When Moving Water, Think Tankers/Tenders

Fire Apparatus
The working end of this S & S tanker pumper has some interesting features. Note the scene lighting, rear step compartment for fill hoses, 2.5-inch and large diameter fill connections.
Fire Apparatus
When smaller pumps are specified, the pump panel space can be greatly reduced as seen on this S & S tanker.
Fire Apparatus
Fire Apparatus
Manufacturers like Kochek and Action Coupling Equipment make different versions of drafting strainers for use in portable tanks. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Fire Apparatus
Valley View just received this bright orange KME/Mack pumper tanker. There seems to be a lot of orange rigs in eastern Pennsylvania.
Fire Apparatus
Sister Bay, Wisconsin’s new Crimson pumper has a preconnected front suction with a strainer for quick and easy drafting from a portable tank.
Fire Apparatus
Rheems, Pa., will be putting this Mack chassis tanker in service. Note the soft suction and tray in the running board and the vertical exhaust. Mack is a popular chassis for Pennsylvania fire departments. (Fire Apparatus Photo by Bob Barraclough)
Fire Apparatus
Another orange tanker, this one by S & S.  It has a manual drop down portable tank and a large side dump behind the rear wheels.
Fire Apparatus
A side dump chute that can be attached to the main dump at the rear of the tanker is a good way to achieve side dump capacity.  It must be manually attached when a side discharge is desired.
Fire Apparatus
Fort Lewis just took delivery of a nice example of a custom chassis pumper/tanker.

One of the best water supply trainers, Larry Davis, is famous for referring to our tankers or tenders, depending on the region in which you live, as “WOW” (water on wheels) apparatus.

Whatever you are comfortable with calling them, they represent about 2 percent of the fire apparatus fleets around the country. Ranging from 1,000-gallon minimum capacity (NFPA 1901 definition), to tractor-trailer versions with 8,000-gallons or more, these units require special care and handling in purchasing, driver training and “Code 3” responses.

One of the most disturbing facts reported in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2003, “Safe Operation of Fire Tankers” (FA-248) was that, “while tankers account for only a small percentage of the overall number of vehicles operated by fire departments, they are the most likely type of vehicle to be involved in a fatal crash.”

This is a fixable problem but it will take some special attention by you and your department, to reduce the frequency and severity of tanker accidents.

Here are some suggestions to help you get started with specifying your next WOW.

You’ll need to get two reference books to get started. NFPA 1901 would be one and the FEMA tanker study mentioned above would be the other. Next, you and your committee will have to decide what the main purpose of the vehicle will be.

Is it a pumper-tanker with a large water tank that carries all the required pumper equipment like hose, ladders, nozzles, tools, and SCBAs?

Alternatively, will it primarily be a water supply vehicle carrying the minimum equipment that is specified in NFPA 1901, Chapter 7 for mobile water supply apparatus?

Some tankers are just that, they just cart water around. It is reasonable to think that if you are spending upwards of a $100,000 or more for a unit and it is a piece of rolling stock for your department, it just makes sense to add a few more bucks to the new apparatus fund to include a pump so it can, at the very least, defend itself.

As a volunteer, there were days when a storm blew through and we had every truck in the department assigned to a different incident. Sure would have been embarrassing to have a shiny new tanker and crew sitting on their hands because they had no way to even handle a minor fire because the new rig didn’t have a pump. Therefore, in case you have not figured out how I feel already – put a pump on all trucks.

With that said, let’s consider pumps.

The first decision to consider is whether the pump will be merely for transferring water. If that’s the case, a 500 gpm to a 1,000 gpm pump will be sufficient. If you want the apparatus to have some attack capabilities, consider a 1,250 gpm to 2,000 gpm pump. That will give the water hauler some capacity to really fight fire too.

Your decision on pumps will depend on your standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and certainly how you intend to use the rig. As a suggestion, specify a couple of 1.5-inch attack lines and a 4-inch discharge at a minimum, even on a water hauler with a small pump.

Next, pull out 1901 and copy Annex “B.” More specifically, the apparatus purchasing specification form. It is 21 pages of questions that you should answer before you consult with the various apparatus sales representatives.

Here are a few more items to ponder in your quest to get the best rig for the money you have. Remember, it is always going to cost more than you think.

You should consider tank size as it relates to vehicle horsepower, handling, acceleration, maneuverability and speed of unloading. The 8,000-gallon tractor trailers mentioned previously are big. By that I mean really BIG, slow, hard to maneuver, slow to fill and dump and require some very special driving skills.

Unless you are going to use the tractor-drawn rig to “nurse” an attack pumper or as a substitute for a hydrant supply, you may want to consider a smaller vehicle. Even a 3,000-gallon tanker takes a long time to fill and empty.

Under powering tankers is a common problem. There will be a big difference between a 300 hp rig and one that has 380 hp, especially when you are carrying lots of water. This is a case where bigger is better. If in doubt, ask for a grade ability chart.

With the list of equipment you intend to carry on the rig, it is a good time to consult with the apparatus manufacturers to see what they recommend for compartments, water tank and axle sizes. Remember, they build these vehicles every day and generally know weights and capacities very well.

Do not try to “reinvent the wheel.” Let the manufacturer have some leeway to build the truck the way they do best. It will save you money and in the end, you will get a better truck.

Watch out for overloading of the axles. The FEMA guidelines are good but when some manufacturers say you can “squeeze” 2,400-gallons on a single axle, you need to be somewhat leery. Keep in mind, this vehicle will be fully loaded 98 percent of the time. That is hard on tires, axles, springs and whatever. My experience has been that 2,000-gallons of water is about the most you can put on a single axle and still have compartments for the 1,000-pound capacity for the miscellaneous equipment specified in 1901.

At some point, you will have to consider your SOGs as far as getting the water out of the tank. Some departments always back up to a portable tank but that is not always the most expeditious or safest method.

Other’s pull up along side of the portable tank and use a remote-controlled side dump to empty the water. That’s generally the preferred method.

It your choice, but 1901 says the manufacturer must provide a method to drop water out of the rear and both sides. A chute that has to be fastened to the rear dump device is probably the most reasonably priced method but it may not be the fastest or easiest way to dump the load.

As to the portable tank, it is not a requirement in 1901 but most of the tankers have one mounted on the truck somewhere. Seems the most efficient way to use one of these devices is to have it mounted on the side of the tank in a fold down bracket. A power-operated rack is nice but of course, it costs a little more. Portable tanks that are carried on top are not as easy to deploy. Through-the-tank storage is better, but still not as easy as a powered rack.

Changes In Tank Material

The most common tank material has changed drastically in the last 20 years. Previously they were constructed of mild steel with a special interior coating or stainless. Today, plastic or fiberglass tanks with a lifetime guarantee are the most prevalent.

There are a very few stainless tanks still being built, mostly because of experiences with corrosion and bacterial problems. Not to worry, you can still buy tankers with that shiny surface; however, they are now plastic tanks with a thin stainless wrapper.

Tank design has not changed much with elliptical being a popular style for apparatus that are designed primarily to haul water. “T-shaped” tanks are generally preferred by the pumper-tanker folks. There’s debate about which empties quicker, but it’s difficult how to determine the how much influence the variables like dump valve size and baffling affect the flow rates.

Considering a remount of a former fuel or milk tanker? Don’t do it.

Remember, it is probably already more than 20-years-old and it was never intended to carry water at breakneck speed with screeching halts at each intersection.

Got a free government refueler? Remember they were designed to carry fuel at 6.3 pounds per gallon slowly around a flat airport and they probably have little or no baffling.

Also, remember, the government wore it out before you even sat behind the steering wheel.

If you get nothing else from this column, listen carefully: former fuel and milk tenders are bad deals. In addition to being old and worn out, they are notoriously overloaded, have insufficient brake capacity, are nearly always under powered and they’re flat out unsafe. Any questions?

There are many quality tanker builders in the United States. Consult with a few of them before you write your specs. Think before you decide to cut corners to save a few bucks.

Tankers are a difficult rig to build correctly. It’s important to keep a clear vision of the apparatus’ mission throughout the whole buying process and don’t deviate.

When you decide what to buy, don’t forget the investment you’ve made in the rig. Make one more investment and get the special training on how to handle the shiny new rig properly, not only to protect the investment in the apparatus but to protect the most precious resource of all, your firefighters.

Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is a contributing editor at Fire Apparatus and has been involved with the fire service for more than 40 years as a firefighter and industry consultant. He is a member of the NFPA 1901 apparatus standards committee, an organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium and a long-time member of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association.

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