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The Option of a Front Suction


By: Ricky Riley


Being from and working in the Metro - Washington DC area for most of my life, I thought that front suctions were a standard option on all fire apparatus. Who in their right mind would not want one of these on their rig?  It makes life so much easier. But as I started to travel outside of my little world I soon realized that this was not the norm across the country. Even when I arrived in Clearwater, FL., this pre-connected water supply option was not in the toolbox.


As we started creating specifications for our new engine companies, our committee agreed a front pre-connected water supply would be a good feature for our units. It helps to achieve our goal of a quick and reliable water supply. The choice to have this added to your apparatus should not be taken lightly. There are a number of issues to consider when adding this option to your rig.

-       Consider the amount of bumper extension required, as this will add to the overall length of the vehicle and turning clearance.

-       Is the piping going to cause any turning radius issues?

-     Does the piping or drains create an approach angle issue?

-       What is the additional weight on the front axle?

-       What is the expense? (This should not be a primary concern if it is right for the response area.)

-       Does it interfere with the new diesel engine exhaust systems?

All these considerations are valid and need to be reviewed by your apparatus committee. But with that being said, if this option is right for your response area and water supply expectations, then it is a right choice. Additionally, the decision to use a pre-connected water supply must be accompanied by training, training and more training to fully understand how to efficiently utilize this feature.  


Front suction should also be accompanied with a swivel to assist in the spotting and tactical positioning of the engine at the hydrant. Along with the appropriate length of supply line attached to the swivel, this decision is yet another one that comes from knowing your response area. We have seen anywhere from 10 to 35 feet of hose stored in the bumper.  The length is based on how you position at hydrants and how well versed your drivers are  positioning the rigs so there are no kinks.


Tactical positioning at the hydrant also ensures other apparatus positioning on the fireground is not blocked. This is where experience and training will come into play, so the engine is not angled and taking up a lot of street room or with the butt end of the engine out in traffic.


Your company needs to get out and experiment and train on all the possible positioning scenarios for the front suction and the attached supply line. Your driver must practice this task regularly, through training, hooking up at calls every chance he or she gets and as well as experimenting with the swivel and hose lengths. Thinking outside the box is great, as long as they have practiced and mastered those skills before we get to a call with fire showing where the speed of the water supply is a top priority.

A number of Drivers observed that with the first generation front suctions, there was low ground clearance when approaching angled entrances or curbs. We just accepted what the manufacturer was giving us for clearance, until while on an engineering trip, we looked carefully at the space under the bumper and wheel well. The apparatus committee asked our salesperson to have an engineer come out on the floor so we could ask questions. By being inquisitive and trying to make our unit better, the manufacturer was able to raise the piping up a couple of inches getting us more clearance. This stopped all the minor scraping that was occurring during our operations. So don’t be afraid to question the norm when you are dealing with your apparatus builders.








Another modification we made to our front suction connection was the addition of a stortz adaptor to the threaded 6-inch male threads. Originally we had a 25’ section of 5” hose attached to the swivel with a 6” female coupling and on the other end a 4-1/2” female swivel for connection to the hydrant. One of our officers made the suggestion to have the end attached to the swivel on the apparatus to be a stortz connection and we accomplished this with an adaptor from the Kocheck Co. This addition enabled drivers to hook up a supply line to the front of the apparatus, rather than dragging it around to the side intake, thus saving space and room in the street for later arriving apparatus. Using this as an intake for a supply line may be few and far between, but the officer saw a simple solution to enhancing this operation, which fits with the Departments’ mantra of hooking up and ensuring a water supply as a mission critical assignment.


The front suction is a great tool in the engine company toolbox.  It is a valuable option as long as the company practices the hook-ups and makes full use of the advantages. So go out and find the next best and greatest tactical advantage of the front suction with a swivel and tweet the picture to us @TTCombatReady and @FireApparatus1.

Go see the full spread of pictures from this article at:;


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Comments are closed for this blog post

Comment by Richard Riley on September 29, 2015 at 7:03pm


Have side intakes also on our engines, front suction is just another tool in the tool box to establish a continuous water supply. See pictures below...

Comment by Robert W. Rackl on September 29, 2015 at 3:39pm

The Dept which I am a member of, utilizes front suction successfully and has done so since 1974. Prior to that side and rear suctions were utilized. However, I am a fan of the "newer" side suction with a well on each side for pre-connected large diameter suction hose. Typically, I have seen this with 35' suction  hose. I think that this is more versatile, more efficient, less expensive and provides less "real estate" taken by the apparatus on the street. It allows operators to stop before or after hydrants and allows the apparatus to position closer to the curb and virtually eliminating problems with blocked hydrants.

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