Firefighters, Engineers Get Antique Charlotte (NC) Fire Engine to Pass Modern Safety Standards

Firefighters operate an antique steam boiler engine

Could a fire engine steam boiler built in 1902 be brought up to speed to meet modern safety standards? That was the question facing Richard Coutant and firefighters with the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department. Illumination, an online publication of Duke Energy, recently looked at how they went about solving that question, and shared some photos and video from the project.


In his 34-year engineering career, Coutant has worked on just about everything related to power plant boilers, but he never had anything come across his desk quite like this. The Charlotte (NC) Fire Department had maintained the Metropolitan horse-drawn fire engine since its purchase in 1902, and firefighters enjoyed showing off “Old Sue” for parades and public demonstrations. But the state Department of Labor wanted proof the steam boiler – which powers a piston engine driving the water pump – could meet current safety standards.

So Old Sue was sidelined. That’s where Coutant, a Duke Energy engineer based in Raleigh, and his colleagues came in.

“The detail of inspection that the state wanted was way beyond anything we had ever done and our knowledge of pressure boilers is very limited,” Charlotte Fire Chief Jon Hannan said. “The only organization I could think of that still uses boilers extensively is Duke Energy.”

After searching the company’s directory, Hannan found a listing for Duke Energy Senior Vice President and Chief Fossil/Hydro Officer Regis Repko.

“I figured if anyone on the planet had the resources to solve this problem, it would be him,” Hannan said, “so I gave him a call.”

Repko set the partnership in motion so Coutant could help the fire department pro bono.

Although the fire department had the original operating manual and history for Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine 2813, no original design specifications existed. For these types of inspections, engineers typically have specifications for guidance. In this case, Coutant and his team had to establish the boiler’s original design through reverse engineering.


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