The Fire CATT

By ALLAN SPERLE

Believing that the equipment and standard operating procedures currently used by fire departments and other hose-testing services continue to expose firefighters to unnecessary risk, Fire CATT decided to engineer an accurate, safe, efficient, and technology-driven hose-testing system. Departments spend millions of dollars on hose and apparatus, yet the market falls dangerously short in providing safe, effective, and accurate hose-testing capabilities. The often overlooked National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1962, Standard for the Inspection, Care, and Use of Fire Hose, Couplings, and Nozzles and the Service Testing of Fire Hose, was developed to ensure firefighter safety through an annual testing requirement and a well-defined test procedure.

In 2009, one Web site reported nine major incidents of firefighter injuries directly related to hose testing. For example, eight firefighters were hospitalized with skull and/or bone injuries while testing hose. Even when following the NFPA process, there are inherent dangers created when departments perform hose testing in-house, either with the wrong equipment or with an outside vendor. The appropriate agencies do not formally track hose-testing accidents; they should seriously consider tracking these all-too-common and preventable injuries.

Photo by Marc Radecky.

NFPA 1962 provides a robust process for testing hose. However, there are conflicts within its process because of the lack of capable equipment available on the market. Specifically, the NFPA calls for pressure increases of no greater than 15 pounds per square inch per second. Most equipment used today pressurizes hose on a manual—or operator-controlled—basis; Fire CATT has a patent-pending system that builds this control into its equipment. Using a programmable logic controller software program interacting with digital pressure transducers, Fire CATT does not estimate the pressurization but has integrated the pressurization into its system. This allows for a more uniform hose expansion during pressurization.

Another risk to firefighters testing hose is catastrophic failure during pressurization. Manual shutoff of the pump and/or manual test equipment creates a lag time in removing the dynamic energy from the failed hose, leading to hose whip and backpressure on the test equipment, exposing personnel to unnecessary danger. The Fire CATT system shuts off water flow within ¼ of a second if it senses a pressure drop during pressurization. Shutting off the water flow by a comprehensive valve system allows Fire CATT to eliminate this risk and injury to the hose testers.

The most glaring concern with the current practices by departments and other testing companies is that the NFPA 1962 requires that personnel should NEVER do the following:

  • Stand in front of the free end of the hose.
  • Stand on the right side of the hose.
  • Stand closer than 15 feet on the left side of the hose.
  • Straddle a hose during the test. 

Considering the personal injury risk from hose failures while under pressure, all personnel not performing the test shall clear the area. NFPA 1962 also creates conflict by stating, “Upon completion of the test, a test cap with a bleeder valve shall be opened to drain the pressure.” If one follows the first part of the process, how can one follow the next part? In other words, how can one stay away during testing but then approach the hose and open a valve to relieve pressure?

When Fire CATT first developed its prototype, one of its founders was performing the test and asked the engineers, “If it was not safe to be near the test site a minute ago, why is it now safe for me to go relieve the pressure when the hose is charged to 400 psi?” The engineers collectively answered: “It’s not.” So, Fire CATT innovatively improved its system by adding a pressure relief valve designed to create a test environment whereby no person needs to be near a hose under pressure, thus eliminating the risk of injury because of hose failures during testing.

Although safety is Fire CATT’s primary concern in the firefighting industry, it also must factor in the budget constraints we are all facing. Fire CATT not only created a safer, more accurate environment for hose testing, but it also made a more efficient system designed to test an entire apparatus in one single process and up to 10 different hose pressures simultaneously, eliminating the practice of setting up and resetting the testing equipment for each respective test pressure. Fire CATT averages 1,000 feet of hose per hour when considering the entire process of unloading, organizing, labeling, testing, draining, and repacking the apparatus. This leads to a very efficient use of time and thus a lower cost of testing vs. the old methods. Fire CATT customers have seen up to a 60-percent savings in labor costs because of the Fire CATT system’s design.

Annual hose testing is a requirement designed to ensure our hoses do not fail during a fire. The fire service should always look to improve and never accept things if they are not optimal simply because you have “always done them that way.” Fire CATT’s beliefs are in step with the fire service.

ALLAN SPERLE is a former assistant chief with Mims Fire Department in Harrison County, Texas. 

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