If It’s Broke, Fix It

There is a lot of empty space

A look at how the Illinois Fire Service Institute altered apparatus for greater efficiency.
(author photos)

By David F. Clark

Articles suggesting ways to make apparatus and hosebeds more user friendly and efficient appear occasionally in fire service journals. Most of these helpful articles involve finding existing space on the apparatus for additional hose.

In recent years, we have seen nationwide an influx of people of smaller stature into the fire service, while at the same time our apparatus have grown larger and taller. This taller aspect is a real problem. On many new engines built in the past 20 years, you must literally climb up to reach the hosebeds. In some cases, the bottom of the main hosebed is higher than your head when standing on the tailboard, let alone on the ground. Some engines even have built-in ladders so you can access equipment carried on the top. Situations such as this pose safety problems as well as being very inefficient.

Fortunately, today we are seeing a move back to newer engines with lower hosebeds. However, there are many of the monster rigs still in service, and they will be for a number of years. Generally, the main hosebed cannot be lowered without changing the size and configuration of the water tank, but the crosslay preconnects are a different matter.

If you are stuck with such a monstrosity, an alternative to consider is that of altering the basic design of the engine to provide lower and/or more hosebeds. One inexpensive method that has been used by the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI, state fire academy) and various fire departments is to just cut the body and lower the hosebed. If you look inside many rigs, there is a lot of empty space over the pump.

Brimfield’s Modification

A number of years ago, the Brimfield Community Fire Protection District’s primary engine had only one 1½-inch preconnect, which came out the rear of the main hosebed. Behind the jump seats was a flat deck area approximately two feet wide, and below that was an enclosed transverse compartment over the pump.

When trying to make this engine more efficient, their initial modification was to build a slide-in hose box for the transverse compartment for one hoseline, and a second line was carried on top of the deck. These reverse horseshoe 1¾-inch lines, for shoulder carrying, were preconnected to a gated wye on an engineer’s side pump discharge. Thus, no additional valves or piping were needed.

Eventually, their chief decided they could carry four preconnected lines in the same amount of space by modifying the apparatus body to narrow “minuteman” crosslay beds. Plus, they would have more efficient shoulder carrying deployment and easier reloading.

When the possibility of modifying the rig was first discussed with some department members who had welding and body shop skills, their initial reply was, “The trustees will never let us cut on that engine.” The chief’s response was that since the firefighters could do the work at no cost to the district, and the apparatus would be made more efficient, he would not ask permission. They would just do it. Soon the rig was in the shop.

The transverse compartment and deck were quickly removed with a torch. A four-section hosebed was built with compartments 3½ inches wide and 19 inches deep. After a few days of installation and paint drying, the department had an improved engine with two 1¾-inch preconnects deploying at shoulder level off each side.

These four lines were controlled by gated wyes placed on existing main pump side discharges, so there was no expense, modification, or future maintenance for plumbing the new lines. This modified engine continued to serve the district well for almost 20 more years.

IFSI Engine

Several years ago, the IFSI took delivery of a new engine. Unfortunately, it was used strictly as a pump for a few pump classes. The rest of the time it stayed parked out of the way because we felt the preconnects were too high to be functional for fire evolutions.

On delivery, this engine had four crosslay “minuteman” beds over the pump. The problem was that the bottom of these beds was almost two feet higher than your head. There was no way to pull hose out of those beds other than by dropping it in a pile beside the engine. It was virtually impossible to easily reload those beds should you have been able to pull the hose in the first place (photo 1).

1. E-3 before; note the beds are higher than the head.

Looking inside the pump compartment, we found considerable wasted space above the pump, which is usually the case with tall engines. The only thing in this open area, two feet deep, was some piping and valves for four preconnects. Also, between the main hosebed and the preconnects was a deck (photo 2).

2. E-3 wasted space above the pump.

Having seen Brimfield’s earlier modification, we decided to cut the body to lower the crosslays. This body was aluminum, so much of the cutting was done with a saw, and aluminum brackets were welded. First, we moved some of the gauges to one side but decided to leave the horizontal row of individual discharge gauges to save effort and expense. This meant the hosebeds would remain about four inches higher than they could possibly have been. However, we were able to lower the crosslays about 20 inches, and that was a reasonable trade-off. This brought the beds down to about shoulder height when standing on the ground.

We now had five transverse hosebeds instead of four. Two of these are fed from the old preconnect valves, turned to lower their point of discharge, and three come off main pump discharges. Three chicksan swivels and their piping were eliminated, along with their valves and gauges. This reduced future maintenance problems.

The deck plates were lowered also and became a platform for reloading hose and operating the deck gun. We now had a reasonably functional fire engine that could be used for hands-on fire evolutions (photo 3).

3. E-3 after the beds were lowered.

The main hosebed was higher than we wanted, but since it was below shoulder height when standing on the tailboard, we decided it was not worth the effort and expense to modify the tank to lower that bed. We did, however, cut hand holes in the upper corners of each of the dividers to make it easier to climb up into the bed to reload hose.

IFSI occasionally traded training for used, but still usable, fire apparatus, which was a win-win for the fire departments and for us. We performed similar crosslay bed modifications on several other styles and brands of used engines we acquired over the years, including one with a top-mounted pump panel. In each case, almost two feet of wasted space was found over the pumps, and we were able to lower the beds to shoulder height (photos 4-10).

4. E-2 left side before the beds were lowered.
5. E-2 cut down.
6. E-2’s lowered piping.
7. E-2’s piping turned sideways.
8. E-2’s pump panel side after the beds were lowered.
9. E-2’s right preconnects after the beds were lowered.
10. Squad top-mount after the beds were lowered.

The modification of one older rig was slightly different. Since we did not want to disturb the extensive number of gauges on the pump panel, we cut down the body only on the officer’s side, built a box for two “minutemen” that only came out the right side at shoulder height, and left the other original bed alone, to be turned into a storage compartment later, if needed. The original plumbing for the preconnects was lowered and turned to supply the two new beds. This rig already had two rear preconnects that could serve the left side reasonably well (photo 11).

11. E-4 after the right beds were lowered.

Making Apparatus More Efficient

In addition to modifying hosebeds, we found other little things that can be done to make apparatus more efficient. Since the advent of large-diameter hose (LDH), 2½-inch hose is now mostly used for handlines or is stretched to supply a portable master stream. For maximum hydraulic efficiency, hose smaller than LDH should be used in a reverse lay, not a straight/forward lay. It is easier to shoulder carry handlines than to drag them. Thus, you might consider only loading 2½-inch hose six or seven feet into the main hosebed rather than filling the bed completely to the front. If this is done using an accordion load, and loading each layer from the left to the right, it is very easy to shoulder load and carry the hose without a long tail dragging on the ground. You don’t even need a fancy finish on it. Just load a section or two on your shoulder and go.

If your hosebeds are deep enough to hold more 2½-inch hose than you need, loading it in six- to seven-foot lengths makes sense. Even if you need to use more of the bed for capacity, then consider loading the bottom layers clear to the front, but for the last 300 to 400 feet you could load the upper layers in six- to seven-foot lengths for easier shoulder advancement.

If you are able to load all the 2½-inch hose in six- to seven-foot lengths, by placing a baffle board between the hosebed section dividers at the end of that hose, you can then use the front area of the bed for extra storage of foam buckets, fire brooms, shovels, etc.

Some fire departments are reluctant to use 2½-inch handlines because they think they are too heavy and too hard to handle. This is probably because they equip them with a brass playpipe and fog nozzle and don’t practice with them. If you replace the brass playpipe and fog nozzle with a pyrolite 2½-inch ball shutoff and a 1¼-inch solid stream tip, you will reduce the weight from about 10 pounds down to about three pounds. Now, instead of operating at 100-pounds-per-square-inch (psi) nozzle pressure (NP),you can operate at 35-psi NP and still flow the same 250 gallons per minute (gpm). The line is much easier to handle. Or, if needed and you have two firefighters to handle the stream, you can flow 325 gpm at 50 psi NP.

We found that mounting tools where firefighters ride makes it easier and more likely they will take them along when they dismount the rig. If they have to go to a compartment to get something, they are more likely not to take it along initially. Thus, you might consider mounting axes and sets of irons in, on, or near the cab. A foot-long or so piece of pipe mounted vertically beside the jump seat door will hold a six-foot pike pole/hook where it is easy to see and readily available (photos 3,8, 9, and 10).

In most fire departments the compartment size and configuration vary from engine to engine, so total standardization of contents is generally not possible. However, you often can make it a little easier for your personnel to locate items on various rigs if you at least follow some general guidelines. One side of the rig, probably the engineer’s side, could be set up for water and things related to that, such as nozzles, fittings, hose appliances, wrenches, etc. However, you might also want to put duplicate sized intake hoses and hydrant and spanner wrenches on both sides near the pump and on the front bumper if you have a front intake. Assorted hose spanners are also handy at the rear. The officer’s side compartments could be used for saws, forcible entry, ventilation, and salvage tools. Fire extinguishers could perhaps be mounted in similar spots either in compartments or on the running boards. Firefighters will then have a good idea of where to start to look for items on every rig.

It seems to help, both for taking inventory and for quickly locating items in an emergency, if items have individual specific mounting spots and brackets in compartments rather than just being thrown in loosely so that they end up in a different spot each time even if they are in the correct compartment. Ideally, you should be able to find every item on your rig when blindfolded, since we often work in the dark. While sitting around the kitchen table, my old captain used to test us by saying, “Go get me ___ from the engine, and I only want to hear one compartment door open.”

Obviously, rather than have to modify an engine after delivery, it makes sense to design it to be user friendly and efficient from the start. However, an inefficient engine is like a rock in your shoe: You should not have to live with it forever. Firefighters generally are “doers,” so take that poorly designed rig and make it better. You will be glad you did. The cost is minimal, and it certainly pays off in efficiency and safety. So, to paraphrase the old saying, “If it’s broke–fix it!”

David F. Clark, IFSI deputy director (ret.), served as a firefighter and fire chief and fought fires with rural, suburban, and metro fire departments. He became a field instructor for the state fire academy (now the Illinois Fire Service Institute) and then a full-time instructor there. As IFSI deputy director, he oversaw 600-plus instructors and staff, curriculum, training, academic, and research activities. He served as an instructor at FDIC and numerous conferences and fire schools, provided technical assistance and review of several fire service books and videos, and is the author of more than 20 articles in fire service journals. He participated in curriculum development and writing training manuals for IFSI, Illinois’ OSFM, IFSTA, and the NFA. His college degrees are in history, fire science, and adult technical & vocational education. He served as a sergeant in the Army’s Third Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, and on the Central Illinois Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.  He retired after 45 years in the fire service.

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