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More tips on how to become a great pump operator

It’s important to know your response area and its target hazards and have a command of water supply issues

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Do your driver/operators know the water main sizes (or have them listed) and where to go to hit a larger water main? Do they know where the “dead-end” hydrants are and how to avoid them if possible?


Earlier this year, I wrote an article titled “5 fire engine pump operator mistakes.” The piece was a compilation of my own experiences as a motor pump operator, along with comments solicited from fire service colleagues via social media, and included a list of 18 pump operation tips.

Most of us who use social media are well acquainted with “likes” and “shares.” Some people even provide feedback in the comments section. In the case of the above article, one of our readers did even better than that. The reader provided such great follow-up comments that it ultimately sparked the foundation for this article, expanding on our list of 18 pump operator tips.

With that in mind, here are some additional tips to be a great pump operator.

Know where you’re going – and the target hazards

Our astute reader noted that, “GPS and other programs can give us driving directions on how to get to the scene, but nothing takes the place of a good driver operator who not only knows where they are going but also how to access the rear or C side of the structure as well as the front or A side.”

Good company officers make for good motor pump operators. Why? Because to develop that kind of knowledge about your response area and the target hazards in your district, your company officer must make the commitment to get out of the fire station every day for district familiarization.

Humans learn directions and how to use maps best by doing. Check out this informative and educational read, Learning Directions and Using a Map. Trust me, all you must do is substitute “driver/operator” for “teenager” in the article and you’ll have an effective and efficient training program for new driver/operators – and a pretty good refresher program for your incumbent drivers.

Take a similar approach with helping them to become informed and educated about the target hazards (e.g., commercial and business structures that are critical to your community’s tax base) in their response district. Make the site visits and have them do a 360-degree assessment while they draw a map of the property. The map should include critical information, such as, but not limited to, these items:

  • Location of fire department connection for fire sprinkler system if the building is sprinklered;
  • Location of all hydrants that would be used in a major response to the occupancy;
  • Anything that could impair the ability of the fire apparatus that would respond from access to any side of portion of the building (e.g., narrow horizontal or vertical clearances or overhead powerlines). And don’t just think about your pumper. Remember that truck or heavy rescue that’s going to be responding as well. They won’t have the benefit of your 360-degree assessment that you undertook under less stressful conditions.

Take that information and start developing your own mental maps, not only of what you see today, but also what the fireground would look like if you’re the first pumping apparatus on-scene. Here’s a quick example:


Given a big-box occupancy like a department story or commercial structure, one can easily see how a 200-foot pre-connected hoseline will not get anywhere close to a fire much past the front doors.

Image/Robert Avsec

Now if you’d assessed this building as part of your driver operator training, you’d already know how to overcome this obstacle, right? Sure, because you’d know about all the doors. Other apparatus could locate and operate from a door closer to the fire’s location. Or you’d know that 150-foot stretch of 3-inch hose wyed down to two 1¾-inch hoselines would put roughly 400 gpm at the seat of the fire.

Water supply

The FireRescue1 reader also commented on water supply issues: “Do your driver/operators know the water main sizes (or have them listed) and where to go to hit a larger water main? Do they know where the ‘dead-end’ hydrants are and how to avoid them if possible?”

They continued: “And when you have an engine pumping from a large volume water main, do your driver/operators know how to dual [tandem] pump the hydrant when large volumes of water are needed?”

If you’re unfamiliar with dual or tandem pumping, check out this video from the Stockton (California) Fire Department.

A dual pumping operation is used to supply two pumpers from one hydrant. In this operation, one hydrant was used to supply two pumpers, each flowing a deck gun at 1,000 gpm. Crews were able to get 3,000 gpm flowing in under two minutes from the time the first air brake was set. This operation would be used when crews are faced with a heavily involved structure requiring a defensive operation, two structures involved, or large outdoor fires such as a pallet yard or recycling facility.

Dual pumping is a water supply tactic whose purpose is to maximize the available water from a fire hydrant using two pumpers. It works because the residual pressure from the hydrant (water that’s still available from the hydrant after pumper #1 is flowing all the water it can flow) is passed on to the second pumper by connecting pumper #1 to pumper #2 via the suction intake on both units.

To make it work, you must close the hydrant or intake feeding pumper #1 until Pumper #1’s residual gauge is reading 1-2 psi. Keep in mind that it will lower your pump discharge pressure, so you will need to throttle up to maintain the water pumper #1 is already flowing.

Next, connect the hose at pumper #2’s intake suction and make the stretch to pumper #1’s suction intake. Once pumper #1 is at 1-2 psi residual pressure, you can remove the cap on pumper #1’s intake suction. Know that water will be flowing out when you remove the cap on pumper #1’s intake suction, so be quick about making your connection and reopen the hydrant or intake valve fully once again.

Sharing your thoughts on driver skills

There so much good information out there to improve driver operator skill sets. We appreciate reader feedback and encourage you to share your thoughts on FireRescue1 articles at Who knows, maybe your comment will serve as the foundation for a future article!

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.