Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Hot topics Opinion
Working Fire: Thoughts on building, operating water tankers

Thoughts on building, operating water tankers

December 7, 2007 
By Harold Harvey

haroldharveyIn a previous column we discussed the purchasing of a pumper and this time around we look at tankers, also known as water tenders. Fire departments protecting areas with in-ground water systems require the use of vehicles mainly to haul the water to be used for extinguishment. In some instances, departments have opted for pumper/tankers, that is, pumpers with larger tanks than can perhaps fulfil both roles when required – attack and/or water supply.

Careful analysis of needs must be made in selecting what role the new vehicle will play and the tank size will be important in selecting the type of chassis to be acquired. Tanks larger than 1,500 to 1,800 gallons of water will require a tandem axle chassis as well as a motor capable of providing a reasonable level of performance.

The addition of a pump plus the equipment added to the weight of the body may also require an upgrade to a 10-wheel chassis and thereby create an obvious increase in cost. This heavier chassis may also not be supported by the roads and bridges in the area and experienced drivers may not be readily available for the vehicle.

There is a risk in using a larger tank as the performance of the vehicle may suffer; slower arrival times may not be critical for this unit except if the vehicle is to be a first attack unit.
A single-axle chassis with a pump, pre-connected lines, various equipment can be designed around a six-wheel chassis. Anything larger such as a crew cab or bigger tank may require a heavier chassis.


In designing a tanker, one must keep in mind that the goal is to off-load the water as quickly as possible into a holding tank. This is usually accomplished most effectively by using at least one 10" square dump valve placed at the rear but side valves should also be considered.

Troughs do exist to allow the rear valve to dump on either side – somewhat like a cement mixer! Other rear valves can swivel to either side. Careful note must be made that all the water can be dumped as even a couple of gallons left in the tank may be critical to personnel on scene.

A reminder must be made to those using former milk truck tanks to haul the water. These units do not have the required number of baffles to prevent the water from moving and changing the centre of gravity. They should travel full or empty in order to avoid this problem.

Once the tank is empty, the truck must head off to a fill site where hopefully it has been possible to place a pumper at draft to refill the tanker as soon as possible. Portable pumps should only be used where a pumper cannot reach the site as these are of lesser capacity and may require additional personnel to set up and operate. A number of them could be set up, however, to supply a pumper that in turn serves to fill the tankers.

The use of quarter turn couplings and larger diameter hose for refilling will accelerate the process and provide for a prompt turnaround.

Other items to consider might be choosing to opt for two tankers of smaller capacity in order to provide redundancy should one be placed out-of-service. The down side is that now two drivers are required and the bill for maintenance and fuel will be increased.

The eggs, however, should not all be in one basket. The addition of a foam system for the first-in pumper may help reduce the demand for tankers.

If a pumper/tanker design is chosen, some kind of foam system should be provided as the unit may become the initial attack vehicle until replaced.

One department has achieved success by putting in service one CAFS pumper with a 1,000-gal. water tank, a CAFS pumper/tanker with a 1,500-gal. tank and supplementing these with close to 5,000 gallons of water on two traditional type tankers, however, each only has a small 250-Igpm pump. The department hopes this will be sufficient and perhaps as time progresses there will be less reliance on the tankers. By the way, don't forget that the appropriate norms of the NFPA and ULC, along with appropriate provincial regulations should be followed and respected. In addition, driver training should be provided to all operators as there have been numerous cases of overturned vehicles with, in some cases, serious injury and loss of life to personnel.

Training not only must include the typical over-the-road stuff, but also manoeuvring at the scene and at a fill location. Backing should be avoided as much as possible but if it cannot be avoided, at least one guide should be provided along with ditch or side and rear lighting.
While personnel may find it more fun to drive and operate the pumper, the importance of a tanker arriving promptly and properly on scene to replenish the water supply cannot be overstressed.

Fire fighters on the tanker should be reminded that this important aspect of the fight relies on a team effort as does the work of the people applying the wet stuff.

Play safe!

Les service de sécurité incendie qui protègent des régions rurales ont recours aux camions citerne pour assurer le transport de l'eau. L'analyse des besoins faite par le service concerné permettra de choisir le type de camion requis, soit un camion citerne ou un camion pompe citerne. Souvent, les services auront tendance a recycler une citerne dévolue au transport du lait, cette procédure entraîne une mise en garde car ces citernes ne comportent pas de cloisons anti-vague. Cette situation cause le déplacement du centre de gravité de la charge et peut provoquer une perte de contrôle du camion lors de certaines manoeuvres.

 Le volume du réservoir aura un impact sur le choix du camion porteur. Un réservoir d'une capacité de plus grande que 1500 â 1800 gallons pourra requérir un camion avec un essieu tandem et un moteur pouvant fournir une performance acceptable.

 L'addition d'une pompe et des équipements de combat, l'ajout d'une cabine d'équipe commandera le choix d'un camion de type 10 roues. Cette décision aura un impact monétaire important sur le coût du camion.  Outre les contraintes monétaires, le choix du camion aura un impact sur les opérations. L'emploi d'un camion de grande capacité pourra occasionner un temps de déplacement plus long.

Un système de transport d'eau devrait impliquer au moins deuxieme camions citernes et un camion pompe afin de remplir le citerne le plus rapidement possible. Les pompes portatives ne devraient être employées qu'en dernier ressort a cause de leur capacité. Dans les cas ou nous ne pouvons placer le camion pompe â la source statique, l'emploi de plusieurs pompes portatives utilisant des boyaux de large diamètre pour approvisionner un camion pompe accélérera le remplissage des citernes. Une telle opération demandera cependant un personnel plus nombreux afin de superviser les équipements.

La sélection de 2 camions de moindre capacité comparé a un camion de grande capacité procurera un élément de sécurité en assurant la redondance des équipements. Par contre, cette décision augmentera proportionnellement les coûts.

L'ajout d'un système de mousse pourra réduire la demande de camion citerne. Dans le cas ou la sélection implique un camion citerne pompe, cet équipement est un ‘must' car ce camion deviendra l'unité de première réponse.

Lors de la production d'un tel camion, nous devons respecter les normes ULC et NFPA. L'entraînement des conducteurs doit être revu en fonction de ce nouveau citerne. Souvent des accident tragiques ont causé la mort des pompiers prenant place a bord d'un camion qui a capoté. Ces revues de formation doivent également inclure les opérations de remplissage et de vidage du camion.

Un camion citerne est une composante importante d'un système de protection incendie. Il nous fournit l'élément de base pour éteindre les incendies. Travaillons sécuritairement.

Print this page


Stories continue below