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SIMULATING PRESSURE
Device Trains Engineers on Emergency Pump Operations

Engine 42 has a problem. Firefighters arriving at a fire have stretched one 1?-inch hose line and two 2?-inch hose lines, each line a different length. After flowing water for approximately 2? minutes, the pump engineer receives word by radio that one of the 2?-inch lines has ruptured.

"We need to get this line shut down," the incident commander orders.

The engineer responds immediately. However, a new voice is on the radio within seconds asking where the water he needs has gone. Advised by the engineer of the problem, the voice's reply is adamant -- "Negative, our line is not ruptured."

Fortunately, no firefighters were put at risk by the scenario above. FD Training Systems' Fire Engineer Training Simulator was designed and built specifically to train apparatus operators on how to correctly pump fire trucks, recognize problems as they occur and be able to take corrective action.

Jeff Clifton, co-owner of FD Training Systems, said that pump engineers tend to get less hands-on training for their specialty because actually using the equipment is labor and time consuming. It also wasted a lot of water, as much as 8,000 gallons for every 10 minutes of training.

"To teach a firefighter to operate the truck the old-fashioned way meant deploying a lot of hose lines with a whole bunch of guys holding the nozzles," Clifton said. "Then we opened a couple of discharge valves and started dumping water everywhere."

By contrast, the FD Training Systems' simulator is a trailer mounted unit that attaches directly to the apparatus pump using hard suction. Four sections of 50-foot hose connect the pump's discharges to the simulator's control valves, completing a closed loop system.

"We developed a simulator where we actually hook up to the apparatus pump and can flow 850 gallons per minute," Clifton said. "We recapture all the water and then take pressure readings and flow rates at the nozzle to see if they are flowing correctly."

Aiding in the simulation is an on-board computer that sets up the various possible training scenarios.

"We can go to the computer and tell it that there are really 250 feet of hose on one line, 200 on another and 300 each on the third and fourth discharges," Clifton said. "The computer calculates the friction loss and hose coefficients. Then the engineer has to pump the correct pressures to achieve the 100 pounds per square inch required at the nozzle."

The computer records the flows and pressures at the nozzle, then provides a printout of how well the engineer performed. In real life, the only feedback from traditional hands-on training is watching the water flowing out of the nozzle, Clifton said.

"Until you experience the loss of control of a real apparatus pump you can not learn the true technique of regaining control in a live situation," he said. "This is the benefit to a fire engineer training simulator."

Actual fire fighting experience is the cornerstone of FD Training Systems. Clifton is a firefighter with the Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department, while partner Dale Alexander is a member of the nearby Arlington (TX) Fire Department. In industrial, career or volunteer departments, hands-on fire engineer training is crucial.

"In career and industrial departments, firefighters are subject to being moved up to the driver/engineer position at a moment's notice," Clifton said. "On the volunteer side, we never know who is going to be able to show up, so anyone at any time is subject to operating the fire engine."

The simulator comes standard with 10 fog nozzle scenarios capable of more than 450 hose line combinations, ranging from basic to challenging.

"The events that we put pump operators through do happen on the fire ground, including low frequency, high risk problems such as hose ruptures," Clifton said. "Not only do they get to read the actual pump panel and gauges, but they can hear the pump and the engine operate, which tells you a lot about what is happening. Also, they have to respond to actual radio traffic."

Having identified that a problem exists, the engineer must react correctly.

"We just can't start shutting off discharges to figure it out," Clifton said. "So we teach them to define the problem and recognize what line is the problem, then how to cure that problem short term and long term too. Say, for example, we lose a water main close to the hydrant and all of a sudden we've lost two-thirds of our water. If there are critical lines in operation, that becomes a big issue."

The Fire Engineer Training Simulator is available for purchase, lease or can be used as a contracted training aid by FD Training Systems. The training packages includes apparatus electronics, pump theory, fire service hydraulics, pump operations and auxiliary equipment. FD Training Systems is approved to offer a complete driver/operator certification course through the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC). Also available is NFPA 1911 certification pump testing.

Ruptures are not the only problems engineers encounter.

"Believe it or not, kinked hose lines are becoming more of an issue," Clifton said. "We had a couple of firefighters in the northeast killed three years ago due to nothing more than a kinked hose line on the fire ground. As pump operators our job is not only to watch the pump panel but also to know where our hose lines are located and their assignments. If we get into a critical situation where we lose part of our water, which are our most important lines?"

One area that FD Training Systems concentrates on in its apparatus pump training is an understanding of the electronics involved, said Alexander.

"What we're finding is a false sense of security regarding the electronic governors found on newer engines," Alexander said. "They can be helpful but they can also work against you in many ways. When things go wrong the governor is only going to do what it is programmed to do. And there is no program inside that says 'Okay, if you have a ruptured hose line, the goal is to maintain specific pressure no matter what it takes. That's where the human element has to be present."

Unfortunately, not everyone gets the necessary information when new apparatus is delivered. An engineer may only have seconds to evaluate the situation when a problem happens.

Clifton testifies from personal experience about the consequences when this happens.

"My experience was being in a fire when it happened," Clifton said. "The engineer didn't know what to do about it. Suddenly we're inside of a fire with no water."

Everyone takes something home from the training that FD Training Systems provides, Clifton said.

"Our goal is to one day get a phone call from someone saying 'Hey, remember when you taught us using that simulator -- it made a big difference on the fire ground today.'"????????????????????????? o

 
 

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