One of the most respected positions in the fire service is that of engineer, more commonly referred to as the pump operator. That respect was evident generations ago in the title bestowed on the head of the fire department, chief engineer. In today’s fire service, the role of the pump operator is just as important and just as critical as it was more than 100 years ago.

Every fire department from the largest to the smallest has at least one pumper, even if this is the only piece of apparatus the department owns. The primary mission of a fire department is to fight fires, especially those fires that endanger lives and threaten property. To accomplish the mission, every fire department needs at least one pumper that will enable them to apply water (in most cases) to extinguish those fires.

Unfortunately for many years, a vast number of fire departments have been lulled into a sense of complacency regarding pump operators. The misguided logic states that the number of actual fires is down and those that we do respond to are usually handled by a single line often using tank water. It seems such a waste of time to have to learn all there is to know about pump operations. This makes perfect sense until you turn the corner and realize the fire you are rolling into will require more than just a single line.

As you are pulling in as the first-due engine on a three-alarm fire is not the time to begin wondering if the pump operator is adequately prepared for the task that lies ahead. For this reason, every fire department from the largest to the smallest should have a pump operator training and evaluation program in place.


In developing a training and evaluation program, it is wise to examine what has been created in the subject matter area and build on it to suit the needs of your department.

For pump operations and pump operators, a good place to start would be National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1002, Fire Department Vehicle Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications. This document, as do all of the NFPA professional qualifications standards, sets forth minimum job performance requirements commonly referred to as “JPRs.” A second place to look would be those fire departments that already have pump operator training and evaluation programs. Third, you could contact those agencies and entities that offer pump operator certification. Regardless of the programs you look to for guidance and assistance, remember that the program you ultimately craft for your fire department needs to meet your needs.

It would be wonderful to develop a training program in which an individual could dedicate his full attention to training as a pump operator. However, few fire departments can afford the luxury of having one or more of their firefighters assigned full time to pump operator training. A more realistic approach would be to break portions of the training into two- or three-hour classes or sessions, depending on your department’s training or drilling schedule.

As you begin to create your training plan, remember the objectives you are trying to achieve. What specific tasks or performance requirements do you want your pump operators to be able to demonstrate? This list will become the framework for your training program and provide the objectives against which performance is evaluated.


One method might be to divide the three primary duties of a pump operator and work from there. These duties are driving the apparatus, pump operations, and pump maintenance. Then take each of the three duties and list the specific tasks on JPRs the pump operator trainee will need to demonstrate for each duty.

Driving the Apparatus

No one would disagree that one of the most critical responsibilities of any pump operator is the safe delivery of apparatus and personnel to the fire scene. An apparatus that becomes involved in a motor vehicle collision is of no value or use on the fireground. In fact, because the first five to 10 minutes of any firefight usually dictate the outcome, an apparatus missing or delayed because of a motor vehicle collision could imperil fellow firefighters and the public we are supposed to protect and allow the fire to spread, causing far greater damage than should have occurred. Just as serious would be any injuries or deaths of our personnel and the civilians involved in the collision. For this reason, safe driving practices as well as the ability to maneuver an apparatus need to be a part of your training program and reinforced in practice every day.

Drivers for your fire department should be licensed to do so by the appropriate agency or jurisdiction. In most cases, this would be your state’s motor vehicle agency. You should physically examine the driver’s operating license prior to that person’s getting behind the wheel. A good policy to have in place is a periodic (at least annual) physical check of all drivers’ operating licenses. Have you ever known someone who forgot to renew his license? Should that person be behind the wheel of your fire apparatus?

NFPA 1002 contains a number of general requirements that can be used to form the basis of the driving portion of your training and evaluation program. These requirements include driving straight, making left- and right-hand turns, driving around curved roadways in both a left- and a right-hand direction, going uphill and downhill, changing lanes of traffic, passing through intersections, traversing a railroad crossing, and stopping as and when necessary. The standard also covers backing the apparatus into a fire station from a 90° angle without the need to stop and pull forward and without hitting any obstructions.

In addition to the normal driving requirements, your program should also include being able to maneuver the apparatus around roadway obstructions in the forward and reverse directions without stopping or hitting any of the obstructions, to judge horizontal and vertical clearances so that the apparatus can pass through the openings without striking any obstructions, and to use defensive driving techniques under normal and emergency driving conditions so that control of the apparatus is maintained. Last, because the pumper will hopefully be pumping at the fire, the operator needs to be able to spot the apparatus correctly so that water supplies can be used safely and efficiently. This will include inline pumping and pumping from the hydrant to the fire. Additionally, consider spotting the apparatus for drafting and relay operations.

Pump Operations

Simply stated, the pump operator needs to be able to deliver the flow and pressure needed for all lines taken from the pumper so that the rated flow and pressure are achieved and maintained during the pumping operation. This requires a basic understanding of how the pump works, hydraulic calculations for determining flow and friction loss in hoselines, and the capabilities and limitations of the water supply system (whether pressurized as with hydrants or from a static source such as a drafting pond).

The first step should be to explain the function and operation of all gauges and control devices in the cab and on the pump panel. Just because a person has reached a certain age or has served for a specific number of years in the fire department is no reason to assume that he knows anything about operating the pumper. Just as each of us learned about our first car, so, too, should your pump operators learn about their first pumper.

The decision of whether to conduct your training program as classroom sessions, practical sessions, or a combination of both is entirely up to you. The method you select must work for you and your department. Two of the more widely accepted methods use a combination of classroom and practical sessions; the variation is the amount of time spent in the classroom. Some believe you should spend as much time on hydraulics as you can before working the pump; others believe it is better to maximize the time for actually pumping the apparatus. The second method works better if the instructor has prepared several job aids for the pump operator trainee, particularly with respect to estimating friction loss, nozzle pressure, and flow.

One of the key components of any pump operator training program, and one most often overlooked, is to teach about the water supply available in your jurisdiction and how to spot differences if you are relocated to another jurisdiction. A good pump operator knows the water supply system and spends time learning which hydrants are good, which are marginal, and which are there for show. This is also true of water supply in rural areas. How long does it take to establish a sustained water shuttle from various points in the town? Knowing the capabilities and limitations of your water supply is of paramount importance. You don’t want to run out of water when your company members’ lives are on the line in the fire.

Some people believe in teaching pump operation by performing hydraulic calculations to determine flow and friction loss. Others prefer to use rules of thumb and estimations coupled with job aids. A third method is to cover the hydraulics in limited fashion and then show how to estimate using a rule of thumb to get quite close to the same answer. An example would be determining friction loss for elevation. The actual pressure loss of 0.433 psi/foot requires knowledge of the actual number of feet of elevation. A good rule of thumb is to use .5 psi per foot or approximately 5 psi of pressure loss per floor.

Pump operators should know several things from their experience as firefighters, including the following. Smooth-bore nozzles on handlines should have 50-psi pressure, and variable fog nozzles on handlines are almost always 100-psi pressure. Smooth-bore master streams should be 80-psi pressure, and variable fog master streams should be pumped at 100-psi tip pressure. Delivering the correct nozzle pressure will ensure the correct flow. The big problem is how to determine the correct pump pressure to account for friction loss in the hose.

When every fire department used 21/2-inch hose with a one-inch smooth-bore tip for its attack line, life was so much simpler for the pump operator. If you remembered to figure about 8 psi per 100 feet of hose for friction loss, you were home free. Then came 11/2-inch hose, variable fog nozzles designed for 100-psi pressure at the tip, then 13/4-inch, and then two-inch hose. Suddenly life became very complicated for the pump operator. To make matters worse, supply hose sizes started to change. Three-inch and 31/2-inch hose started to be replaced with four-inch and five-inch large diameter hose (LDH).

Rather than attempt to teach your trainees every friction loss calculation known to man, try focusing on the hose diameters and stretches used by your fire department first. As you begin flowing water, make sure that you have a good reliable pitot gauge and some inline pressure gauges that can be inserted to demonstrate pressure at the tip and at points in a hoseline.

Once the trainees have developed competency in the standard preconnected hoselines, add additional lengths of hose for those unusual and unique situations you run across from time to time—you know, that one section of town where the 200-foot preconnect will just make it to the front door because all the houses there sit way back from the roadway. Have the trainees try adding 100 feet of small-diameter (11/2- or 13/4-inch) hose and then changing it to a larger diameter (21/2- or three-inch) to see the impact the larger-size hose has on friction loss. It’s one thing to teach it in the classroom; it’s quite another to have them actually experience it.

The same approach can be used for supply hose—but one caveat needs to be constantly reinforced. Regardless of pump capacity or hose diameter, a pump will deliver only the volume of water it is supplied. Pumps do not create water; they only move it from the source to the nozzle. Thus, the flow available from your water supply limits how much your pump can deliver regardless of the pump rating.

A popular saying (and myth) with the introduction of LDH was that using five-inch hose was like moving the hydrant to the front of the scene because there was virtually no friction loss in LDH. That is true if you are flowing low volumes such as 500 gallons per minute (gpm) (approximately 2 psi per 100 feet). But increase the flow, and the friction loss will increase dramatically because the friction loss quadruples as you double the flow. So, the friction loss will be approximately 32 psi per 100 feet when you try to flow the maximum volume from your 2,000-gpm pumper through a five-inch supply line.

A good exercise is to lay out various lengths of supply hose used by your department. Some departments carry two diameters of supply hose. Have the trainees try to deliver the rated volume from one pump to another while leaving a 20-psi cushion at the receiving pump. This is an excellent way for them to ascertain the optimum hoselay for delivering a certain volume of water. This is also a good time to teach about the pump’s rated design plate and the impact of flow, pressure, and engine speed.

Pump Maintenance

Although each pump has its own needs and requirements, certain items should be checked periodically, as determined by the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications. These would include checking mechanical systems such as brakes, cooling, electrical, and steering; the levels of fluids, including fuel, hydraulic fluids, engine oil, and primer oil; tire air pressure; and belts. If these items are examined by the department’s mechanics, the pump operator should at least have a basic knowledge of what is being checked, why, and when.

Some operational components should be exercised or examined weekly. They include discharge valves, transfer valves (for two-stage pumps), relief valves and pressure governors, tank-to-pump and tank fill valves, suction and intake gate valves, primer devices, and the engine throttle to name the most common. Nonfunctioning or malfunctioning gauges should be identified and repaired, replaced, or calibrated.

Hose couplings should be removed and lubricated periodically to ensure they can be removed as and when needed on the fireground. Imagine that you are told your pump must serve as the source pump in a drafting evolution and that you cannot remove the LDH intake valve from the steamer connection on the pump panel because it is rusted in place.


Evaluating your pump operator trainees now becomes a function of measuring performance against the tasks identified in the training program as those that need to be demonstrated, explained, or listed. A simple checklist of the tasks will suffice. This checklist should be given to trainees at the beginning of the training period so they can monitor their own progress throughout the training process. This way, there will be no surprises at the time of their performance evaluation.

A well-developed and properly delivered pump operator training program will result in your pump operator trainees’ demonstrating an adequate level of competency on completion of the program. Most importantly, each will be able to deliver the quantity of water needed on the fireground regardless of the conditions encountered.

GERARD J. NAYLIS has served as a firefighter in career and volunteer fire departments for more than 30 years, as a company officer, a chief officer, and a training officer. He has written and lectured extensively on fire-related topics, including at the FDIC. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire safety from Jersey City State College and is a member of the New Jersey State Fire Safety Commission.


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