I always like to see a new technology when it comes to fire apparatus. I have seen a great deal in my 42 years in the fire service but probably more in the past 10 years than ever before with the advent of computers and the digital evolution that came about during this time. More and more ideas have developed concerning computers and fire apparatus—some good ideas and some bad. I won’t report on the bad ideas; you’ve probably had your own experiences with some of those.
At the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International this year, a new product was unveiled. Even though it was a prototype, I think this one will be a keeper. What I like most about this product was that it was designed by a firefighter for the fire service.
Phantom Controls was founded by Jason Cerrano, who is both a career firefighter and a mechanical engineer. In 1999, while attending college, Cerrano started his career in the fire service as a volunteer. After graduating, he decided to pursue a full-time career in the fire service. During his career, Cerrano developed the concept for an automated fire pump with remote capabilities to allow the operator to move about the scene and work with the crew.
According to Cerrano, the idea for Scene Apparatus Manager (S.A.M.) came about three years ago when he started working on the design. It came about because, while pumping at a fire, he became frustrated. Cerrano is a St. Louis (MO) city firefighter with a degree in mechanical engineering, so he was able to bring the technology he knew into the fire service.
Cerrano said the idea took off at FDIC with not only firefighters but several fire apparatus manufacturers being interested in his concept and design.
How It Works
Here’s a little background on how S.A.M. works. S.A.M. is a fully automatic pump control system. The system will control the entire pumping process; the operator simply asks for a pressure on a discharge and S.A.M. will deliver it. The operator can control S.A.M. from both a portable tablet and from a touch screen on the truck. S.A.M. is programmed to make the same decisions an operator would if he were standing at the pump panel. S.A.M. will alert the operator of any changes or conditions to the pumping system. The operator no longer needs to focus on pump pressure, feathering valves, and selecting water sources—the truck does it all. The operator can focus on the CREW!
S.A.M. is connected to the same electronic network that has always been on fire trucks, and it talks to this network to make the same changes a real person would if he were standing at the pump panel. This means that fire apparatus manufacturers get to install components that they are familiar with; the mechanical components on the truck will not change at all! S.A.M. is programmed to open and close valves, set the pressure for the pressure governor, select intakes for water supply, and alert the crew if there are any problems. S.A.M. monitors all aspects of the pump operation constantly so that you don’t have to. The operator has a tablet that he can carry around the scene so he is always in touch with S.A.M. The black box interfaces with the pump valves. It’s an all-digital system.
This next generation of fire apparatus will change the definition of a truck operator. It allows the operator to control and monitor the truck from anywhere on the scene. This will allow the operator to set the pressure and continue focusing on the crew and not how the truck is operating. Should any issues arise with the system or the water supply, S.A.M. will deal with it and notify the operator immediately. The operator and crew can work side by side. When it’s time to flow water, the operator can speak to the crew directly while standing next to them and not have to speak over the radio. A simple press of a button and the truck will deliver the requested pressure. Additional benefits of the system include the following:
- The operator can move freely about the scene performing manual tasks. This will provide a perceived increase in staffing.
- The operator can now focus on the crew and not the operation of the components of a fire pump.
- During road incidents, the operator can pump from a protected location at all times.
- Increased visibility for the operator at all types of incidents. The operator will no longer be stuck behind the pump panel with no view of the scene.
- Decreased radio traffic between the operator and crew as it pertains to water flow.
- Fewer mistakes from less experienced operators.
- Operate accessories remotely using a single remote.
- Steady pressures, less water hammer, and less pressure dumping when pumping multiple lines.
Safety and Efficiency
What I like about this concept and technology is that it doesn’t eliminate the engineer or motor pump operator on the engine. He still has to know the operation of the vehicle and how to pump the engine manually. What’s also nice is that the controller will tell you in plain language if anything is wrong so you can correct it.
Since April, one of the units has been installed on St. Louis Engine 10 and has been working well. Cerrano hopes to interest the various fire apparatus manufacturers to have the product installed as an option sometime in the next year. As Cerrano states, after receiving multiple patents for this design he hopes the design will bring both safety and efficiency on the fireground.
I think this new concept will take off and is definitely thinking out of the box for pump control. I am planning to follow this new design to see how it plays out in the future.