lines to a manifold that fed a 5-inch line to the monitor. The crew also ran two 4-inch supply lines connected to a siamese, which fed another 5-inch line to the monitor (photo 5).

 La Plata’s crew maximized their flow and reduced friction to the trailer monitor by running 3- and 4-inch parallel supply lines. (Photo by Jillian Stewart).

By configuring the pumping apparatus in this fashion, the monitor could be supplied from two directions. Both sides of the operation were composed of a drafting source pumper (Chesapeake Engine 1 and Shepherdstown Engine 3) and a “boost” pumper (La Plata Engine 11 and Norfolk Engine 14). This allowed for the creation of a large-flow series pumping operation.

In this configuration, the source pumpers drafted their maximum capacity from the river and pumped it to both boost pumpers. Because the source pumpers were close to the boost pumpers and multiple supply lines were used, large volumes of water were moved at low pump discharge pressures. This is primarily because centrifugal pumps take advantage of incoming pressure and volume. This allowed the boost pumpers to increase the pressure of the water and provide the appropriate nozzle pressure for the desired flow rate. The result was a high-volume series pumping operation that delivered the trailer-mounted monitor’s full capacity (photo 6).

 Once both sides of the high-volume series pumping operation were established, the trailer monitor was capable of flowing its maximum rating of 5,000 gpm.(Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

This operation was then further enhanced by incorporating a dual pumping operation between the boost pumpers. Engine 11 and Engine 14 were connected to each other with an intake-to-intake connection. This established an aboveground “looped” water supply system. Operating in this configuration allowed the water supplied by the drafting engines to be shared between boost pumpers.

Crews from SPSI and KASE Pumps then began placing one of their hydraulically driven floating “Otter” units into the water. Once placed in the water, the Otter pump supplied both boost pumpers using parallel 5-inch supply lines. Since Engines 11 and 14 were connected to each other with a suction-to-suction connection, adding the Otter pump to the mix enabled the flow rate to increase on both sides of the supply operation. The addition of the Otter pump increased the flow rate of the Drafting Group by approximately 2,000 gpm.

Once the Drafting Group was fully operational, a total flow of 7,550 gpm was achieved. The success of this portion of the operation was the direct result of using triple tube drafting configurations, high-volume series pumping operations, suction-to-suction pump operations, parallel supply lines, and hydraulically driven submersible pumping units.

The Typhoon Group

Water supply operations from static sources are usually initiated by municipal engine companies. As the operation expands, either because the flow rate or operational period increases, specialized pumping apparatus may be employed. Regardless of the cause for expansion, remember that every operation should be built in segments as resources become available.

The Typhoon pumping system is a type of specialized pumping system that can be used for large-flow operations. This trailer-mounted system consists of two diesel engines that operate a hydraulically driven submersible pump and a boost pump. The submersible pump discharges high volumes of water at low discharge pressures through 8-inch supply line to the main boost pump on the trailer. The boost pump then adds pressure to the high volume of water entering its impeller.

 The main pump of the Typhoon was supplied by its own submersible pump as well as a second Otter pump.(Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

The Typhoon Group consisted of Chesapeake’s Typhoon unit, two of Chesapeake’s foam trucks, and a second Otter pumping system. Members of Chesapeake’s Special Operations Team were responsible for deploying and operating the Typhoon during the evolution (photo 7). On the discharge side of the Typhoon, an 8-inch supply line was run to a six-way manifold, which fed Foam 2, Foam 3, and several ground monitors. Each of the monitors was equipped with 2-inch smooth bore tips. Foam 2 was also equipped with a larger monitor that was outfitted with a 2¾-inch tip (photo 8). After the Typhoon was operational, the second Otter pump was deployed, and lines were run to open intakes on the Typhoon. This added another supply source that fed the boost pump on the Typhoon.

 At its peak, Foam 2 had 3,055 gpm flowing through its monitors while supplied by the Typhoon. (Photo by Dustin Weese.)

The use of the Typhoon pumping system allowed for an additional 5,500 gpm to be added to the supply system. This replaced the need for having four additional engines to produce the same result. Typically, these units are not readily available to all fire departments, and even if they are, they tend to have lengthy mobilization, response, and deployment times. However, until one of these specialty units arrives, municipal engine companies can begin the operation.

The TurboDraft Group

When identifying any drafting source, the two major factors to evaluate are the adequacy and accessibility of the source under consideration. Access to the water source, or lack thereof, tends to create the greatest challenge for the fire department. At large-scale incidents, access issues can be because of a significant setback from the source or because there simply is not enough room to get all the required apparatus to the source. TurboDraft water eductors can be used to overcome these challenges.

During our evolution, the TurboDraft Group was assigned two engines—Carrsville Engine 20 and Suffolk Engine 2. Engine 20 was responsible for supplying one 5-inch line that was hooked to a manifold and had four 2½-inch lines coming off of it (photo 9). Each of the four 2½-inch lines was supplying an individual TurboDraft. The 5-inch return lines from the TurboDrafts were then connected to sections of 6-inch hard sleeve and secured to a dump tank. Engine 20 discharged tank water to the TurboDrafts, which filled the dump tank. Engine 20 then established its own prime from the dump tank. Engine 20’s responsibility was to continue feeding the TurboDrafts and keep the dump tank full at all times (photo 10).

 Carrsville Engine 20 supplied four TurboDrafts, which filled the dump tank that Suffolk Engine 2 drafted from. (Photo by Curtis Marshall/Altitude Imaging.)

10  Suffolk Engine 2 drafting from the dump tank that Engine 20 filled using four TurboDrafts. (Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

Suffolk Engine 2 was positioned alongside the dump tank and established its own prime by using a twin tube drafting configuration (photos 11 and 12). This setup enabled the apparatus to flow its rated capacity. Engine 2 drafted water from the dump tank and then supplied its deck gun and a portable monitor. Meanwhile, Engine 20 pumped to the four TurboDrafts to ensure the dump tank level was sufficient enough for Engine 2 to draft from.

By using this advanced TurboDraft tactic, Engine 2 was capable of adding an additional 1,250 gpm to the operation (photo 13). It is important to remember that it takes pump capacity to supply each TurboDraft and that each device has an approximate return flow ratio of 2.5:1. A single TurboDraft requires roughly 200 gpm of the pumper’s capacity to deliver the desired return ratio of 2.5:1. Engine 20 was effectively flowing a total of 800 gpm because it was supplying four TurboDrafts; this resulted in a return flow rate of roughly 2,000 gpm back to the dump tank, which Engine 2 could use.

11 Suffolk Engine 2 established a twin tube drafting setup to flow its maximum capacity. (Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

12  Engine 2 established a twin tube drafting configuration by using a drafting elbow and running hard sleeve through the back of the cab. (Photo by Dustin Weese.)

13 An overhead image showing the TurboDraft Group’s completed configuration. (Photo by Curtis Marshall/Altitude Imaging.)

The Final Results

Each segment of this operation took time to establish, and it is critically important to remember that none of this was put into service with the snap of a finger. The operation was built out piece by piece, with the very first component being the establishment of a draft from a single engine. From there, the Drafting Group built out the configuration outlined in the section above. Once the Drafting Group was established, the Typhoon and TurboDraft Groups began working to put their operations in service. The result was a 15,000-gpm flow rate that was established by three different operational groups using three very different rural water supply tactics (photo 14).

14 The final operation yielded a flow rate of 15,000 gpm and was achieved using a variety of rural water supply techniques. (Photo by Dustin Weese.)

Once all three operational groups were up and running, the flow rates from each monitor were taken using a pitot gauge. The Drafting Group achieved a total flow rate of 7,550 gpm through their configuration. The Typhoon Group was capable of adding an additional 5,500 gpm to the operation. Finally, the TurboDraft Group augmented the operation by flowing an additional 2,050 gpm.

Lessons Learned

This training evolution was one of the most impressive operations I have had the opportunity to be involved with. Possibly the most valuable component of the experience was the various lessons learned from the event. They follow.

  1. Remember your basic drafting skills. Air is our absolute worst enemy during any drafting operation. As obvious as this may seem, the biggest operational issue we encountered was the failure to ensure that connections were airtight or gaskets were present. This resulted in a significant amount of time spent chasing air leaks and breaking down hard sleeves to check for and replace gaskets. Taking a mallet to tighten each connection will prevent an air leak from affecting the draft. The rural fire scene is not the time to get into a “macho-man” competition—check for a gasket, make the connection, tighten it with a mallet, move on, and do work (photo 15).
  2. Span of control and communication. From the beginning stages of this event, we were unsure of exactly how many people were going to show up to participate—especially since we had several groups coming from out of state. It was evident almost immediately when 75 firefighters showed up that our span of control was obliterated. Attempts were made to maintain a manageable span of control and for each group to have a means to communicate; however, we struggled to establish this. The result was confusion regarding who reported to whom and what the chain of command for the operation looked like.
  3. Have a contingency plan for fuel. During this operation, we had roughly 10 diesel engines operating in some capacity. The two drafting engines were operating around 1,800 revolutions per minute consistently for the majority of the day. This led to a situation where one of the drafting engines became dangerously low on fuel. To keep the operation in service, diesel fuel was siphoned from a nearby rig that was not running and given to the apparatus requiring it. For these long-duration incidents, it is extremely important for the fire department to have some sort of plan in place to refuel apparatus.
  4. Use twin and triple tube drafting configurations during large-flow drafting evolutions. By using multiple intakes while drafting, the amount of friction loss in each hard sleeve can be drastically reduced and more water can be delivered. The drafting engines were tasked with flowing large volumes of water and overcoming 15 feet of lift during this operation. By using the triple tube drafting configuration, both drafting engines were capable of exceeding their rated pump capacities while also overcoming the lift.
  5. An operation of this magnitude is built in segments, not all at once. A phrase I use to describe the deployment of these types of operations is, “We don’t go from zero to octopus; we build our system one tentacle at a time.” It is clear in the photos that a tremendous amount of hose was deployed during this operation. What is critically important to remember is that these pictures show our final result. The system was built in segments over the course of the evolution to ultimately reach our 15,000-gpm flow rate. All water supply operations, regardless of the magnitude, should always start small and expand as needed. Here, we started by establishing a draft from one engine using one intake. From that point, the system was expanded to our final configuration (photo 16). Start simple and expand to complex by building the system in manageable segments.

15 A member from Shepherdstown performing the critical task of ensuring a gasket is present in the hard sleeve before making a connection. (Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

16 Establishing a fast initial flow of water enabled the total fire flow to be gradually increased as resources were deployed. (Photo by John Burruss.)

17 Members of the East Coast Team who came together to achieve a 15,000-gpm flow from a static source. (Photo by Jillian Stewart.)

This event was a remarkable showcase of the capabilities of modern firefighting equipment. It would not have been possible without the enormous outpouring of support from the various fire departments, firefighters, manufacturers, vendors, and photographers who participated. Thanks to everyone who helped and participated in this unique event—it was only possible because of your dedication to the fire service (photo 17).

ANDY SOCCODATO has served in the fire service for the past 15 years. He has spent the previous nine years as a firefighter and driver/operator for the Charlottesville (VA) Fire Department. He is a full-time fire instructor at the Tennessee State Fire Academy, where he oversees the driver/pump and aerial programs. He is also the owner of The Water Thieves, LLC, which delivers street-smart driver/pump operator classes.

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