Fire-Fighting: Up On Blue!

Fire-Fighting Up On Blue


Today, you are going to learn how to run a fire apparatus pump. It isn’t as hard as you think and the steps are almost universal among all apparatus pumps. Naturally, there sometimes are more steps involved, and details like priming the pump–if needed, and proper settings of the throttle, but this should give you a rough idea as to how it’s done.

Who runs the pump? That’s easy, the person that drove the apparatus. Often called the engineer, they are responsible for getting the crew safely to the fire, placing the apparatus where it is most effectively used, and all aspects of pump operations including charging hoses, water supply, and making sure that the crews have sufficient water at an appropriate pressure to effectively fight the fire.

drivers side

Yes, it looks like something from Star Trek, but most of the switches are for emergency lights and radios.

The first step is to provide power to the pump. Usually, this is done by a PTO—Power Take Off.

On our Engine One, you put the apparatus into neutral, put the parking brake on, flip this switch, and then put it into drive. Yes, that means where you stop is where you pump. Some apparatus can “pump and roll,” but that’s a subject for another day. When the green lights come on, you can move to the pump panel.


Engine One’s pump panel is used in this example.

pump panel

Another part of the engine that looks like it’s from Star Trek, but it isn’t that hard to run.

The second step is to get water to the pump. There are several potential sources ranging from hydrants to drop tanks, and other apparatus and all are handled in different ways.

For illustration purposes, let’s use the internal water supply of 1500 gallons from Engine One. It’s one lever. Move it all the way forward, slowly.

Step three can be a bit tricky—provide water to the hose. To make it easier, our department has color coded tags everywhere. Say the crew wants to use the blue pre-connect, they grab the blue hose, and check the blue tag above the hose tray to make sure the color matches which line they want charged.

Up on Blue

blue pre-connect

And on the pump panel, you see a blue tag, and a name on the hose your attack crew should have in their hands. “Up on blue!” would be the command to charge this hose with water. Again, you want to do this slowly. Everyone, be it the engineer to the attack crews must open and close their nozzles or valves slowly to prevent something called, “water hammer” where the sudden change in pressure could rupture a hose or damage the pump.

Hint, make sure the hose is completely out of the tray before charging it with water as expands to the point where you can’t get the hose out. Generally, you have to cut the hose to pieces to get it out which is very embarrassing.

The final step is to build pressure to the hose you have selected. This is done by a hand throttle on the pump panel.

hand throttle

This controls the throttle to the pump and the pressure of the water to the hoses. The red button in the middle is an emergency shut down.

Almost every aspect of the pump is connected to a gauge, making it a bit easier to see what you are doing.


How much pressure you use is dependent on the size of the hose. Say you have an 1-3/4 hose, generally it will have 100 PSI or so of pressure. Yes, you can stuff 275 PSI down it, but the attack crews will be screaming at you as the line will be uncontrollable.

That’s it, four steps to pump water from a fire apparatus. It doesn’t matter if the pump panel looks like this:

t4 pump panel

Or is a completely computer controlled system like what is on our Squad 3:

S3 pump panel

The new systems can do almost everything short of ordering you pizza, but I still like the old way of doing things as that is what I learned on when I joined the fire service.

That’s roughly about all you need to know how to pump water from fire apparatus. It isn’t that hard, is it?

Joe Collins is a twelve-year veteran firefighter/paramedic in the busiest volunteer fire department in our county. He holds numerous fire and EMS certifications—many of the same as professional firefighters. During the day he works as a Critical Care Paramedic in the highest call volume EMS service in Iowa.

*     *     *

Want to learn more about firefighters and firefighting equipment? The Writers’ Police Academy features an on-site, working fire station. You’ll have to opportunity to see, touch, and try on the gear!


Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Sisters in Crime will pay most of your registration fee!

Sisters in Crime members can attend the Writers’ Police Academy, to be held Sept. 23 to 25, 2011 near Greensboro, North Carolina, for a deeply-discounted registration fee of $100. SinC national will pay the balance of members’ $255 registration.

Act quickly to take advantage of this offer, which is in effect until June 15, 2011.

If you’re not a Sisters in Crime member, you can sign up for a SinC membership to receive the discount. The annual membership fee for a SinC professional membership is $40.

4 replies
  1. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for these posts. I’m filing the information away in case I ever need to use it when I write, and putting it to immediate use with my firefighter-obsessed toddler. I have to say the more I learn, the more I start to share his fascination!

  2. Joe Collins
    Joe Collins says:

    It can be. If one of the lines breaks it could really ruin your day, so you really need to be aware of what’s going on at the fire scene so you can shut down that line quickly. It’s also a danger for anyone else on the fire ground which is why you should be wearing all of your gear especially your helmet while on a fire scene.

    Hoses sometimes fail, but generally not catastrophically–generally it’s a leak. Proper testing, maintenance, inspection, use and prevention of problems–like keeping some idiot from driving over it with their car has greatly diminished such events.

    We’ve blown out hoses during testing and I have yet to see one get real wild.

    See next week’s column on hoses for more information.

    Joe Collins

  3. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    I have heard that the Engineer’s job is exceptionally dangerous because of the amount of pressure moving through the hoses and that sometimes the couplings between the truck and the hose fail, which spells disaster (and likely death) for the Engineer. Is that true, or is it an urban legend?

Comments are closed.