Water Supply 101

CarolinaFireJournal - By Willie Wimmer
By Willie Wimmer
01/10/2015 -

After a bout of writer’s block, it took a working fire to give me the connection to finding the focus of this issue’s article. Even though my department and surrounding departments are located in an area with 10,000 square foot homes, we still have issues with water. I always think of hydrants as mystical red watering devices and have come to realize that a lot of people overlook the abilities of a successful water shuttle operation. At this particular fire, three tankers were able to successfully keep an aerial flowing a master stream of 900 to 1000 gallons a minute — all in a water tanker/tender operation.

Willie Wimmer (owner/head mechanic) started working for KME in 1996 while in school and continued to work there until 2007 when he relocated to the Outer Banks. He started with KME building trucks, moved into repairs and finished by traveling across country repairing trucks, selling and training on the apparatus. He has been an active volunteer firefighter since 1996.

Many hit the hydrant and lay in to the fire or even use a reverse lay, but what if the water department shut off that line due to repair; or what if as soon as pressure is put on the line the head ruptures. You could probably keep the “what ifs” going forever. But, a hydrant is not the only means of having a significant amount of water for fire ground operations. In this article we will start with a hydrant and gradually work our way to the tanker shuttle evolutions and other types of water supplies.

How many fire departments practice correctly the ability to relay pump for any reason? Many would answer, “we don’t need to.” I believe in always being ready to adapt and overcome any situation. Relay pumping has always been a successful means of water supply when the area of the lay is more than a 1000 feet. How many have trained on how to relay pump or even begin to just set it up? Relay pumping will greatly assist in water supply at all times. We all know the principles of water supply — make sure we have enough wet stuff to put out the amount of red stuff and sometimes just a little more will speed up that process. Relay pumping should be practiced on a regular basis and pressures for correct flow noted for each operator. We have all become too reliant on those mystical red watering devices, they are mechanical just like a truck and bad stuff can happen.

Next up is nursing from one truck to another, feeding into a direct tank fill on the rear or to an auxiliary inlet as well. A lot of departments have gone to the British couplings to assist in easy hook up and easy removal. If you have two 1000-gallon tanks you have 2000 gallons of water ready to use. When that truck is empty move forward to the other refills and you can continue this process as long as necessary. Remember with this type of water supply the amount of gallons per minute will be restricted to around 500 GPM because the tank to pump valve is usually three inches to three and one-half inches. If a lot of water is needed it is not going to happen with this route.

One of my favorites for low pressure, but good flow hydrants, is the four-way hydrant valve or Humat — which is a brand name. Remember with a four-way hydrant valve you have full five-inch flow compared to some of its counter parts with only a two and one-half inch assist. Basically you are using the four-way valve and turning it into a two-stage pump. You are taking hydrant water and sending it through the pump and back into the four-way valve and out to the fire site, greatly increasing the amount of flow.

Try the following. With the four-way hydrant valve open only to the fire scene, open the deck gun and measure the distance of the shot, next switch to the four-way to the pump truck then to the fire site, at an idle the distance will be five times greater — just at idle. So you can image when pumping at correct pressure that this will make some skeptical people believers.

Now we can move on to actual draft site set up with that long six inch black tube that comes with the truck that you place in the back room thinking you will never need it. With the draft site set up, this is a good time to appoint a water supply officer. The fire site set up needs to be in an area easily accessible to trucks to fill tanks in a smooth and effortless motion. Once set up lets you use as many drop tanks as you have as long as you have the means to feed from each tank. You can literally have 10,000 gallons setting there ready to use. This set up can be performed in fewer than three minutes when staff is properly trained. The fill site to refill tankers is key. Whether a dry hydrant or a hydrant that is three miles away, you should make it to where each driver never removes himself from the truck. The fill site is a critical set up as well and each tanker should be able to be filled in two minutes or less. This is where the British couplings come in handy as well because they will knock about 30 seconds off the hook up and break down time. If you go to the Office of State Fire Marshall website, these videos are shown under the “Pocket Tools” section and are well worth the training time.

Water supply can be anywhere there are large amounts of water; let go of the mindset that the mystical red watering devices are the only means. A pond or a pool or anything close can be a water supply. When your pumps are manufactured they are tested at draft and up to 20 foot of lift for most. The lift is measured from the water line to the center of the suction tube. You can imagine the amount of lift but it can be done and almost pumped to full pump capacity at that. A lot of people order these trucks with 2000 GPM pumps, but where are you going to get the significant amount of water to actually have 2000 gallons per minute available when one five inch line get you 2000 GPM — that’s a negative ghost rider.

Water supply is a major component that everyone overlooks and drafting operations is another. Every department I have ever been with, hydranted or not, has always spent a little time to train in drafting.

I’m not saying that forget hydrants and always draft, but I am saying always be ready and train for every situation you may encounter. If some of you reading this article and are scratching your heads about drafting, it’s time to do a training evolution in drafting and alternative water supplies.

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