Engine Company Ops - Water Supply

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Hello Brothers and Sisters, I hope all is well since my last article. My last article dealt with a general overview of Engine Operations from stretching to final extinguishments. This article will deal specifically with both obtaining and maintaining a reliable water source.

Most of you know that I work in a large city whose main water source is fire hydrants. Did you also know that even with this extensive water supply we still have problems getting water? Hydrants are usually blocked by illegally parked cars or the hydrants have been vandalized or sometimes in the winter the hydrants become frozen and have to be thawed.

Firefighters in rural areas have different types of problems such as lack of fire hydrants and having to rely on ponds or water tankers as their primary water source. If your department has to rely on a certain type of water source than your department must become proficient in its use by constantly holding drills using different techniques in obtaining water. Most importantly your department should setup their pumpers with the proper supply lines attached and ready for action. Fittings should be attached to both the supply lines if needed and the pump panel. Try and have your department setup all their pumpers the same way. This will make it less confusing at 3 o'clock in the morning, when you receive that urgent call "Start Water".

Once a water source has been decided upon, there are certain techniques and procedures that must be followed in order to assure and maintain an adequate supply. The following are different options and techniques available to the pump operator. Hydrants must be tested and flushed prior to hooking up. An exception would be during freezing winter months when the EEC would turn the stem of the hydrant's operating nut until the hiss of escaping air is heard.

NOTE! When testing a hydrant always stand behind the hydrant never in front and never insert any part of your hand inside a hydrant barrel. Flush the hydrant and then examine the barrel with a flashlight. This rule also applies when supplying Siamese connections.

Technique Tip #1:

If problems are encountered with either the removal of the hydrant cap or the turning of the stem of the operating nut, the use of the sledgehammer or axe is recommended. Striking the cap will often make removal much easier. The same goes with striking the operating nut; this usually will help loosen the stem.

In most major cities where there is a double parking problem or narrow streets, the use of the 35-foot yellow 5-inch synthetic hose (4 1 / 2 inch butts) has fast become the popular choice among chauffeurs surveyed. It is usually carried in a trough on the front bumper extension, but can also be stored near the side intakes. This connection allows the pumper to be positioned anywhere from a foot to almost 35 feet from the hydrant. It also provides the largest water flow of any of the hydrant connections.

Technique Tip #2:

If a pumper operator is using the 35 foot yellow hose and the pumper is close to the hydrant it will be beneficial if the chauffeur forms a loop in the 35 foot yellow supply. This will help avoid kinks from forming. Yes, synthetic supply lines can kink!

Some departments still use a 10-foot small hydrant connection (3 ? inch hose with 4 ? inch butts) which will require a closer and more accurate positioning, as opposed to using the 35-foot soft connection. It is carried on the side of the apparatus in a horizontal tray. ECC's must avoid the temptation of nosing the rig into the hydrant and connecting to the front suction. "Nosing in" makes it extremely difficult to reposition the engine should the hydrant turn out to be frozen, defective or otherwise unserviceable.

It should be noted that a 50-foot length of 3 ? inch hose (3 inch butts) can be used as an alternative to the other types of hydrant connections. Most companies will fold and place the 3-? inch supply hose in a compartment below the pump panel on either side of the apparatus. One end of the hose will have attached to it a 4-? inch x 3 inch hydrant connection; the other end will be either attached to the gated inlet or be set up with for a quick connection to the gated inlet.

Technique Tip #3

The gated inlet located below the chauffeur side of the pump panel, should have attached to it a 3 inch x 3-inch gated inlet a double 3"male as an option. This set up will afford the chauffeur with the flexibility of using the either the male or female end of the 3-? inch hose to connect to the gated inlet.

Some rural departments carry as much as 3,000' of 5" supply line. While this will give you the option of laying into a hydrant before reaching the fire it also has its draw backs. Remember the longer the stretch the more you will reduce your water flow. Also, I remember watching a video of a pumper stretching its supply line into the fire block but unknown to the operator he had run out of supply hose two blocks back and was proceeding into the block with no supply hose. Just one more thing to think about early in the morning...

As a rule when supplying a standpipe system you should:

  1. Always supply the system using at least a 3 ?" supply line.
  2. Whenever possible use two different pumpers at two independent siamese connections to supply the standpipe system.
  3. One pumper should be used to supply the standpipe system for each hose line in use. Ex. Two hose lines in use then two pumpers should be used to supply the system.

Final note! Never assume a hydrant is serviceable. The hydrant must always be tested before engaging the pumps. This will allow you to proceed to another hydrant without having to disengage the pumps if hydrant is found to be defective.

Stay Safe and keep asking questions. You can learn something new everyday.

BC John Keenan FDNY


John Keenan is a 33 year veteran of the FDNY and currently holds the position of Battalion Chief 15 in the Bronx. Chief Keenan is a frequent lecture and instructor on fire service topics with a specific interest in Engine Company Operations. You may contact Chief Keenan at FDPD@AOL.com