Tuesday, December 28, 2010


One Triple Combination Fire Engine - $400,000

One highly trained professional firefighting crew (three persons - 1 hour) $125

One well involved car, parked next to a fruit stand - value unknown

The sound of the stressed-out Fire Captain's voice over the radio as he calls for a full structure response when the engine won't go into pump - priceless!

All I can really say is that I'm glad it wasn't me and sometimes, shit happens. For a fire engine to go into pump, a series of things need to happen, and sometimes (rarely) they don't.

Sometimes something breaks and the pump won't engage. Sometimes, the engineer screws up and doesn't use the proper amount of finesse when shifting or doesn't have a valve in the proper position and can't get water. Sometimes the transfer case just farts, the gears don't align and the collar doesn't slide over the output shaft, causing the transfer case to stay in the road position.

I don't know what happened in this case, I never will.

I can guess that the firefighter was standing near the car, ready to attack the inferno with a limp hose in his hand. He probably was looking toward the rig and giving the signal for water - maybe repeatedly. He might have even been shouting for water while giving the hand signal. The Captain probably ran to the unit, hollering at the engineer, asking what the problem was. I am sure the Captain did his own trouble shooting session and may have even manipulated a few controls to make sure that they were in the right position. Regardless, the engineer had a few pairs of impatient eyes on him as he tried to get water.

At some point, the Captain realized that the likelihood of rapidly getting water was low and he requested the additional units. Meanwhile, the fire got bigger and the chances of it extending into the fruit stand grew. 

I  heard the tension in the Captain's voice and frankly I found it a little funny. I, as well as most firefighters, have had something similar occur on scene and though it it isn't funny when it happens to you, it does have a humorous component when it happens to someone else. I don't feel too guilty in this case, the fire didn't extend into the fruit stand. The first-in engine was able to resolve whatever issue that was causing the problem in the first place and got the wet stuff on the red stuff.

That is the sign of a properly trained engineer, the ability to trouble shoot the problem and come up with a solution. That is also the sign of an engineer that has a firm grasp of mechanical principles.Troubleshooting is an area which fails a lot of driver-operator candidates during test time, many don't have the background to make this area easy for them to master.

I was glad to hear this poor bastard Captain come back over the scanner and announce that they had resolved their issue and had extinguished the fire. I am sure the other responding units were laughing to themselves as they were canceled and returned to quarters. I am also sure that they were all secretly glad it didn't happen to them.


Sorry for being a little lax in posting over the last few days, I am in the middle of a cleaning/reorganizing project and have been on a roll. I am trying hard not to get distracted.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Cap, would you be so kind as to educate my ignorant butt as to what a "triple-combination engine" is?

    I'm guessing it's the apparatus that most of us non-FF types refer to simply as a fire engine and the triple-combo refers to it being pump, water tank, and hose wagon all together. If that's the case then besides the ladder what makes the five for a quint and is there a quad?

    And don't you just love it when Mr. Murphy goes for a ride along.

    Thanks Cap,

  2. BG - You are right on the money regarding triple combination pumpers. A quad is a triple plus the amount of ground ladders required for a ladder truck and a quint is a quad with an apparatus mounted aerial ladder or bucket.

    I am dating myself by using that term, I am not sure if it is still used by NFPA to classify units.

    Thanks for the question.

  3. Heh. Our old Mack CF used to routinely do that. You would throw the transfer case from Road to Pump, and the light would blink green once, then go to flashing red. It would freak out the operators and send them running for the manual override.

    Our chief was friends with the mechanic in a Local Big City with a fleet of old, beaten CFs. The mechanic advised us to "Just throw it in gear, it'll go." Scary the first time I tried it, but it worked. Something about the load on the gears in the transfer case not releasing properly.

    It's a crappy feeling though, right up there with the engine stalling when put in pump. (Did that too, once.)

    BTW, I believe NFPA still uses the terms Triple, Quad, and Quint.

  4. 505- Having seen what happens when an engine follows a crew through the front door, it would be hard for me to throttle up without the green light.

    I train all new drivers to check the speedo before leaving the cab. If it says you are moving and you are standing still you know you are in pump. I have seen a situation where the green light was on but the transfer case was still in road. It cost the city I was working for a house.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. I learned something new about the engine I'm working on yesterday morning. If it's parked with the overheads on, it will high idle like many other rigs do. If I don't manually stop the high idle first, it will not properly switch into pump mode. Thankfully, it was just a few seconds delay to move the PTO back to the middle, tap the brake to kill the high idle, then shift into pump normally.

    I wasn't the primary engine, but I was trying to send him my water while we waited on a positive water supply.

    Other than the long list of non-functioning intakes, discharges, tank refill, moaning when turning, etc...The old Luverne isn't too bad. It drives great, stops great, and still pumps really well (considering what doesn't work).

  6. The absolute worst day on the job for me was when I was in front of a three story occupied, my officer and two firefighters inside calling for water and I couldn't get a drop. Operator error, I'm sorry to say, it was also my first day as engineer on Engine 2.

    That was 1991. It seems like yesterday.

    To make things worse, the first in Ladder Company sent a guy over to see what the problem was, he throttled down right before I blew the maxi brake, switched to pump, throttled back up and walked away. I carged the lines and hung my head for about a year.

  7. Thanks Cap.

    So how do you classify an engine the combines pump, tank, hose, and an aerial nozzle? The local FD has an engine with a snorkle type arm with just a nozzle in place of the basket. It's designated as E-3 but they call it a squirt.


  8. Firelady - Some of those older rigs are like old dogs - kind of grumpy but loyal and you love them anyways.

    Micahael - There is nothing quite like being humbled by a machine, especially at work and in front of witnesses. I have felt your pain, though now I can laugh at it.

    BGM - We call those abominations! I actually worked on a telesquirt many moons ago and I felt it was pretty much a turd. Top heavy and slow, more systems to repair and maintain. They actually have a place in areas that need an elevated stream but can't/won't staff a truck company.

    Most agencies around here just classify them as engines (type 1).

    Thanks for the comments.