Pump Operators or Lever Pullers?
The philosophy of many fire departments is that the necessity of immediate response is so great that almost every member must be an apparatus driver. As a result, many become so with little or no training for the position. Although he may get the apparatus to the scene, the driver does not know how to effectively put the unit into operation. He is merely a “lever puller.”
The problems that arise are many and varied. They stem from misunderstanding, ignorance, and a general lack of training. Many of these instant operators have been given the simple rule of thumb: “Little fire, little throttle; big fire, big throttle.”
A lever puller often can be identified on approach. With the fire showing, the lever puller proceeds to lay the line faster and faster, using 1,000 feet of hose when 600 feet would have been sufficient. In some instances the lever puller lays all the hose before reaching the fireground. He is often unaware of the hydrant locations and may lay the hose in the wrong direction. He may never reach a water source.
Once on the scene, in his haste to exit the cab, the lever puller either fails to put the pump in gear or puts the transmission in the wrong gear for pumping. One lever puller failed to set the brakes and upon increasing the throttle drove the pumper into the fire; not exactly the ideal way of getting the water on the fire. Two additional common errors are pulling the primer when the pump is carried wet and failing to open a drain or bleeder valve when the large diameter hose is being charged from the hydrant. The air lock that builds can be horrendous.
The lever puller is famous for conceiving “unique” hookups at the fire scene. Recently, one layed a line in from the hydrant on the corner, paused briefly at the fire, and layed to the hydrant at the next intersection. After completing the hydrant connection, the driver returned to the fire and discovered that the supply line extended from hydrant to hydrant. This mistake occurred because he failed to properly check if the line had been broken when it was initially layed into the fire. Can you imagine the chief’s reaction to a 3-inch above-ground water main!
Then there is the connection called pumping in a circle: from the hydrant to the pump and from the pump discharge back to the hydrant. Some lever pullers have been known to place the supply line on a pump discharge. This makes it extremely difficult to get water on the suction side of the pump after the tank water is depleted. A similar operation is to pump from a discharge at the pump operator’s panel to a discharge on the other side of the apparatus. Perhaps this could be a new method for service testing hose.
Another common mistake made by lever pullers is that they sometimes knock the nozzleman off the hoseline by quickly jerking the discharge valve fully opened or closed. Failure to immediately clamp the supply line usually means that several hundred extra feet of hose will take off, and then have to be dryed and reloaded. Similar consequences will result if the lever puller pulls the wrong valve and charges a preconnected line before it is out of the hosebed. This line may not have been needed or may have been in the process of being pulled and could create an unnecessary safety hazard to the firefighters.
Sometimes the master stream device is inadvertently charged when the wrong valve is opened. This floods the hosebed or apparatus cab. Not only is this dangerous, but it creates a lot of extra, unnecessary work.
Lever pullers make other errors due to lack of training. Most do not know how to set the pressure regulating device or when to transfer from pressure to volume. This can have disasterous results on the fireground. Another valve that gets opened too far at the wrong time is the tank fill line. This can cause the tank to overflow onto the hosebed or, worse, overpressure the tank, causing it to burst. This can be expensive to repair. Then there are those lever pullers who forget to observe the fuel gauge and run out of fuel. Another deficiency of lever pullers is their inability to regroup. They cannot go back and start over to determine where they went wrong. This lack of skill to systematically recall the steps performed is due to inadequate training.
Another area where the lever puller lacks expertise is hydraulics. Many affirm that the only good hydraulics is on paper in the textbook or classroom. There are 600-psi gauges with large increments that are estimated to the half pound although they are fluttering over a 20-pound range. They have not been checked or maintained since the pumper was delivered. Most firefighters will report that flow meters never work, although their percentage of error is probably less than that of gauges. Flow meter error is easier to detect, and maintenance should be better. Flow meters certainly remove the difficulty from hydraulics.
The well-trained pump operator maintains communication with the officer throughout the alarm. This extends from routing and positioning to pumping operations. The well-trained pump operator will maintain good self protection by wearing full protective clothing, including hearing protection and breathing apparatus when necessary. The use of earphones will stop the loss of radio transmissions.
A well-trained pump operator will stay with the apparatus and document the operations of the unit, including the number of lines off, length and size of lines, pumping time, equipment used, and all other information pertinent to making a complete fire report. The conscientious operator will watch the pump panel gauges closely and know what they indicate and when trouble is imminent. Upon returning to the station the pump operator who has been trained for the position will make sure that the unit is maintained and ready for service before he retires. The pump operator will know the responsibilities of the position that the lever puller has never been taught.
The apparatus operator must do far more than merely get the unit to the fire. Be sure that the operators in your department are properly prepared for the task at hand.