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The Decision to Winterize Your Fire Truck

Once the leaves have fallen from the trees and the air has become brisk, Metalfab experts often face questions by customers about the “right way” to winterize your primer.  Pumps can be run either “wet” or “dry” over the colder season and there are pros and cons to each approach, while still maximizing the life expectancy of your equipment.  We tell clients that there that there is no one “right way” to approach their winter preparations.  Some departments get an early start to winter, taking precautions far in advance of cold weather to get their trucks ready, while others take it one day at a time and succeed in getting through the winter intact.  This decision is really an individual one depending on a department’s knowledge, capabilities and preferences, but we are happy to provide advice based on a customer’s individual experience.

Running a Dry Pump

If you are operating in a cold environment and you have the know-how on staff to drain pumps properly each year, then it may be a good idea to consider running your pump dry.  “Dry” is difficult to achieve, however, because gauges, gauge lines, drain lines, pressure lines and other small components can easily retain small amounts of water, which can lead to instances of freezing and other damage.  If any of the truck’s valves are leaking, the pump will not stay drained and repairs will be forthcoming.  Often this damage is undetectable without a full disassembly of your equipment. 

Running water through the system periodically can loosen particle build-up and help ensure safe operation in future scenarios.  Rather than attempt this manual process, however, most departments opt for pump house heaters and under-body heaters to maintain their equipment in a temperate environment during cold spells.  One great thing about running dry pumps is that it gives you a great opportunity to closely examine your equipment for the kind of leakages that can become larger issues down the road. 

Choosing to Go Wet

It’s hard to avoid leakage potential with most modern pumps, which include numerous gauges, individual drain lines, pressure lines and other parts that can retain water if not thoroughly drained.  Pump house heaters, consisting of a heater core and fan, and under-body heaters installed below these areas are meant to close off the underside of the fire pump and reduce the flow of cool area from reaching the pump and causing internal areas to freeze.  They are not intended to protect the fire pump itself or the lines or valves below them.  Ideally, moving water should be used to circulate water during cold weather conditions because circulating water can’t freeze. 

On the positive side, if you opt for wet operation throughout the cold season, it may be unnecessary to prime the pump prior to service so your response time once on the scene will be faster.  And since water continues to flow through the system, you are less likely to experience the type of calcium or rust build-up that can eventually cause problems.  Seals and packing remain open and pliable throughout the season and your pump’s start-up should be simple and smooth.

With a wet pump, you must continuously be on alert for accidental freezes in your pump or any of its components at times when water is not flowing, especially in situations where you are traveling relatively long distances to an emergency scene.  In the worst-case scenario, valves, shafts and other components can freeze and crack, requiring expensive maintenance and possible replacement.

With sufficient preparation and experience, your department settle on a good solution that meets your needs.  Regardless of which path you choose, these simple steps can help lay the groundwork for a smooth winterization:

  • Invest in heating tape, pump house heaters, heat shields and tire chains.
  • Conduct preventative maintenance to keep up with minor repairs and part replacements.
  • Check the water tank and pump valves frequently for leakage.
  • Ensure proper corrosion protection to your truck undercarriages.
  • Refresh your staff on cold-weather operations and standard winter operating procedures.

Header: The Decision to Winterize Your Fire Truck

Meta: Metalfab experts often face questions by customers about the “right way” to winterize your Fire Truck.