The new age of hydraulics for the fire service

Robert Avsec

While nothing new in the fire service, integrated hydraulic technology (IHT) is a game changer in fire apparatus. We’ve all been operating hydraulic-powered rescue equipment for many years. But what’s changing is the expanding use of hydraulic power to perform a greater variety of fire service functions.

Hydraulic power has been used in industrial applications to power generators, pumps, winches and cranes. We know from our experience with hydraulic rescue tools that a very small hydraulic pump – powered by either an electric motor or internal combustion engine – can create a tremendous amount of pressure, pressure that can do incredible work. But that one individual power plant can only serve one or two tools at a time.

IHT takes an existing on-board power-train (e.g., the PTO drive on a piece of fire apparatus) and transfers that rotary power to operate the hydraulic pump, which, in turn, provides pressurized hydraulic fluid to the hydraulic motor. This allows the hydraulic power from one motor to serve multiple tools or equipment from one source.

Gasoline-powered small engines

Gasoline-powered small engines used to power equipment consume fuel every time the engines are fired up. Hydraulic fluid, on the other hand, has a tremendous advantage in that it may only need to be replaced annually. A fire department may only use five gallons of hydraulic fluid in a year for one piece of fire apparatus instead of hundreds of gallons of gas in a year.

Hydraulic motors are not plagued with the disadvantages of using gasoline-powered small engines to power emergency services equipment:

  • Gasoline goes stale over time after being in a storage can or fuel tank.
  • Gasoline-powered small engines have limited run times per tank of fuel.
  • Personnel can forget to refill a fuel tank following use.
  • Gasoline-powered engines have maintenance issues, or may not start every time, especially if not used or run with a load on a regular basis.
  • Gasoline-powered engines have a much shorter life span when compared to hydraulic motors.
  • Gas-powered engines are noisy and contribute to the excessive noise pollution that’s present at many emergency scenes, especially when multiple small engines are running simultaneously. This is an underappreciated safety risk for personnel who may be unable to clearly hear orders or respond to an evacuation order.
  • Gasoline-powered small engines are not environmentally friendly as their exhaust produces carbon monoxide and other harmful gases in disproportionate amounts for their size (a big carbon footprint created by a small shoe).

A hydraulic motor scenario

Imagine arriving at a nighttime emergency scene for a motor vehicle crash with entrapped occupants requiring extrication and treatment. You obviously need those hydraulic-powered cutters and spreaders. But you also need a charged hose line for the potential fire hazard and scene lighting to provide a safe work environment for your people.

Now imagine all that equipment being powered from one hydraulic pump driven by the PTO drive on your fire apparatus. That’s what makes IHT such a game-changer. With IHT, a fire department can create systems to support simple applications (operating one tool or hose line) to complex applications (like the one I just described) and everything in between.

IHT gives a fire department the capability to use smaller, yet very powerful, hydraulic motors that can enhance its operational capacities, improve performance and do so with better packaging.

Think of how much space is currently used on your department’s apparatus for all the equipment that has its own electric motor or internal combustion engine. With IHT, your apparatus could be designed for a smaller chassis that could give you lower purchase cost, lower maintenance costs and enhanced operational performance.

An IHT example

More fire departments are considering using rapid response vehicles as a service delivery option. These may include career-staffed departments whose leaders are dealing with staffing reductions or volunteer-staffed department struggling with a declining number of volunteers.

In either case, integrated hydraulic technology gives those departments an option to give smaller fire apparatus some big apparatus capabilities. For example, IHT enables one hydraulic pump to support the following equipment from a skid-load package on a Ford F-250 truck chassis:

  • Two rescue tools and reels.
  • 10kW generator.
  • Light tower.
  • 150 GPM pump.
  • Hose reel.
  • Electric reel.

How’s that for big operational capability in a small package?

IHT isn’t just for smaller applications

Many manufacturers of fire and emergency services equipment are building IHT technology into their products. Any of these names look familiar?

  • Waterous Water Pumps: Model CPK2-IHT – 1.62 ratio; 18cc hydraulic motor (HM); 5,350 RPM impeller speed; 3,300 RPM hydraulic motor speed delivering 150 GPM.
  • Hale Water Pumps: Model HP100 – 2.56 ratio; 12cc HM; 7,200 RPM impeller speed; 2,816 RPM HM speed delivering 150 GPM.
  • Darley Water Pumps: Model 1 ½ AGH – 2.70 ratio; 12cc HM; 6,920 RPM impeller speed; 2,560 RPM HM speed delivering 150 GPM.

And that’s just a sampling for fire pumps. Manufacturers of generators, winches and small cranes are adopting similar additions in their product lines.

IHT is creating a new era in hydraulic power for the fire service. Pretty exciting, no?

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