A Water-Shuttle & Drafting Drill

In most urban fire departments, drafting is a lost art, but for communities that don’t have pressurized water-distribution systems and hydrants, the use of tanker/tender shuttles and static water supplies by drafting is a mainstay of firefighting operations. The ability to move water in the absence of hydrants also has an impact on the community’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating and the cost that community members pay in insurance premiums.

ISO criteria stipulate that you have to develop a minimum uninterrupted fire flow of 250 gpm for two hours, and it has to start within 5 minutes of initial pumper arrival at the fire site. This all sounds really easy—until you have to perform the operation.

Many fire apparatus in service around the country today carry large diameter (5″ and 6″) hard suctions. Most of these are mounted on the top of the apparatus, making them difficult to deploy. Large diameter hard suctions have the capability of drafting at or near the rated capacity of the pumper—which works great if you have access to a static water source, like a pond or lake, where the water supply is not limited. If, however, you’re hauling water in a tanker shuttle, the operation becomes quite a bit more challenging.

Whether you’re chasing ISO points or just trying to flow water on the fireground, two important areas of focus when it comes to drafting are setting your equipment up for success and training. For most departments, a great starting point is to test whether you can truly meet the ISO requirements of maintaining 250 gpm for a two-hour duration. Many departments think they can haul and dump water at higher rates than are really practical for either fireground operations or ISO evaluations.

When you’re starting out, practice and drill on one piece of the drafting puzzle at a time. If you try to do it all by using dump tanks, drafting, tanker shuttles and tanker fill sites, it can get really complex and difficult. In this article, I’ll discuss the main components of a drafting and water-shuttle operation and some drill tips for each one.

The Draft
The fire site, or drafting site, is where you need to be able to put the water into action. Start by using a smaller 3″ hard suction that is easy to handle and draft with. From a draft the 3″ will easily exceed the 250-gpm flow rate required by ISO and can be handled by a couple of firefighters at the site of the dump tanks.

Position your dump tank at a hydrant if available. While you’re mastering the technique of the hard suction hook-up and priming of the pump, you can use the hydrant to keep the dump tank full without the hassle of using a tanker shuttle. Again, it’s important to get down one part of the process before moving on. If you can’t draft, then hauling a lot of water really doesn’t matter much.

Also take this time to review with your crew the importance of having the correct equipment at the fire/draft site. Having the right suction hoses and strainers makes or breaks the drafting operation. Things as simple as good gaskets in the hard suction make all the difference in the world. Another part of that equation is sound and well maintained fire pumps on the apparatus. Air leaks and missing discharge or inlet caps can quickly spell disaster for your drafting operation. We should find these during daily apparatus checks, training and annual pump testing—which is another ISO requirement.

The Dump Site
One of the key components of most water-shuttle operations is the use of dump tanks to hold water at the fire site for the initial pumpers to draw water from. It’s critical that you have the correct size tank—one that will hold enough water to start your operation—as well as additional tanks to supplement the operation. Multiple tanks, and the ability to transfer water from one tank to another, allow your shuttle tankers to dump their loads quickly and return to the fill site.

For your drill, practice setting up multiple tanks. Discuss the positioning of the tanks—the ideal set-up allows the initial pumper to have access to the tanks, but at the same time allows tankers to dump and leave the area easily, allowing the next tanker access without too much delay.

The Fill Site
Tankers or tenders—whatever you want to call them—are the real backbone of the water-shuttle operation. One of the things that the ISO representative will want to see is your ability to fill and dump the water from the apparatus. This is where a well-designed tanker will shine.

Remember, getting water into the tank is just as important as dumping it out. Large-diameter direct tank fills and well-designed baffling that allows water to flow in and out will make the difference.

For your drill, have crews practice filling the tank with different fill hoses and record how long each one takes. Review the different intakes available and how the design of the apparatus contributes to its ability to fill and dump quickly. This drill should underscore the importance of using larger diameter fill hose to improve fill times. Little improvements make a big difference to the larger operation.

Putting It All Together
Once you’ve drilled on each of the individual components of the water-shuttle operation, you can move on to a larger drill that puts the entire operation in place. Although such a drill involves a lot of moving parts and will take some time and planning to carry out, it can provide you with valuable information about your water-hauling ability and provide a starting point if you’re seeking a better ISO rating.

Having a sound tanker shuttle operation makes good sense for suburban and rural fire departments. Not only will it improve your effectiveness on the fireground, but your citizens will see lower insurance premiums if you can improve your ISO score. But these operations often take more effort—in the form of training and equipment design and maintenance—than many departments realize.

When was the last time your department flowed 250 gpm for two hours using a water shuttle operation? Maybe it’s time to get out and try.

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