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Step 4 Water Distrubution Options

The goal in any fire fighting operation is to deliver adequate water supplies to the burning site in as short a time as possible. No matter what your source of water - creek, quarry, lake, cistern or other developed source - the amount of time it takes to deliver water can mean the difference between saving and losing a structure.

Water Distribution Options Diagram

Delivering water from the source to the fire scene can be accomplished by several methods:

• Direct pumping. Most rural departments do not have an installed municipal water system for firefighting, so this pumping would be through hose lines. This is practical only when the source happens to be relatively close to the fire and larger diameter hose is used with one or more engines. When this is feasible, direct pumping offers the advantage of a continuous water supply that can be further enhanced by relay pumping.
• Carrying water in mobile tanks. This is practical only when a number of mobile tanks are used to continuously shuttle the water from the source, or the distance of the shuttle is short. The arrangement of the tanks can vary greatly. Because of the large size of some tanks -and depending on the number of water tender vehicles and the distance between the source and the fire-a continuous water supply can be maintained at the fire for the attack vehicles.
• Air transportation. Helicopters and airplanes can be equipped to move large quantities of water, but this is practical only for the largest wildland fires threatening thousands of acres.

The delivery system you select will depend on the specific conditions of the building site, including fire flow needs, any special hazards, the amount and location of the water supply, and the mix of manpower and equipment.

Each water supply must also be visible and accessible to the necessary equipment, whether heavy vehicles or portable pumps, for moving the water on toward the fire. Maps may be needed for use by mutual aid departments assisting from another jurisdiction. The road or ground surface at any water access point must be strong enough to support heavy vehicles throughout the year in all conditions, including heavy snow, heavy rainfall and mudslides. However, if a dry hydrant is located close to roadways and traffic, signs or barriers are needed to warn drivers and protect the dry hydrant and personnel using them during emergencies.

As part of assuring accessibility, fire departments should make sure that all roadways between the source and any fire are also strong enough to support fully loaded water supply vehicles. Don't forget the need for a turnaround area of at least 90 feet in diameter at the source filling site. The strength of all bridges between the water source and the fire must also be considered.

Where portable pumps will be used instead of heavy vehicles at the water's edge, a path should be kept cleared for easy access.

The following pages discuss some of the factors involved when considering water distribution options. Examples of several common water distribution methods are also given. (Helicopter use, though it can be an important tool, is considered beyond the scope of this publication, as is the operation of the fire attack vehicles.)

In all examples, we will use a dry hydrant at the water source, which gives us quick access to water in areas where the original source is difficult to reach.

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