Case study: volume pumping pioneers

Published:  22 November, 2011

Former Chief fire officer Jacques Baudewijn was one of the first in Belgium to pioneer the use of high volume pumps.

Ensuring that fire services have enough water available at the right capacity is one of the most important responsibilities of every Chief Fire Officer all over the world. And this was no different for the Commander of Aalst Fire and Rescue Service (Belgium) Jacques Baudewijn, who retired earlier this year.

Back in the beginning of his career in the 80s, Jacques carried out an intricate analysis of available water sources in his area of responsibility. He quickly established that besides the water mains, there were enough alternative water sources to extinguish fires. The problem was that they were generally not accessible to conventional fire appliances because the hose lines and pump capacity were limited to a maximum of eight metres – and that’s if there were no obstacles blocking the vehicle.

At the same time Jacques set a target for his brigade: 80% of all firefighting assets had to be deployable within one hour, with full firefighting capacity for a large incident to be fully deployed within two hours.

The strategy meant that large quantities of water would have to be transported to the scene of an incident. As fire appliances with large tanks couldn’t offer enough capacity to extinguish a full fire (nor conventional trucks following a conventional approach), an alternative solution had to be sought. This was found in the form of mobile pump units (Hydrosub 150), as supplied by Dutch company Hytrans Systems. “Hytrans’ products delivered a very good pressure versus capacity ratio for fire service use, enabling us to recuperate pressure losses over long distances. The Hydrosubs perform well over height as well as distance, and you can even pump water from as deep as 60 metres,” explained Jacques.

The most important benefit of this system was that these submersible pumps were very resistant against debris and contamination in the water. In Jacques’ experience conventional pumps tended to suck up mud, or ended up having debris stuck in them. The Hydrosubs enabled the fire service to use all available water sources in the area, as well as being able to transport it over large distances.

Most importantly the Fire Service Aalst now had water available at large capacities. But it didn’t stop there. In the mid 90s, Jacques noticed that the climate was changing and the number of floods was increasing: “The topic wasn’t so much on people’s minds as it is now. It is a proven fact that we are at an increased risk of flooding. Since we had the capacity to move water to any given location, we thought we could do the opposite as well, and we dedicated further development of our Hytrans system to flood response. At this moment in time we have seven Hydrosub 150 units in Aalst of which three have high flow and four have super high flow capacity. The pumps can be connected to each other in a series, making it a powerful and effective water transportation system.”

One of the councils in the borough of Aalst borders the river Dender, which is classified as a main flood risk. The mayor of Aalst appealed to the fire and rescue service to find out how to avoid further floods in this area. Consequently the fire service calculated that they required super high flow pumps with a capacity of 8,000 lpm@2.5bar. However, the water had to be transported over the 20m-high river banks, so 13,000 litres per pump was required. During the latest floods, which occurred in 2009, they managed to keep the affected area in Ghijzeghem dry, while the rest of Flanders was flooded. In the end they found a local waterway that hadn’t flooded yet and had capacity to drain the overflow. There were only fifteen centimetres of space left in the waterway, and the fire service pumped continuously for four days with a total capacity of 90 tonnes per minute.

Jacques explains that this was the moment of truth. “We had invested so many resources, time and money in our strategy and system, meaning that we had a deeply vested interest for it to work. Together with the Service responsible for waterways and locks, which employed fixed pumping systems during this flood, we managed to keep critical places dry, including a highly populated residential area.”

More and more fire services in Belgium are now acquiring similar systems, and they are revolutionising the way fires are approached. Jacques explains that firefighters are arriving at the fire with water tankers, so there is water available for the first attack.

“However, we are now also equipping these tanker trucks with an HS150, so we don’t have to pick up these pumps separately, and thus save time. This means that we can use the water in the tanks as a buffer, and the Hydrosubs enable us to get water from a distance as far as 150 metres. This provides the fire service with a large time gain.”

Fire Service Aalst’s philosophy is to heavily attack a fire in the first couple of minutes, so all response measures have to be available within the first hour. “This is an ambitious target and your organisation has to be specifically adapted to that particular goal. In general this is possible with enough personnel. The Hytrans system, however, provides much added value, because you don’t need a large number of people to deploy it. We are able to do so with three people. As long as we have enough water to attack the fire in its initial stages, I am confident that we can extinguish the fire and limit further damage.”

There was one moment in Jacques career when the Hytrans system proved its worth beyond expectations. The fire service in Aalst was faced with a large fire in a furniture factory. The incident started in a spraying cabin in the middle of the factory floor, and rapidly spread into an intense fire amongst the highly flammable contents. There was no possible way of entering the factory and the only nearby water supply consisted of a 40cm-deep brook.

To the amazement of his officers, Jacques gave the order to call in the Hydrosubs. One of them exclaimed: “But we only have 30-40 cm water in this brook. We will never be able to get water out of it.” Jacques replied that the brook might not be deep, but there was still a lot of water in it. Despite the protests of some of the personnel, the submersible pumps were placed in the shallow brook, and the waterways were elevated by aerial ladder device above the factory. “We dumped the water onto the factory, and it was a matter of minutes before this massive fire was extinguished. We could physically see the fire dissipate.”

Jacques bought the first Hydrosub in 1995 and 16 years later it is still in good working order. He has even used them to bring sunken cargo barges back to the surface. He retired as Chief Fire Officer in the beginning of 2011, but still works as a consultant for Aalst Fire and Rescue Service, which will continue to use this technology to its greatest advantage.

  • Operation Florian

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