Know Where Your Equipment Comes From

AWG Fittings’ Giengen, Germany, facility is its main manufacturing facility with a foundry, some machining, all assembly, and final testing for its products.
AWG Fittings’ Giengen, Germany, facility is its main manufacturing facility with a foundry, some machining, all assembly, and final testing for its products. (Photo courtesy of AWG Fittings LLC.)
From left, Paul Carpenter, vice president of sales, and Steffen Kohleisen, general manager, stand with a complement of AWG products at a fire expo.
From left, Paul Carpenter, vice president of sales, and Steffen Kohleisen, general manager, stand with a complement of AWG products at a fire expo. (Photo by author.)

When we come into the fire service, we are flooded with terms many of us have never heard. SCBA, forward lay, large-diameter hose (LDH), flashover, NST, and Storz couplings are just a few of the abbreviations and terms we must learn in a hurry. But, many of us never stop to wonder where some of these terms originated or where the items themselves originated. In the case of Storz couplings, many don’t realize the patent for these devices goes back 100 years. Additionally, although the patent is a century old, many don’t realize it was not until 1985 that the United States fire market began to distribute them—all because of a 100-year-old company called AWG Fittings, LLC.

Century-Old Quality

The Max Widenmann family in Giengen, Germany, established AWG more than 100 years ago, according to Paul Carpenter, vice president of sales. The family owned the company until November 2010, when it decided to sell the company to a private-equity firm, Paragon Partners, from Munich, Germany. The AWG Group today consists of AWG Fittings GmbH Germany; AWG Fittings LLC, South Walpole, Massachusetts; Albach GmbH & Co. KG in Frankfurt, Germany; and ZR Armaturen GmbH, Frankfurt, Germany.

Over the years, AWG has developed a vertically integrated business focused on firefighting equipment, but, according to Carpenter, many fire departments in the United States have never heard of the company or are not aware of where their fittings originated. “AWG did not visually show its name on product very well,” says Carpenter. “The only indication is ‘AWG’ on the casting. AWG products were marketed by Harrington and others who end users recognize.” The company has expanded its distribution to additional distributors across the United States, he adds.

AWG’s firefighting business includes engineering staff, a pattern-making department, a foundry for pouring aluminum and brass castings, automated machine centers, assembly centers, flow-testing centers, and a shipping department. “We even have our own in-house program where apprentice machinists must work their way through various steps to become full-fledged machinists,” says Carpenter. “This system fully develops the skills of our staff to produce the highest-quality firefighting products.”

Carpenter says the apprentice program takes years. Although the workers must take numerous steps, the end result is worth it. “It’s the old way. Masons and plumbers all had to do this. They still do it at AWG, and they stand by that because of the quality,” he adds.

Two factories comprise the AWG main manufacturing facilities. There are around 250 employees at its newer facility, and a plant in Frankfurt manufactures water monitors under the Alco brand. These monitors can flow up to 16,000 gpm.

LDH and Storz Couplings

Storz couplings have been used in European fire departments since 1890. In 1985, AWG introduced Storz couplings and LDH appliances to the United States fire market. The first customer, according to Carpenter, was Snap Tite Hose, and the next was Angus Fire Hose. “Later, Hal Harrington established Harrington LDH, which became AWG’s master distributor to the North American Market,” states Carpenter. “Together these companies revolutionized the United States fire market, enabling high flow of water to be transferred long distances at low friction loss—approximately five psi loss per 100 feet flowing 1,000 gpm.”

To accommodate the LDH, Carpenter adds, AWG introduced Storz sexless couplings to the United States fire market, eliminating the need for female and male adaptors to connect the lengths of LDH. Since then, the company added locks per National Fire Protection Association recommendations to ensure hose couplings do not disengage. AWG also developed an entire line of LDH appliances.

“The appliances necessary to safely accomplish combining water hoses, dividing water, and gating water were first accomplished with AWG products, such as gated intake valves with pressure relief and wyes with pressure relief,” says Carpenter.

According to Carpenter, the key safety device on these products is the pressure relief valve. It is integral with all AWG intake valves and LDH distribution appliances. “This device dumps excessive water pressure to the atmosphere to avoid catastrophic failures,” he says. “This was a new philosophy for the American firefighter, who had, up to this time, predominately used three-inch hose with 2½-inch couplings.” Using three-inch hose delivered approximately 500 gpm with 20 psi friction loss per 100 feet of hose, and these flows did not require pressure relief valves.

Carpenter credits AWG and the LDH manufacturers with pioneering the 1¾-inch attack line/five-inch supply line combination that has become the standard in the American fire service. “By using them together, fire departments realized that they could change to 1¾-inch attack lines and apply higher water flows onto the fire with one line,” he says.

Stay with the Real Deal

One determining factor in making a purchase decision is often the quality of the product. Carpenter explains that there are many products on the market that are of inferior quality—some of which are based on AWG products. “We have a competitor who took numerous AWG products and sent them to China to copy, and, if you put ours next to theirs, visually they look exactly the same,” he says. “The issue is we’re starting to get calls from people who have had these products. They call us up and they say look, this thing is falling apart and we’ve only had it for a few years. We ask if there is an AWG on the casting. They say no, there’s no AWG on it. We say okay, send us a picture, we looked at it, it’s not ours. It’s not made in the quality of what AWG is. The metal that is cast, the alloys, the machining tolerances are not there.”

The concern is that with inferior products, the couplings can fail. “Our Storz adapters are forged, but some [manufacturers] even have cast couplings. A cast coupling is not as strong as a forged coupling. There may be imperfections in the casting. We do a lot of cast products but we don’t do cast couplings, just because you can’t control it,” adds Steffen Kohleisen, general manager, United States operations.

Looking Ahead

Industrial fire departments are moving into high-flow water systems so they can increase application rates with less equipment, Carpenter says. “AWG has developed several specific products to accommodate these systems: six-, eight-, 10-, and 12-inch Storz couplings,” he states. “Also, 10- and 12-inch MultiLug couplings, which are easy to couple and uncouple—all with locks.” AWG also has a 12-inch wye and 12-inch check valve that are specific to industrial high-flow applications of 6,000 gpm.

The company has also established a stocking warehouse just outside Boston, Massachusetts, for improved lead time to the United States market. “In the past 15 months, AWG has added NH adapters and PVC suction hose to our product offering,” says Carpenter. “AWG has plans to move to a larger facility near our existing facility due to increased business.”

Finally, the company has added a full line of threaded adapters and its Flex-Lite suction hose to AWG’s product offering. “As for the fire service, I believe continued efforts will be made to reduce weight of equipment, increase flows, and reduce costs of products,” says Carpenter. However, he cautions that the influx of inexpensive Chinese castings will become an issue due to inferior products with short life in the field. “Cost should not be the only consideration when buying products,” he concludes.

CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 17-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.

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