Gary Handwerk and Alan Saulsbury tell International fire Buyer about the latest developments in fire pump testing, and the ongoing push for a global testing standard
As the world becomes smaller, in the fire apparatus industry all of us are looking to improve and standardise testing, along with third party certification of new and in-service emergency vehicles on a global basis. Presently, we basically have an EN standard, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) #1901 Standard for new Automotive Fire Apparatus, and various individual country-specific standards in place – none of which are ‘harmonised’ with common testing standards, third party certified test sites or testing equipment, nor common testing protocols. Since the last Intershutz conference, the Americans have adopted most of the fire apparatus operating ‘symbols’ used by European manufacturers.
However, we really have no global fire apparatus testing standard in place.The NFPA #1901 standard is utilised extensively for designing, building, and testing new fire apparatus in North America, and is commonly ‘referenced’ in many other parts of the world. A
separate NFPA #1911 standard is used for testing, inspection, maintenance, and replacement of In-Service fire apparatus. This standard requires testing of apparatus
on an annual basis.
One of the unique aspects of the NFPA #1901 fire Apparatus standard is that it encompasses all aspects of a fire apparatus including the fire pump and all related aerial, electrical and foam system testing. Part of the testing in the NFPA #1901 standard includes the requirement for a third party witnessed pump system testing on all apparatus with a fire pumps that are 2800LPM or larger. This is typically known as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Mistras Testing.
This is in addition to the NFPA #1901 requirement for a fire pump manufacturer’s certification that the pump meets the performance stipulated in the standard. The pump certification is provided by the only fire pump manufacturer with the data collected form a series of factory tests performed on each individual pump. While ‘Type Testing’, common in European standards, is not utilised in the NFPA #1901 standard, each individual pump is tested and self-certified by the pump manufacturer.
The completed fire apparatus pump system test is a third party-witnessed certification, conducted to specific NFPA #1901 requirements. The NFPA #1901 fire apparatus test is designed to test the entire pumping system in the ‘completed’ apparatus; it is not a re-certification of the fire pump itself; since the fire pump was previously tested and certified by the pump manufacturer before the apparatus was assembled.
The key to the NFPA pump system test is to use the fire pump to load and stress everything related to a successful pumping operation at a large fire for many hours of continuous usage. This testing regiment has helped the North American apparatus builders, over the years, ‘hone their designs’ and build quality to the point that high performance and system reliability is common placed.
Another aspect to the certification process includes the NFPA #1901 requirement for the test site and the equipment used during the test, these are surveyed and approved by the third party testing organisation, before any testing is conducted.
The history of the test process shows how fragile fire trucks were in the 1970s. Failing the third party test was common, the failures where usually not caused by the pump itself but, to a great extent, things related to the chassis, engine or electrical system, such as engine or transmission over heating, the engine exhaust melting down, the throttle cable melted and locked up, the engine bent a push rod and started blowing smoke, fire started under the truck, fuel vapour lock, the electric fuel pump failed, PTO failed, or a drive shaft failed.
By the late 1980s many of these common failure problems were solved: Since every fire pump (over 2800LPM) mounted on a fire apparatus is tested so the Fire Department knows that their particular apparatus will hold up even during severe duty, extended running time, applications.
What does a complete pumping system test consist of?
Data is collected at specific timed intervals during the testing; additionally, all the apparatus electrical loads are “activated” during the testing to stress the electrical system. It requires pumping at a specific set of lift condition at:
a) Pumping for two continuous hours at 100% of the rated capacity at 10 Bar (150psi)
b) Pumping for 30 minutes at 70% of the rated capacity at 14 Bar (200psi)
c) Pumping for 30 minutes at 50% capacity at 17 Bar (250psi)
d) Pumping for ten minutes at 100% capacity at 11.38 Bars (165psi)
e) Pressure control device (discharge side relief valve or pressure governor)
f) Hydro-static pressure test of plumbing system (17Bar for 10 minutes with no pressure loss)
g) Priming system test to reach 22 inches of Hg and not losing more than ten inches in five minutes
h) Tank-to-pump line flow test performance
i) On fire apparatus equipped with a line voltage generator system (120 or higher volts) a specific load/output test at 100% of rating simultaneously with the pumping test for two hours
The down-side to #1901 testing is it does add cost to the apparatus, however, the cost is manageable because there is an existing infrastructure to support this on-gong testing process on every fire apparatus. Fire Departments have fully accepted this nominal cost, because of the reliability it has brought to the fire apparatus being purchased.
Third party testing and certification
The two most common organisations which provide the third party witnessing and certification, are Mistras and Underwriters Laboratories, UL being the largest. When third party tests are conducted outside of North America, travel and labour costs become very high.
The current 2009 edition of NFPA #1901 standard in the process of revision and updating. The NFPA regularly updates all standards every three to five years. Some deadlines are extended to allow for significant changes and alignment with other standards.
NFPA #1901 has just finished one of these extended time periods. Among the many changes in the new edition of the #1901 document are additions to the third party pump system tests process. What is new is the addition of electronic data recording and remote witnessing of the third party pump system testing process.
This change allows the third party testing organisation to be off-site during the actual test and review electronically collected and recorded data to generate the individual pump system test certification. The new NFPA process has requirements to secure the integrity of the data and its electronic transmission. Additionally, the testing organisation will regularly ‘audit’ the test site and the related test equipment. The design and construction of electronic testing sites for fire apparatus, fire pumps, and fire-fighting equipment is being coordinated with the assistance of several companies: Live Testing Solutions, Underwriters Laboratories, and Fire Research Corporation.
The automated electronic collection data software and accompanying video or photos at test point data intervals, can be witnessed in ‘real time’ or any time after the test by either the testing organisation, fire truck builder, end customer or its designated agent. The audio/video component can be utilised for fire apparatus pump, foam, aerial, or other training aspects on each apparatus delivery, and could be produced in various languages.
This new process is supported by a new electronic hardware and matching software; available to the marketplace in 2015 and for use by any third party testing company. This software will be designed around the North American pumping performance; in addition, a EN pump performance version will be offered. The merging and interoperability of EN, NFPA, and other standard requirements are already happening around the world; as fire apparatus builders and fire departments search for the ‘best solutions’ in fire-fighting and providing emergency services.
The electronic equipment will also be available, with or without third party certification, for yearly, in-service fire apparatus pump system testing. This type of annual testing is common in North America. The NFPA #1911 Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, outlines the testing requirements in detail.
This is a marked change for the fire apparatus builders, third testing organisations, and Fire Departments. The costs for the testing in North America will go down a little, but around the globe the cost will drop radically. Consequently, global fire departments will have the same assurances of reliability and performance seen by North American fire departments at a reasonable cost. Instantly, fire apparatus builders and fire departments will see improvements in their apparatus designs and reliability. The Fire Department will have verified ‘as-built’ performance, proven reliability, and the apparatus builder will see fewer delivery and operation problems, with less warranty issues.
We foresee still two basic standards for testing due to the difference in US and Euro fire pumps. But, the methods, test sites, and equipment for testing certainly could be the same around the world.