The Story of the Fire Pump

The Story of the Fire Pump

Hale parallel-series, two-stage cutaway pump. Note rotary priming pump at lower right-Hale Pump photo.Seagrave parallel-series, two-stage centrifugal pump, showing clapper valve in port at lower center.front-mount, 500-gpm barton-American pump manufactured by the American Fire Pump Company.Three-stage, centrifugal Waterous pump. Basic pump is two-stage with third used when needed-Waterous photo.Three-cylinder, single-acting piston John Bean pump for high-pressure lines—John Bean Division photo.Four-stage, volute-type, centrifugal American LaFrance pump for high-pressure lines—American LaFrance photo.Largest capacity fire pump on a straight chassis, 2000gpm Waterous two-stage-Waterous photo.Rotary booster pumps, one at left assembled. Principal components of disassembled pump shown at right

-Hale Fire Pump Company photo.

Part 3: Centrifugal pump era and advent of high pressure

Centrifugal-type fire pumps were not well adapted to use on either hand or steam fire engines. It was not until the invention of the modern form of high-lift centrifugal pump by Professor Osborne Reynolds in 1875 that a design basis for a centrifugal pump was established to provide satisfactory fire service. When the gasoline engine with its higher rotative speed was made available, the application of the centrifugal pump to the fire service was not long in developing.

In 1911 the Seagrave Corporation at Columbus, Ohio, built the first selfpropelled, gasoline-powered pumper with a centrifugal fire pump. The pump was a four-stage, diffusion-vane type. This was exhibited and tested in September 1911 at the 39th Annual Conference of the International Association of Fire Engineers (now the International Association of Fire Chiefs) in Milwaukee. The tests were supervised by engineers from the National Board of Fire Underwriters.

Following the Milwaukee Conference, certain standards of performance for the pumps were established to be effective at future conferences. The pump capacity rating was set at the next lower 50-gallon figure from the average pumped at 120 psi. This capacity test was established for 6 hours’ duration. It was to be followed immediately by a 3-hour test with the pump discharging one-half capacity at 200 psi and 3 more hours at a discharge of one-third the capacity at 250 psi. Tests were to be conducted with the pump operating at draft with a lift of approximately 10 feet.

These standards continued until 1919, when the National Board of Fire Underwriters decided to test at the factory instead of at the annual IAFC Conference.

Standards for pump capacity were also established. Standard pump capacities were 500, 600, 750 and 1000 gpm. A few years later the 1250-gpm rating was added.

Ahrens Fox uses motor

In 1912, the Ahrens Fox Fire Engine Company at Cincinnati built its first self-propelled, gasoline-powered piston fire pump. The design was characterized by the pump being mounted ahead of the gasoline engine, with a large nickel-plated air dome prominently at the very front of the apparatus.

The Waterous Company built the first gasoline-powered, self-propelled pumpers to go into service in several of the larger cities. One of the pumpers delivered to New York City was equipped with a rotary pump with a capacity of 900 gpm.

In 1913 American LaFrance built and delivered its first gasoline piston pumper.

In 1914, American LaFrance built the last steamer, which ended an era of steam power in the fire service covering 85 years. With the passing of the horse-drawn steamer went some of the glamour of the service that mechanized power never replaced.

In 1914 the Hale Fire Pump Company was organized at Conshohocken, Pa. The first fire engine built by Hale had a rotary pump on a Simplex chassis. Most fire pumps are tested by the manufacturer in a dull, routine procedure, but this new Hale pump got a real-life fire test. It had a sixhour continuous workout at the big Opera House fire at Wayne, Pa., in December 1914. As a result of this fine performance, the pumper was sold immediately to the George Clay Fire Company at West Conshohocken, Pa.

In 1914 American LaFrance built its first centrifugal fire pump, a fourstage, diffusion-vane type.

1914 also marked the beginning of the use of a commercial chassis for mounting a pump and fire fighting equipment. As noted, the Hale Fire Pump Company started by using the Simplex chassis. In 1914 the Waterous Company discontinued building its own chassis. From that time until 1929, when they discontinued building complete vehicles, Waterous concentrated on the design and manufacture of fire pumps.

Old equipment motorized

During the period of changeover from the horse-drawn steamer to the motorized pumper, many fire departments wished to quickly motorize the entire department and give up the horses. The steamers were in too good an operating condition to discard, and the cost of buying all motorized equipment at one time was prohibitive.

The solution was a two-wheel, front-drive, motorized tractor that could be attached to the front of horse-drawn apparatus. This was manufactured from about 1914 to 1936.

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In 1920, E. J. Wendell of the Hale Fire Pump Company developed the three-lobe (clover leaf) rotary pump. The first pump built had a rated capacity of 300 gpm.

In 1927, the Fire Engine Division of Mack Trucks, Inc., at Allentown, Pa., was the first to introduce the pressurevolume, or parallel-series, two-stage centrifugal fire pump. This type of centrifugal pump found favor with the fire service and continues to be the type most preferred.

In 1930, Seagrave replaced the four-stage diffusion-vane centrifugal pump with a parallel-series, two-stage volute-type centrifugal pump.

In 1930, American LaFrance discontinued the production of piston fire pumps.

Booster pumps developed

By 1930 the 30 and 40-gallon sodaacid chemical tanks were being superseded by water tanks, 100 gallons or larger, on new apparatus. This change brought into use a new class of small fire pumps called “booster” pumps.

The discharge rating of the booster pumps varied from 50 to 200 gpm at 120 psi. Since the booster pump was first introduced in 1930, the rated capacity has increased to a standard of 200 to 250 gpm. Generally, the maximum pressure for this class of pump is 200 to 250 psi. The booster pumps are either rotary or single-stage, volute centrifugal.

In 1931, the Hale Fire Pump Company announced the availability of a complete line of single-stage, volute centrifugal pumps to 750-gpm capacity and parallel-series, two-stage, volute centrifugal pumps to 1250-gpm capacity to supplement their line of rotary pumps.

In 1934, American LaFrance replaced the four-stage diffusion-vane centrifugal pump with a line of singlestage, volute, centrifugal pumps (rated capacity to 750 gpm), and parallel-series, two-stage, volute, centrifugal pumps with capacities of 1000 gpm and 1250 gpm.

In 1934, American LaFrance was the first to use the double-suction, single-stage, centrifugal fire pump to provide increased capacity. The pump was built in only one rated capacity, 1000 gpm.

In 1938, American LaFrance discontinued the use of the double-suction, single-stage, centrifugal pump in favor of the parallel-series, two-stage, centrifugal pump.

High-pressure pumps

In 1938, the John Bean Division of the Food Machinery Corporation at Lansing, Mich., was the first to introduce a high-pressure booster pump. This high-pressure pump is a triplecylinder, single-acting piston type, with a rated capacity of 70 gpm at 850 psi.

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The Story of the Fire Pump

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Other manufacturers, to provide a comparable performance, developed different designs. Hale and Waterous developed a power takeoff two-stage high-pressure centrifugal pump. American LaFrance, Byron Jackson, Seagrave and Van Pelt developed fourstage high-pressure centrifugal pumps.

The Waterous Company developed a third stage for the standard parallelseries centrifugal pump to provide the desired high pressure plus the ability to operate 1 1/2-inch lines simultaneously.

The Hale Fire Pump Company also produced a third stage for high pressures on the standard parallel-series, two-stage centrifugal pump.

In 1936 the Hale Fire Pump Company developed a trailer-mounted single-stage centrifugal pump with a gasoline engine. In 1938 the design was licensed to England and thousands were in service during the Blitz.

The design was also adopted by the Office of Civil Defense and many were used during World War II.

Portable pumps

In 1943 the Hale Pump Company developed a portable fire pump that has become an essential in every fire department. Many changes and improvements have been made since its introduction. The general capacity rating, while varying with different manufacturers, is 160 gpm at 20 psi to 100 gpm at 90 psi.

Portable pumps are produced by several other manufacturers, including the Gorman-Rupp Company, American LaFrance, American Fire Pump Company, Pacific Pumpers and Bilgram Gear and Machine Works.

In 1949 the National Board of Fire Underwriters changed pump ratings to reflect a higher capacity test pressure and an increase in volumes at 200 and 250 psi. This change was requested by the fire pump manufacturers because improved pump efficiency and higher horse-power engines made it possible. The standard rating of capacity at 120 psi, one-half capacity at 200 psi and one-third capacity at 250 psi became a Class B rating. The new rating, Class A, requires capacity at 150 psi, 70 percent of capacity at 200 psi and 50 percent of capacity at 250 psi.

In 1953 the John Bean Division announced a parallel-series, two-stage centrifugal pump to permit meeting larger discharge capacities than could be obtained from the high-pressure pump. The addition of the larger pump with a Class A rating permitted insurance credit for the pumper equipped with the high-pressure pump.

While other manufacturers discontinued the manufacture of piston pumps (except for high pressure), the Howe Fire Apparatus Company continues to build a piston pump, usually for mounting on a commercial chassis. The pump has a rated capacity of 500 gpm.

Front-mount, single-stage centrifugal fire pumps, first introduced by The American Fire Pump Company in 1924, came into use particularly in rural areas where access to a water source was best with the pump mounted up front. Such pumps are produced and mounted by American Fire Pump and W. S. Darley. They are made by both Hale and Waterous for installation by apparatus builders.

Different pump design

A rather unusual design of centrifugal pump, the Duplex, is produced by the American Fire Pump Company at Battle Creek, Mich. Rated capacity is obtained by operating only the large impeller. The 70 percent of capacity rating at 200 psi is obtained by operating singly the smaller impeller. The one-half capacity rating at 250 psi is obtained by operating the impellers in series. A small two-stage unit is available for mounting on the side of the pump housing with suitable drive to provide four-stage high-pressure operation.

The Waterous Company has built the largest capacity centrifugal fire pumps to be mounted on a regular fire pumper chassis. The rated capacity is 2000 gpm at 150 psi. Several are in service at Los Angeles and Minneapolis, where the first went into service in 1947.

The largest fire pumps to be mounted on mobile equipment for fire service were delivered to New York City by Mack in 1965. The pump is a parallel-series, six-stage centrifugal pump with a capacity rating of 8800 gpm at 350 psi in parallel arrangement. It will discharge 4400 gpm at 700 psi in series. The engine, an 18-cylinder diesel of 2400 hp at 1800 rpm, and the pump are mounted on a trailer as a unit. The pump was built by DeLaval Turbine, Inc., and the engine is a Napier Deltic.

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The Story of the Fire Pump

Part 2: From steam power to gasoline engines

Rotary pump manufactured by American LaFrance. Note the gearshaped rotors.Double-acting piston pump with vertical mounting was built by Clapp and Jones.A rotary fire pump was used on the first Amoskeag steamer. It was powered by a pair of reciprocating steam pistons.Silsby rotary pump in phantom view shows rotors in pump housing with external synchronizing drive gears.First gasoline-powered fire pump was built by the Waterous Company in 1898.

—photo courtesy Waterous Company.

The number of fire pump manufacturers increased rapidly after the rather cumbersome designs of the early builders were introduced. After 1850 the designs were refined rapidly for the pumps, type of pumps, efficiency and vehicle mobility.

The first successful rotary fire pump powered by steam was introduced in 1856 by Silsby, Mynderse and Company at Seneca Falls, N. Y. The completed fire engine, though experimental, had some unusual features besides the rotary pump. The principal feature was the rotary-type steam engine, instead of the reciprocating piston engine used in all steam fire engines up to that time. Synchronizing gears were used for both the pump and the steam engine.

This experimental fire engine with the steam-powered rotary fire pump was never sold. The steamers that were constructed after this first unit were more conventional in appearance. The second one built was sold to Chicago in 1857.

A number of desirable features were claimed for the rotary pump, although the Silsby Company built and sold the piston pump as well as the rotary. The advantages as listed in literature of that time were as follows: smooth operation without the pulsation of the reciprocating pump, no valves or gearing in the pump, less maintenance, not subject to damage from pebbles, longer fire hose life, and higher operating efficiency.

Pump capacity classes

While an approximate standard for size or pump capacity had been developed by the various manufacturers of steam-powered fire engines, the classification or rating given by each manufacturer to his fire pumps was not always in exact agreement with the standard. There were eight classifications with capacities as follows:

In 1858 Lee and Lamed of New York City built a self-propelled steamer of rather unconventional appearance which was equipped with a rotary fire punip (J. C. Carey patent). The engine to power the pump was a reciprocating piston type, and the name “mongrel” was used to describe this combination of reciprocating and rotary motion. On tests, the pump delivered approximately 640 gpm at 120 psi.

In 1859 Lee and Lamed built and delivered to New York City a steamer equipped with a rotary fire pump which was christened Manhattan VIII. This was the first steam-powered pumper to be placed in regular fire service in New York City. Like many fire engines in that era in many cities, it was a gift from the fire insurance companies.

In 1858 Poole and Hunt of Baltimore, Md., produced the first doubleacting piston-type fire pump powered by steam and delivered it to the Philadelphia Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire pump had two horizontal cylinders, one above the other, with two pistons mounted on one piston rod in each cylinder. The two pump piston rods were attached to the cross-head which was attached to the steam piston rod. Thus one steam piston and rod worked the four pump pistons in the two pump cylinders. One feature was the use of rubber valves located in each of the pump pistons.

First Amoskeag steamer

In 1859 the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company at Manchester, N. PL, built its first steamer and it was of the mongrel type, having a rotary fire pump powered by a pair of reciprocating steam pistons. This first Amoskeag steamer was sold to the City of Manchester, where it was in service for 17 years.

In 1860 Amoskeag built its first double-acting piston-type fire pump, and soon (after 11 units) discontinued the rotary fire pump in favor of the double-acting piston-type pump.

The following 25 years was a period of growth and change. The number of manufacturers of steam-powered fire engines increased very rapidly to meet the growing demand of cities changing from hand to steam-operated fire pumps. Many of the new companies survived only long enough to build from one to 10 fire engines. A few, such as the Button Company, John Agnew, and Hunneman & Company, built both hand and steam-operated fire pumps.

Some of the steam fire engine and pump manufacturers became quite famous.

Clapp and Jones started building steam-powered fire engines in 1862 at Hudson, N. Y. Their fire engines were equipped with either single-acting or double-acting piston pumps. The pumps were also mounted either vertically or horizontally, indicating a great flexibility in design.

The Ahrens Manufacturing Company at Cincinnati started making steam-powered fire engines in 1868 in a factory originally owned by Moses Latta, who built the first successful steam-powered fire engines in the United States. In 1863 he sold the factory to Lane and Bodley after building only seven or eight fire engines. The factory was sold in 1868 to the Ahrens Manufacturing Company.

Howe gets started

In 1872 the Howe Fire Apparatus Company at Indianapolis (now located at Anderson, Ind.) built its first fire pump. It was a hand-operated, singleacting piston type. One of the unusual designs developed by Howe was a horizontally mounted piston pump operated by a circular movement or rotation produced by power supplied by one or more pairs of horses, or 20 men, acting on long poles.

In 1891, four manufacturers of steam fire engines, the Button Fire Engine Works, Silsby Manufacturing Company, Clapp and Jones Manufacturing Company and Ahrens Manufacturing Company, were merged to form the American Fire Engine Company with offices at Seneca Falls, N. Y., and Cincinnati. From this merger a new design of steam-powered fire pump was developed that became well known in the fire service as the Metropolitan. Partial disassembly gave easy access to the valves and packing. One construction characteristic marked the pump for ready identification, the flywheel was between the two vertical cylinders.

In 1875 the LaFrance Manufacturing Company at Elmira, N. Y., built its first steam-powered fire engine. Both the fire pump and the steam engine that powered the pump were the rotary type. The votor design was different from any of the rotors built at that time. The fire pump consisted of a pair of bronze rotors mounted in a bronze pump housing. Each rotor had 10 large involute gear teeth without gibs. The steam-driving rotors were of similar design, but with side packing plates to compensate for expansion and contraction due to temperature change.

Seven sizes offered

In 1885 LaFrance Steam Engine Company started to build the pistontype fire pump to meet the demand by fire departments preferring the piston type. They were built in seven sizes, the largest being the extra first size with a capacity of 1100 gpm.

The Mansfield Machine Works at Mansfield, Ohio, completed its first steam fire engine in 1883. The fire pump was a rotary type, very similar to the Holley type built by the Silsby Manufacturing Company. The pump was driven by a double-cylinder, oscillating-type steam engine. This steam fire engine was built only in the sixth size with a discharge rating of 350 gpm.

The small-capacity fire engine (350 gpm) did not have a large market, and after several years, production was discontinued in favor of a double-acting piston-type pump, which Mansfield produced in six sizes. The sizes ranged from the large double extra first (1300 gpm) to the fourth size (500 gpm).

In 1886 the Waterous Engine Works Company at St. Paul, Minn., built its first steam fire engine. The fire pumps were the duplex piston type in five capacity ratings.

As the 19th century was nearing its end, a great change was developing in motive power that would have farreaching effects in the fire service. The gasoline engine, crude by today’s standards, was being tested as a source of power for fire pumps.

Gasoline-powered pump

In 1898 the Waterous Company built the first pumper powered by a gasoline engine. This hand-drawn pumper had a single-cylinder gasoline engine to provide power for the 175gpm rotary fire pump.

The beginning of the 20th century, with the introduction of the gasoline engine, brought more than changes in mechanical design. It brought the end of an era of romanticism and social life that centered around the fire department. Operating the hand pumpers generated a spirit of comradeship which will never again be equalled. Such is the price we pay for progress.

In the first half of the 20th century there were more changes in design of fire engines and pumps than in any other period. Other important changes occurred that affected the fire service.

One of these changes occurred in 1900. Several manufacturers merged to form the International Fire Engine Company. It was the; largest merger of fire equipment manufacturers that has ever occurred in the industry. The merger included the American Fire Engine Company, which had been organized only nine years previously, when the Button, Silsby, Ahrens, and Clapp and Jones joined in a similar merger. This new merger also included the LaFrance Steam Engine Company, the Fire Engine Division (Amoskeag) of the Manchester Locomotive Works and six manufacturers of fire fighting equipment other than steam fire engines.

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These six were the Gleason and Bailey Engine Works (hand-drawn and operated pumpers, hose carts, carriages, wagons, ladder trucks, aerial ladder trucks ), Rumsey and Company, Fire Extinguisher Manufacturing Company, Charles T. Holloway and Company, Macomber Chemical Fire Extinguisher Company and Thomas Manning, Jr., and Company.

With manufacturing being carried on in so many plants, it was apparent that efficiency required concentrating all manufacturing at one plant. The La-France plant at Elmira, N. Y., was selected, and in 1904 a reorganization to accomplish this consolidation was effected. The corporate name was changed to American LaFrance Fire Engine Company to capitalize on the names of the two best known companies in the organization.

In the early part of this century, several manufacturers were doing considerable experimental work to develop a gasoline engine suitable for fire service duty. And the results of this work were soon apparent.

First gasoline fire engine

In 1906, The Waterous Company at St. Paul, Minn., built the first self-propelled, gasoline-powered fire engine for the Radnor Fire Company at Wayne, Pa. The pump was a rotary type capable of delivering 300 gpm.

A gasoline pumper, built in 1907 by the Waterous Company, went into service at Alameda, Calif. It had a piston pump with a 600-gpm rating.

The Howe Fire Apparatus Company in 1908 built and delivered its first self-propelled, gasoline engine pumper to Lutherville. The single-acting piston pump was rated at 300 gpm. This was Howe’s first self-propelled pumper, although the company had been building gasoline-powered fire pumps, both piston and rotary on hand or horse-drawn carriages since 1901.

In 1910 the last hand-operated fire pump was built and delivered by American LaFrance. This marked the end of production of a type of pumper that had given dependable service for nearly 200 years.

In 1911 American LaFrance built its first gasoline-powered, self-propelled pumper. It had a rotary gear pump rated at 500 gpm.

To be continued