Is it really that important?
Yes, we believe an annual pump test is one of the most important maintenance items that can be performed on your fire apparatus. Not only for the piece of mind that the pump will perform to its capabilities, but to avoid putting your firefighters in a very bad situation.
So what exactly is involved in performing an annual fire pump test?
According to NFPA 1911 (Chapter 9, (Inspection and Maintenance of Water Pumping Systems and Water Tanks)
There are a few essential preliminary inspections that need to be performed prior to actually running the pump test itself.
- Verify that all fluids in the pump drive system, primer (if equipped) and gear case are at the proper level.
- Verify that all pump shift controls operate smoothly, that all interlock mechanisms engage properly and pilot lights are working.
- Verify that all discharge and intake valve controls operate smoothly including the transfer valve and relief valve (if equipped).
- Engage pump and inspect pump packing or mechanical seals, adjust or replace (when necessary) in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.
- With pump engaged, inspect plumbing and gauge lines for leaks and verify that all gauges and instruments are registering accurately. Also, verify that primer valve control and motor are functioning properly.
The annual pump test consists of six separate tests:
- TEST #1: FIVE-MINUTE VACUUM TEST
Run the pump vacuum for 5 minutes to begin the actual pump test.
- TEST #2: TIMED PRIMER TEST
This determines how long it takes to lift water to the pump so that pumping can begin. For pumps rated up to 1,250 gpm, a 30-second maximum time is allowed, and a 45-second max is permitted for pumps rated for 1,500 gpm or higher.
- TEST #3: 100% TEST
Run the pump for 20 minutes at 100% of rated capacity, with a net pump pressure of 150 pounds per square inch (psi).
- TEST #4: 5-MINUTE OVERLOAD
The NFPA requires this test for pumps rated for over 750 gpm. Immediately after the 20-minute test, run the pump for 5 minutes, at its rated capacity, at 165 psi.
- TEST #5: 70% TEST
Run the pump for 10 minutes at 70% capacity and 200 psi.
- TEST #6: 50% TEST
Run the pump for 10 more minutes at 50% capacity and 250 psi.
The annual test does not need to be performed by a third party or outside entity. In fact, performing the test with your own personnel can be a great learning experience. As long as you carefully document the exact layout and all readings, ISO will give your department credit where credit is due. By performing the test in-house you will also have the advantage of being able to answer any questions about the test any ISO representative may have.
From start to finish the actual testing will only take about two hours. Setting up the equipment and tearing it down will probably take longer so it is a good idea to test all units on the same day. If you have a good place to test your trucks you may want to invite the neighbors over to test theirs on the same day.
A good test site is a major consideration. You will need a location where your apparatus will be close enough to drop the hard suction hose and strainer into the water to a depth of about 2 feet (to prevent whirl pools that could cause the pump to lose prime) yet still be high enough from the bottom to prevent picking up silt or other debris. The surface the apparatus will be parked on should be solid and able to support the vehicle when wet. Discharge from the master stream must have somewhere to go without doing any damage (a 1000 GPM pump will move over 150,000 pounds of water during the 20 minute 100 percent test.)
The most important part of the test is recording the results. The person testing the apparatus should record all pertinent readings at the start of each test and every 5 minutes during the test. The more information that is documented, the easier it will be for others to perform tests in the future. Providing the paperwork to ISO is certainly a concern however, the history provided will also provide a means to evaluate the performance of your apparatus. Should a piece of equipment show a slow and gradual decline in performance you will get a good idea of when it will need to be replaced.