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2 options for getting water to the top

Here’s a look at the inner workings of pre-piped and portable water delivery options for aerials

Any truckie worth his salt will be happy to tell you that truckies are LOVERS, but not in the romantic sense of the word. Instructors have used the mnemonic acronym LOVERS for years to assist firefighters in learning the six prime tactical functions of a truck company: ladders, overhaul, ventilation, entry, rescue, and salvage.

There is one important truck company function that’s missing: the delivery of large volumes of water via an elevated fire stream.

Aerial ladder apparatus can be equipped to accomplish this tactical operation through either of two means: a portable ladder-mounted master stream appliance (with fire hose to supply the appliance with water) that clamps on the end of the fly section when needed or a pre-piped waterway that’s attached to the ladder sections to supply an in-place master stream appliance.

Pre-piped waterways
The pre-piped waterway has become an important feature on many aerial ladders because of the advantage it provides in speed of setup and operation. Each section of the waterway is permanently mounted so that the waterway extends along with the ladder sections.

The master stream appliance is also affixed to the ladder, though not necessarily in one position. Once the apparatus operator has the ladder in the desired position, she can initiate water flow from the master stream.

Not to minimize these advantages, but there can be one disadvantage for the master stream appliance and pre-piped waterway combination. The waterway piping is typically mounted under the ladder and telescopes with the ladder’s extension and retraction. When the master stream appliance is mounted in a fixed position at the tip of the ladder, both the pipe and appliance can get in the way during rescue operations.

Original equipment manufacturers of aerial ladders developed a solution: the pinnable waterway. With a pinnable waterway, the apparatus operator has the option of locking the waterway at the tip (desirable for master stream operations) or one section down, allowing the fly section to operate clear of the master stream appliance (desirable for rescue situations).

Originally, this had to be done manually and required the operator to leave the turntable. Newer technology, the positional waterway with an electric actuator, now enables the operator to locate the waterway at the tip or base section without leaving the turntable control console or manually moving a pin.

In addition to the speed of getting a pre-piped waterway in operation, the remote-control feature enables the apparatus operator at the turntable or pump panel to operate the stream while in a position of relative safety. A firefighter does not have to climb the ladder to direct the master stream. This is a significant safety enhancement that prevents the needless exposure of a firefighter to heavy smoke conditions or airborne hazardous materials.

Pinnable waterway safety
In 2008, a deputy fire chief in Pennsylvania was struck by a master stream appliance that launched off the end of the ladder when the pinnable waterway was charged. During its investigation of that firefighter fatality incident, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Firefighter Fatality Team discovered more than a dozen similar incidents that happened previous to the Pennsylvania fatality.

The National Fire Protection Association’s apparatus committee acted upon that finding by requiring stops on the end of the aerial to prevent the waterway from separating from the ladder on new apparatus. At that time, NIOSH also recommended that all fire departments usin aerial ladder trucks with locking (pin-anchored, lever actuated, or clamped) waterways immediately take the following actions to reduce the risk of firefighters being struck by unsecured waterways or parts of the waterway.

  • Ensure that standard operating procedures and/or guidelines on setting up multi-position waterways include steps to properly position the waterway and to inspect and verify that the locking mechanism (anchoring pin(s), lever, clamps, etc.) are properly installed and functioning as designed before pressurizing the waterway.
  • Properly train and practice the correct method of securing waterways and verifying they are secured (per manufacturer’s recommendations).

Portable aerial master streams
Portable ladder-mounted master stream appliances are mounted to the tip of the ladder’s fly section at time of use. Older models are equipped with halyards to control the direction of the master stream.

Today, there are radio-operated remote controls for portable ladder-mounted master stream appliances. These remote-controlled appliances mimic the operations of a pre-piped waterway and allow the apparatus operator to control the direction of the fire stream from the turntable or pump panel.

The cost of a pre-piped waterway is typically higher than that of a portable ladder pipe. So if you rarely use an elevated stream, it might be prudent to go with the less expensive portable appliance.

Waterway construction
Chrome-plated steel waterways are becoming more popular because of their increased durability when compared with earlier aluminum waterways, which were prone to scoring. The industry is also moving to a 10-year warranty on the waterway pipes and seals as an industry standard.

When looking at your waterway options for your aerial device, look for waterways that have been rated at 1,500 gpm with the nozzle 90 degrees to the centerline for a total of 180 degrees side sweep.

The elevated master stream is an important tool in any incident commander’s emergency management toolbox. Look at all available options when planning for your next aerial ladder to find the waterway package that best meets your department’s needs.

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.