Establishing a water supply is one of the most important components in any successful firefighting operation. Without a stable water supply, fire suppression operations cannot continue which creates a web of other considerations that cannot continue such as search and rescue tactics. Tanker operations and tactics may be necessary in certain geographical areas due to lack of hydrants. It can also be used in a variety of situations where it makes more sense to set up a tanker shuttle operation in a dead hydrant area rather than dropping an excess of supply line and starting a relay pump operation. It all depends on a department’s standard operation guidelines and understanding the resources available for the incident. Some departments have automatic mutual aid agreements that detail which locations in their jurisdictions require this operations along with what special resources are to be requested to execute this game plan.
There are many different types of tankers out there ranging from tractor drawn rigs that carry thousands of gallons of water to highly developed vehicles that have multiple dump chutes that can be triggered on the fly. According to NFPA 1901 the minimum capacity shall be 1,000 gallons this means a vehicle being labeled a tanker can range greatly. This is why you have to be aware of your surrounding jurisdictions and what resources are available. Tanker operations require consistent training and teamwork among mutual aid. The most important aspect of a successful tanker operation is continuous training. The more you practice, the better you and your department will be at executing the tasks associated with setting up the operation.
Before jumping into training scenarios make sure to work with your mutual aid that would respond to assist with tanker operations. Host a round table discussion going over how everyone sets up their operations and go over the resources each unit has such as pools, tank capacity, and any other pertinent information. Some departments have tankers that carry over a thousand gallons of water however the vehicle only has a single dump valve that has to manually operated compared to a vehicle that has three dump chutes that can be opened from the cab while driving along the pools. This is important because the second vehicle will be able to empty it’s tank quicker and get back into the rotation quicker than the other.
There are a variety of ways that departments set up their tanker shuttle operation at a fire scene however there area a few basic components that are always in play. When a tanker shuttle is called a tanker will set up it’s pool close to the fire scene so that the dedicated engine that will draft from the pool to supply lines being operated on scene. After, multiple tankers will continue to cycle shuttling water from either a distant hydrant or from a static supply where another dedicated engine contains a draft to fill the rotating tankers. The cycle continues throughout the duration of the incident until the water supply can be broken down.
Make sure that a water supply officer (WSO) is appointed during the duration of the incident in order to ensure that the operation is progressing well. The WSO will be able to let incident command know how the operation is going and if more resources are needed. Think about assigning someone to assist the WSO with keeping the roadway clear so that the tankers are able to get to and from the fill site without any issues. Always be prepared for the unknown and call for more tankers. You can always implement a staging officer to monitor tankers in staging in the event you need more water quicker. Make sure that the WSO can maintain communications with all the resources involved in the tanker shuttle. This may require having spare radios available that are assigned to the vehicle when they arrive on scene. Don’t forget your basics and use components of the national incident management system in order to have a successful tanker shuttle operation.
*Photos courtesy of Mahwah Fire Company 4*