Turn on the Pump

By Michael N. Ciampo

During the warm summer months, water in many neighborhoods becomes everyone’s friend. Whether you live close to the beach or in a residential neighborhood, you had better expect a call to a drowning or some type of injury from a water activity—just a routine call for a “typical” summer for many departments. Unfortunately, in some urban areas, the water games can become a nuisance and dangerous and hinder our operations. It’s not uncommon to find numerous hydrants (often referred to as “pumps”) open and spewing like water cannons, especially when a person places a six-inch-long piece of PVC pipe over the 21⁄2-inch discharge and blasts an unsuspecting neighbor or vehicle driving by or even pelts a fire apparatus. You may have to exercise caution when stopping to shut down the open hydrant, as tempers may flare. Explaining the situation may work, but many times after you leave, someone will just open the hydrant again. If the situation becomes unfriendly, call the police.

Although many urban areas have added so-called security devices to the operating stem’s nut to deter the unauthorized flow of water from the hydrants, the local clientele has still managed to open them, wasting hundreds and thousands of gallons of water. To combat the loss of water pressure in the hydrant system (which is so vital to our having a reliable source of water to fight a fire), many departments have sprinkler “caps” or “showers” that they put on designated hydrants to decrease the waste of water and keep some of the pressure in the water mains. Most of the time these work, but in today’s poor economic times, often the hydrant caps (and the brass threads as well) are removed and sold as scrap metal. In this case, is your engine’s complement of tools able to overcome this roadblock? Many departments have created a reinforced rubber plug that has a “T” handle on a threaded rod that, when inserted into the larger discharge of a hydrant, can be used to plug the smaller discharge orifice, allowing the engine to get water from the larger outlet. Remember, it’s very important to flush the hydrant before inserting any part of your hand into the barrel. It is not uncommon to find hypodermic needles or broken glass inside the hydrants, so even after flushing them, wear the proper hand protection! If it’s dark outside, shine your flashlight into the barrel to look for any obstructions.

As the engine pulled out of quarters and made a turn onto the next block, members could see a large plume of smoke on the horizon. The officer let the members in the back know it looked like they were “going to work.” Approaching the scene, the chauffeur noticed numerous hydrants open and that his intake pressure might be low once he hooked up to the hydrant.

As the members began stretching the hoseline off the apparatus, the chauffeur ran down the street about four car lengths to the nearest hydrant. It had all its bonnet and base nuts and no caps. He placed the wrench on it and opened it slowly; a crushed soda can, a plastic bag, and some other rubbish spewed out of the 41⁄2-inch cap. (Any time you open a hydrant, no matter where you operate, flush it prior to hooking up to it. There have been numerous times when debris such as stones, leaves, rust, and rubbish has clogged an intake screen on the pump.)

As the chauffeur ran back to the engine, members had stretched the line off the static hose load; the engine was now ready to be driven down to the hydrant. As the chauffeur got off the apparatus, he grabbed the preconnected intake supply line for the 41⁄2-inch ear of the hydrant and a one-way gate valve for the 21⁄2-inch. (Prepping both ears of the hydrant will give you maximum water supply in case you need it.)

Now that the hydrant was charged and hooked up into the engine’s pump, the intake gauge showed a low pressure; meanwhile, the fire had autoexposed to the floor above. Members stretched a second hoseline off the engine. Water supply was now becoming an issue. Realizing this, members hooked a second supply line into the one-way gate valve on the hydrant and into the pump.

Other arriving engines began to position at nearby hydrants that were flowing into the streets and shut them down. In addition, one of the other astute chauffeurs grabbed a hydrant wrench and began to circle the surrounding blocks to shut down the hydrants used as public playgrounds. The chief on the scene realized the seriousness of the situation and requested that the water department turn on any supplemental pumps it could to increase the pressure in the mains. He also requested another engine to the scene to lay a supply line in from another avenue that had a larger water main.

The two hoselines stretched extinguished the fire. Luckily, the water supply was enough to handle the amount of fire present. All officers at fires involving situations where the water supply is in question must operate accordingly. In areas where there are no hydrants and the “fire ponds” are dried up from an insufficient amount of rain, heed the same warning, and call for tenders early in an operation.

As the members packed the hosebed, they were taken aback when the crowd began yelling, “Now that you turned off the fire, turn the pump back on!” Sometimes, you wonder if citizens really understand the value of water supply as much as we do.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 26-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.

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