The session on pumps and plumbing controls at this year’s Apparatus Specification and Maintenance Symposium was one that seemed to reveal the pulse of the fire service and its position, largely, on the use of electronics to control discharge and intake valves on a fire apparatus.
The format for the session was to go through the current methods for controlling the flow of water in and out of a pumper, which include completely mechanical methods, mechanical/electronic hybrid methods, and completely electronic methods.
Generally, the advantages and disadvantages from the operational side are well known. If a department goes completely mechanical, then more space is required for the pump panel on the truck because of how the valves must be laid out. You gain space with a mechanical/electronic set up—which seemed to be where many in the room were at with their pumpers. And, you gain the most space if you convert completely electronic valves.
One major disadvantage that came up several times was the cost involved with the electronics, which the presenters, Doug Kelley, Wildland Product Manager, KME, and Doug Miller, OEM Account Manager with Task Force Tips, admitted remains higher than spec’ing out mechanical valves.
Of note was that most of the people in the room were proponents of manual valves. Although this is the case, there is no doubt that technology is moving forward. There is still a valid concern about what to do if an electronic valve malfunctions on the fireground. There was also a lively discussion about the age of fire apparatus and the concern that as a truck ages the systems on it will not be supported when the truck reaches 20 years old. Some of the manufacturers of these electronic systems were present for this breakout session and joined the discussion, explaining how they work to ensure that a product they produce 10 years from now is backward compatible with products they produce now.
It is also interesting to note how what might work well operationally for a department, e.g. electronic valves to reduce the size of the pump panel thus providing more compartment space, does not always work well for the fleet managers responsible for making repairs to these fire apparatus. With a purely mechanical system, most of the linkages, etc., are relatively easy to get to. But, when you move to a mechanical/electronic system or completely electronic system, components are often not as easy to get to. What this does is make it imperative that at least one fleet maintenance representative is on your truck committee. What makes sense operationally does not always translate into easy repairs for the EVT staff.
This session and its discussion were good examples of what this conference is all about—bringing together parties from the manufacturing and fire department sides to engage in discussions about apparatus technologies currently on the market, how they work and how they don’t work, and how both sides can work together to creates solutions that benefit all parties involved.