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What to know before buying big-water systems

Monitors will give you more firefighting power without tying down personnel; here’s what to know before you buy

Big water goes by many names in the fire service. Master stream appliance, monitor, water cannon, deluge set (gun), turret pipe and wagon pipe are just a few of the more common tags hung upon the equipment that firefighters rely upon when a big fire needs big gallons per minute.

Monitors come in three types: those mounted on pumping apparatus — Type I or Type III engines or Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting units — portable monitors, and those mounted on aerial apparatus.

Monitors on Type I engines may be permanently mounted or have the capability to be removed from the apparatus and used as a portable monitor. Monitors on ARFF trucks and Type III engines are also permanently mounted and can be controlled remotely by the apparatus operator while the vehicle is moving for pump-and-roll operation.

Those monitors installed on aerial apparatus also tend to be permanently mounted with remote-control capabilities for the operator at the turntable.

Lighter, smaller, more efficient
The major manufacturers have made great improvements in monitors’ efficiency and reduced portable monitors’ overall weight. Engineers have used newer metal alloys to design monitors with a shorter and more efficient pathway from the piping or hose supplying the water to the point of discharge.

That’s why today’s monitors, particularly portable monitors, have that short and stubby look when compared to monitors of yesteryear.

Hardwired electronic controls are typically found in ARFF units, Type III engines and aerial apparatus applications. Remote control systems, using radio frequency and newer plug-and-play digital communication and control architecture, enable firefighters to control flow, stream pattern, and oscillation range from distances up to one-quarter mile away.

This capability enables firefighters to set up the monitor and its water supply in the hazard area and leave it unattended while the flow rate, stream pattern, and oscillating range can all be set outside the hazard area.

Dual-purpose break-apart monitors can be used in a fixed position on the apparatus or as a portable monitor. When mounted on the apparatus, the operator control features for many of these newer monitors operates off of the apparatus’ electrical system through a hot wire connection.

The vehicle operator can control the monitor using a control box mounted on the apparatus or by remote control using either radio frequency or digital wireless technologies. Either is a highly desirable option in light of a provision in NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2009 Edition, which states:

“If a deck gun or monitor is to be mounted on the top of the apparatus, consideration should be given to designing the system so that it can be operated without the need for a person to climb to the top of the apparatus. This can be accomplished by using a remotely operated monitor or by positioning the device so it is operable from the pump operator’s position.”

Water to go
When the same monitor is removed from its fixed position to be used as a portable monitor, an integrated battery-powered system enables a firefighter to control the device remotely using radio-frequency or digital-wireless technologies.

Dual-purpose monitors have greater flow capacity — between 1,000 and 1,500 gpm — when mounted on fire apparatus as well as a wider range of oscillation, up to 355 degrees of horizontal travel in some models. Once those same monitors have dismounted the apparatus, the available fire flow maxes out at 1,000 gpm; the range of oscillation also decreases to a maximum of 180 degrees once you lose the stabilizing affect of the fire apparatus as a base.

One of the newest innovations in firefighting equipment is the quick attack monitor. These monitors are smaller than their dual-purpose cousins — think a really large nozzle at the end of 2 1/2 inch attack line — and are designed for quick deployment.

What makes a quick-attack monitor a better option than a regular nozzle at the end of that hose? These monitors may be smaller, but they have many of the same characteristics as larger monitors: a ground base for stability, the ability to flow up to 500 gpm, and once in place can be left unstaffed as they operate.

Quick attack monitors can be a real plus for situations like exterior exposure protection; once the monitor is in place, valuable firefighters can be deployed to other fireground tasks.

Both dual-purpose monitors and quick-attack monitors are also available with oscillating capability. These types of monitors use a water-driven motor — like an oscillating lawn sprinkler, only bigger — to create a fire stream that sweeps back and forth.

Once in place, these monitors can deliver water flows between 350 and 1,000 gpm, making them a good tool for exposure protection or keeping tanks cool in a hazardous material incident.

If you haven’t taken a look at the new generation of master stream monitors, now is a good time to do so. Ongoing reductions in departmental operating budgets and available staffing continue to put pressure on fire departments as they strive to provide quality services. Monitors just may bridge some of those gaps.

Some of the top monitor manufacturers

Akron Brass

Elkhart Brass




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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.