Equipment to Go Like 60 to Meet Challenges of ’70s
Basic hardware now in fire service or industry awaiting acceptance or demand for development for future needs
Recent years have shown an upturn in the recognition that much presently available commercial hardware can be successfully used for efficient fire fighting. In increasing numbers, apparatus users and manufacturers have turned to such modern-day features as power steering, fully automatic transmissions, air and safety brakes, elevating platforms, larger pumps and diesel engines.
Perhaps a moment of examination is in order. The major reason for the usage of such items as power steering, heavy-duty brakes and automatic transmissions is not to provide comfort and convenience for the fireman— they provide a very real measure of safety to the emotionally charged fireman guiding a 15-ton machine.
Elevating platforms can place men, ventilating equipment, lighting, communications and water far out over the roof of a building in a degree of relative safety never before realized.
Larger pumps provide full performance at a point somewhat short of the ultimate limits of the pump and engine, contributing to longer life, reduced wear and maintenance, and the sometimes required extra effort. Even the very nature of construction is becoming more crucial. Service accessibility for simplified rapid repair and maintenance is often a prime consideration in the purchase of new equipment.
Radical ideas necessary
Acceptance of the genuine benefits gained from some of these and other recent features is increasing—so is the loss of life and property from fire.
If we are to cope with the increasing fire danger and destruction, we must develop new techniques and new equipment to combat it. There is no shame in the Buck Rogers type of thinking, for obviously radical new ideas are required to force progress. It goes without saying that most new ideas meet with resistance proportional to their departure from tradition. This effectively throws the highest roadblock in the path of those ideas which may ultimately lead to the greatest progress. It is also true that the percentage of failure goes up as the departure from the norm widens. We must, however, resist the tendency to reject an idea because it is not fully understood or because it may require other changes in equipment or operating procedures.
A degree of order and organization must accompany the development program carried on by the numerous, but generally small, fire apparatus manufacturers. There are in the United States almost as many fire apparatus manufacturers as there are brewers of beer, and the annual sales of sunglasses exceed, in dollar volume, the annual sales of fire apparatus (including federal and military sales) by some 65 percent.
Fire fighters’ ideas needed
What direction should the equipment development research take? The best guidance here is the direction indicated by the majority of the thinking people directly responsible for fire fighting.
Some of the larger manufacturers employ people to receive and analyze just such ideas. As a central clearing house, so to speak, these people can receive ideas from experienced fire fighters (which they usually are not) and partially judge them. For instance, the same new idea received from widely separated areas over a short time span indicates strongly the existence of an unfilled general need. Under such a system, we can rate the idea in terms of overall need, practicability and cost. The manufacturer desires, in tenns of continued existence, to know if these ideas are saleable, since he must develop ideas into hardware from present profits, anticipating the ability to find a place in the market for the developed product. Here both the size of and demand for the product must be judged. Smaller developments can be absorbed in the regular stream of manufacturing while larger ones require extensive and expensive design, development and testing.
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Equipment for the ’70s
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Thus, the responsible members of the fire fighting profession can assist by being vocal in their desire for more effective equipment. Fire service publications can assist by asking the readership to comment on ideas, bringing out a larger and more varied response than could otherwise be acquired. Fire service organizations can use part of their meeting time to hold open discussions or symposiums on present and future needs for equipment. Manufacturers representatives are often asked to speak on “New Developments in Equipment,” but are seldom asked to go to listen to such a discussion. Is it possible that pending federal action will require such an effort, and does this indicate a course of action which might be, or has been, open to voluntary cooperative effort all along?
Let us look at some of the ideas from which the future effectiveness of fire fighting might be decided.
The present expense of fire fighting, in paid or partially paid departments, is made up of equipment, facility and personnel costs. Taxes are and always will be too high, and thus, the available monies to operate such departments will always be limited. The greatest cost of operation in these departments is for personnel. Therefore, the most important area to attack is that which allows the most effective use of the limited manpower available. We must, therefore, find ways to both exist with less people than have been available before and at the same time simplify and reduce the hazard of the job. Here is the prime area where good or new equipment design can be applied to advantage.
Why can’t the monitoring function and partial control of a group of pumpers be handled by only one man? If engines-pump sets can be run 24 hours a day, unattended, to move crude oil, why is it not possible to move water the same way?
Today’s hose competes for the market within very narrow weight limits, and still we see one man struggle to carry 50 feet of hose. Shouldn’t we aim for the hose which is light enough so one man can carry 100 or 200 feet with the same or less effort?
Infrared can detect the flame of a pea-sized piece of fuel at 40 feet. Why can’t platform nozzles be controlled by infrared scanning and allow the man in the basket to come down and help carry the hose?
TV can watch fire
Both the aerial ladder and the aerial platform are capable of being controlled from the turntable level. Highvolume water flow is also readily available. In conjunction with these, the closed-circuit television camera could easily be used to guide the operator in placing a water stream in the most effective position. Even stream change and nozzle position can be controlled remotely.
Note there is not one single item in this package that doesn’t exist—most of us have seen them all.
Any business worth its salt would spend a good deal of money for very lightweight, flexible substitutes if it meant that two men could handle a piece of equipment rather than three. In business, management saves a salary. In the fire service, we free one of our few men to fight the fire or save a life.
How many men today would be heroes had they not been occupied carrying something that was heavier than it should have been, and how many fire victims might be alive as a result? Basic chemistry tells us that brass is roughly twice the weight of aluminum and magnesium. Plastics have suffered long and in many cases unjustly from a reputation for poor performance.
Why wait for water?
It is interesting to compare the arrival procedure between aircraft crash equipment, which begins to fight fire even before it has fully arrived at the scene, and the impatient wait between apparatus arrival at a structural fire and the first visible evidence of water being played on the fire.
Is water the best agent with which to fight large structural fires? Common sense says yes, but already there are water additives which very effectively reduce friction loss not only in hose, but also in pumps and nozzles. Yet we have gone to great lengths (and rightly so) to provide larger hose to attain part of this goal, a development which was held up until technology provided a lighter weight hose that men could handle in these larger sizes. The rough weight of 2 1/2-inch DJCRL hose is 1 pound per foot, yet the water in the hose weighs only slightly over 2 pounds per foot.
Why must our aerial protection of today’s multistoried buildings be limited to eight or nine floors? With rising real estate values and an ever increasing population, should we condemn those people who must work or live from the 10th story up? It is not difficult to imagine the day when trucks carry portable miners’ cages which, powered from the ground, can climb window-mounted cables in tall buildings to transport firemen, rescue tenants, and move equipment. Surely such a device is not beyond our capabilities even today.
Helicopter use urged
Few machines built are more flexible than the helicopter. Already it is seeing use in areas where the problem of fire fighting is massive and the foresight keen. Many of today’s units cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; many cost thousands of dollars per month to man and maintain, yet kits for the home builder are available and radio stations use them for mobile news reporting—why not the fire service?
To the bystander, two or three men required to hold a single hose nozzle must seem an exceptional waste. Wouldn’t one man or better still, one man controlling several nozzles from a distance, be a safer and more efficient way?
Dockside unloading of liquid (and some dry) cargos uses lightweight hose and quick-connect couplings, even if the operation is done only once in a period of hours. Why then must the lire service exist with binding, galling, battered, screw couplings—in hundreds of different dimensions— conveniently installed every 50 feet?
At the risk of insulting tradition, why must fire apparatus be red—the second least visible color at night? Why must coats be black when this is not only poor for visibility, but known to be an excellent absorber of heat?
Innovations are here
Ideas and innovations surround us— from the use of a simple two-wheel delivery cart to allow one man to carry coiled hose to truck-mounted quartz lighting, presently available and far surpassing the lighting ability of the common floodlight, to remote controlled, electrically powered, tracked units capable of pulling hose and guiding streams while the single operator remains at a safe distance.
The Bell rocket belt, the now commercially used Hovercraft, the gas turbine, fuel cells, liquid-carrying tires, electrical or hydraulic vehicle drives, all these and more have as much place in our thinking today as did a rocket to the moon yesterday.
Even beyond this thinking, what totally new concepts can be used in fire fighting? We may someday see practical and highly effective fire fighting using equipment unrelated to our present ideas. Ultrasonics, the fighting of fire with sound waves; cryogenics, the use of the supercold; lasers, intense beams of parallel light rays; chemical devices for oxygen removal at an enormous rate; devices powered by the heat of the fire—all these and literally hundreds of others are just on the threshold of practical use in many applications. The fire service should not and must not wait for the leavings. No reason compels us to wait. Many reasons require that we push ahead, that we take and use any portion of those technological advancements which may be even partly of benefit in our fight.
Some of the story is simple, some exotic, none is impossible. Where the need exists, man will make the hardware to do the job. In the practical sense, demand creates the means to do the job. Without it, progress is stifled.