Roaring to Go Rural

Roaring to Go Rural

More than 220 cubic feet of cabinetry carries everything needed to fulfill the engine's multipurpose role. A 10-inch side dump and four floodlights light up the side of the engine. A pair of 14-foot 3-inch hard suctions are carried below the drop tank.

Roaring to Go Rural - Part VI

Rattlesnake water solutions prime rural pumping

This article originally appearred in the February 2000 Issue of FireRescue Magazine. This is the sixth in a series of Fire Department 2000 articles featuring innovative apparatus, equipment and ideas that break with tradition and take a new path to protect the public.

Rattlesnake (Colorado) Fire Protection District (RFPD) had four goals when its members speced for rural water supply. First: They wanted one firefighter to draft in 15 seconds. Second: They needed to draft from a drop tank while the unit attacked a fire off tank water without losing prime and/or adding a second, third or fourth suction line. Third: They planned to eliminate the primer in most drafting operations. Fourth: They wanted to eliminate transfer devices between drop tanks by using multiple hard-suction lines, one to each drop tank.

Roaring to Go Rural

The ground ladder complement consists of three 14-foot ladders, as well as 24-, 35- and 10-foot ladders. A 14-foot spare 5-inch Cam Lok coupled hard suction is also carried.

To accomplish those goals, RFPD speced both sides of its unit with a 24-foot squirrel-tail suction hose. A 5-inch hose is on one side, a 3-inch on the other. One end of each hose is stored connected to a gated pump suction with a preconnected low-lift strainer and a built-in foot valve. The engineer pulls the Velcro-mounted hose off the rig and drops the strainer into the cistern or drop tank. The engineer then partially opens the side-intake-valve, and the hose back-fills and self-primes against the foot valve. After that, the engineer opens the side-suction valve fully, beginning the draft. There are three 14-foot spare lengths of hard suction, two 3-inch hoses (one with another low-level strainer attached) and one 5-inch hose. All have Cam Lok couplings for extending or building additional suction lines. With connected lines, RFPD has a 52-foot, 3-inch, hard-suction line or a 38-foot, 5-inch line. The 5-inch suction lines can connect end to end to form a line as long as 90 feet.

ID Techniques

All suction fittings and strainers are color-coded to match the truck that carries them. For example, every piece of equipment carried on Engine 1 is red, from drop tanks to salvage covers. Engine 2 carries green supplies, and Engine 3 has blue tools. The color-coding ensures that equipment gets back to its apparatus. The department has also identified each piece by laser etching it with Rattlesnake FPD.

Roaring to Go Rural

A drop-down Zico rack is used to ease access to the 3,500-gallon drop tank. Color coding of the "Blue Rattler" includes drop tanks, reels, couplings, hose, thermal imagers and strainers. A 24-foot, 3-inch squirrel tail is ready for instant deployment.

Drafting Strategies

RFPD uses 5-inch squirrel tails primarily to fill a rig at draft. The quick-disconnect fittings allow crewmembers to disconnect the hard suction from the pump suction, but leave it in place for the next rig to use. The foot valve holds the prime. A single 3-inch suction can bring in 400 gpm at draft, enough to supply a pair of attack lines, so RFPD uses the lightweight, easy-to-move 3-inch hose to draft from portable tanks. When the department uses more than one drop tank, it can put a second 3-inch line into service instantly. The operator can balance drop-tank volume by gating the side suctions. For high-fire flows, crewmembers can use a 5-inch suction. They can also pull this line for a third or fourth drop-tank operation. A primer-selector valve lets the crew add a second, third or fourth hard-suction while drafting or pumping off tank water, without losing the prime.

Pump Suctions

There are two 6-inch, gated pump-suction connections on each side of the apparatus. The side suctions have reducers attached so any size hose or suction from 1 1/2 to 6 inches will couple without adapters. That handy mix of fitting allowances lets the next-in unit instantly transfer water to the first-in unit. Crewmembers accomplish this by pulling a lightweight, pre-connected 2-inch attack line (instead of a big, heavy 2 1/2- or 3-inch line), removing the nozzle and hooking it to any side suction. A 150-foot, 2-inch attack line, at normal pump pressures with the nozzle off, will transfer 340 gpm, more than enough to sustain two attack lines.

Roaring to Go Rural

A Zico drop-down ladder rack makes firefighters' lives easier. For filling from a cistern or pond, a 24-foot, 5-inch squirrel tail is ready to go.

The tank-to-pump line has no check valve, so any side suctions can fill the water tank directly, in excess of 1,000 gpm. Used with 3-inch hose, tank-fill rates of more than 2,000 gpm are possible, eliminating the need to open a tank-fill valve to top off the water tank. Typically, an unclappered suction line fills a tank 11 times faster than is possible with a traditional tank filler line. By specing its apparatus in this way, RFPD eliminated the need to balance pump pressure while filling a tank. On conventional apparatus, opening a tank filler too fast results in an engine-pressure drop and undersupplied attack lines. Shutting off the valve too quickly can cause a water hammer, and the attack line may get away from a crewmember. By opening the side suction, the tank fills without affecting the attack crew. To fill from draft, the crew uses a 3-inch hose as the tank-fill line.

Chicksan Swivels

The squirrel-tail suctions are attached to a 6-inch gated chicksan swivel. The side of the rig with 3-inch hose has a 3- to 5-inch Cam Lok adapter. This allows crewmembers to couple either a 3- or 5-inch hose when needed. The rig has a 5-inch Storz connected to a 2 1/2-inch female fitting for work in areas equipped with hydrants and with mutual-aid companies packing LDH. The fitting allows the RFPD unit to pump or receive from a 5-inch line. It can also allow crewmembers to use Storz for a quick couple to reduce a 5-inch line to a 3-inch, to extend a lay or fill a tanker. As its primary supply link, RFPD uses one 3-inch, gated, direct-tank-fill connection (1,000-gpm capability). Any size resupply hose will couple to the adapters already stored on the connection.

Pump Controls

During the design stage, RFPD had two key questions: Could it simplify by eliminating the standard fire service pump panel's 118 controls and does a fire truck really need a gauge, drain, behind-the-panel valve, control rod and linkage on every discharge to fight fires effectively? Most firefighters say they use the throttle, the master pressure gauge and the crosslay charge handles on 99 percent of their calls. Every now and again, they need a side-suction valve. That means they use the pump-panel gauges and controls a few times a year --- or maybe once every few years.

Roaring to Go Rural

Blue salvage covers go on the "Blue Rattler," while red and green go on the "Red" and "Green" Rattlers.

Departments fight most fires with one pump pressure --- between 120 and 150 psi. Knowing this, the RFPD crew wondered why it needed so many gauges on standard fire trucks. The RFPD eliminated the conventional pump panel, allowing citizen firefighters to be experts in water movement. The exterior pump panels are identical on both sides; each has only seven controls and no gauges. Each panel has a transfer-valve control used only in capacity setting when drafting. The control is normally stored in the pressure position. A tank-to-pump valve is stored open and is only closed when the department drafts with an empty water tank. The crew uses a tank-fill valve on rare occasions when filling the water tank from draft. Three primer knobs allow drafting from any of the four side suctions. The primers help achieve the goal of drafting or using additional suctions while supplying attack lines off tank water without losing a prime. The only unique control on the driver's panel is a rarely used master pump drain.

Water Thief

Roaring to Go Rural

Two-inch attack lines are used to transfer water to the reducer-capped direct tank fill.

To eliminate maintenance and simplify repairs, RFPD speced only a handful of behind-the-pump-panel valves. It eliminated all drains, linkages, tubing, gauges and labels associated with a standard modern panel. It designed most other valves for a three-minute replacement without tools and/or a mechanic. Each attack line attaches to a water thief (a three-way gated wye with one 2 1/2-inch and two 1 1/2-inch outlets). Each unused 1 1/2-inch port on a water thief has a 1 1/2-inch reducer with a cap. Each unused 2 1/2-inch port can be increased in size by using a 3-inch Cam Lok. This planning ensures that any size hose brought to couple to a discharge port will already have an adapter waiting and ready for use. Next to each discharge are double male and female adapters in 1-, 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-inch sizes. All fittings are color-coded to match the trucks to which they belong.

In-the-Cab Pump Panel

Roaring to Go Rural

The pump panel maintains the simplistic approach taken elsewhere in the rig. Push three buttons on the green panel, and everything happens automatically.

Roaring to Go Rural

This is the entire pump panel, where a couple of simple controls are used to draft.

A low-tech, abbreviated, in-the-cab pump panel between the driver's and the officer's seats mounts on the engine doghouse. The 20- x 30-inch custom-designed panel by Vision Mark has only two pump controls, a pair of pressure gauges, eight lighting controls, two deck gun tethers, three foam controls, two air controls and four dump-valve switches. Several informational displays replace a conventional side-mounted panel.

On the Fireground

On arrival at a fire, the driver pushes the compressor, pump, generator, and preset buttons (located on a green background to designate engagement controls), and the pump, the generator and the compressed air foam system (CAFS) compressor engage. The pump throttles up to a preset pressure, maintained by a pressure governor. The foam system turns on. All the floodlights come on, then all cord reels and outlets power up. The Phoenix Tool pump engages hydraulic power to both reels. Unwanted warning lights and the headlights shut down. And it all happens automatically.

If necessary, a crewmember can manually switch on any or all systems one at a time. However, because RFPD runs only a few fires and rescues a year, having everything engage on all responses eliminates the chance of forgetting to turn on essential systems. Still, crews can shut down unneeded equipment individually. Example: On a daytime run, the floods can be turned off. Anytime the pump engages, the driver- and officer-side pump-panel lights illuminate, making it easy for everyone on the firegound to see if the apparatus is in pump. When the parking brake engages, the ground-illumination, look-down and hose-bed lights come on, and the headlights shut off to show that the parking brake is set. For pump-and-roll operations, the driver pushes only the compressor and pump buttons, and for nighttime incidents, the operator may select the generator. Other pump-panel instruments include two digital light-emitting diode (LED) readout pressure gauges --- one for suction and one for discharge pressure. Both gauges are electric, eliminating the potential for water-line freezing.

Roaring to Go Rural

Akron water thiefs are used at the point of connection, eliminating everything behind the panel valves, linkages, drains and gauges. By pushing the green control buttons in the cab and opening the spigot of choice, any line can be properly controlled.

A pair of off/wet/dry toggle switches for the attack lines and guns control CAF consistency. RFPD uses wet for interior attack and dry for exposure protection and wildland firefighting, with the switches stored in the "wet" position. A Detroit Fire Commander governor maintains pump pressure with more accuracy than any relief valve and without pressure surges. The Commander provides a cavitation warning system that can return the engine to normal idle speed within five seconds when it detects pump cavitation. The system also provides a digital readout of all engine faults.

A Rattlesnake version of the Foam Pro injection system has only two controls a dial-style percentage knob, and a switch labeled Foam On/Off. The unit is normally stored On and at 0.2 percent (two tenths of a percent). It changes only when 12-inch-deep medium-expansion foam is desired, then a 0.5 percent (one-half of one percent) setting is used. A pair of switches control the million-candlepower spotlights mounted on the remote-control monitors.

One tethered remote-control joystick is located on each side of the engine doghouse in perfect alignment for a resting arm to operate the deck gun. The tether wires are long enough for the driver or the officer to place the opposite remote control on either side of the doghouse and operate either or both guns. A Velcro pad secures the tethers in place. Moving the joystick handle forward or backward makes the gun go up or down; moving it left or right makes it go left or right. A rocker switch on top of the joystick handle controls fog and straight streams, and a squeeze-grip handle allows water to flow. When the handle is released, water shuts off. A master on/off switch on the joystick base activates the joystick squeeze grip.


Switches labeled front, rear, driver and officer control each bank of floodlights. They are mounted on a yellow background to indicate floodlighting. They are laid out with the front switch forward of the rear switch, and the driver- and officer- side switches located left and right of the front and rear switches. One switch, labeled jaws, provides electrical power to the Phoenix hydraulic rescue-tool pump. All five normally remain on and are controlled through the generator exciter switch.

Roaring to Go Rural

Pump-and-roll CAFS out of a remote Elkhart pumper gun and supported by a medium-expansion TFT foam tip laying a foam line is guided by a roof-top imager in heavy smoke.

One set of controls governs the side dump valves and chutes. One switch extends the chutes and another opens and closes the valve. Again, the dump chute switches are laid out logically --- to the left and right of the panel, with the dump-valve switches located on a distinctive red background.

An MC Products Accu-Sonic water-level gauge uses a dial-type indicator to show remaining tank volume by percentage. A digital display provides information on gallons remaining in the tank, discharge flow rate from the tank and time remaining until the water tank is empty. It indicates the same information for the foam-concentrate tank. Because the gauge is electric, there aren't any water lines to freeze. A master on/off switch can shut down the 1/4-tank, outside water-level gong, as well as the engine warning alarm and light. Simplicity was RFPD's main goal. Its plan allows firefighters to do their jobs easily and at peak performance, without endangering lives. Any other department can follow it easily.

David Doudy is an 18-year veteran of the Dolores (Colorado) Fire Protection District and is co-owner of Firestorm Construction Company.

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