A game-changing tyre inflation device

4th Jan 2019

It’s often taken for granted that the emergency service vehicles that we rely on, should we ever need them, will arrive at the scene on time. But that assumption could be questioned when you consider what the vehicle in question, a fire appliance in this case, must carry on board and the weight of equipment that it transports.

It is expected to arrive at each incident safely and in good time, through busy urban streets, winding country roads and even over tough terrain. An under-inflated tyre could be the difference between getting to the scene on time, or not. Engineering Manager at Essex Fire Service Fleet Workshops, Peter Warner, like all fleet operators, is highly aware of the importance of maintaining vehicle tyres in an optimum condition, and that includes the inflation pressures. Fire fleets have a challenge: the provision of inflation equipment or compressor installations to appliance bays can be costly and not always practical.

He has come up with a solution to an ongoing problem of tyre inflation on fire appliances that could completely change the operations of the emergency services.

Working with his team at the Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) fleet workshops, Peter developed a portable prototype device using Breathing Air (BA) cylinders to inflate tyres to the required levels. For the safety-critical fire service, the implications of not having tyres sufficiently inflated are obvious and, although other measures were adequate to a point, the new inflation units could potentially save lives, and that’s what pleases Peter the most.

“I don’t know if there was a eureka moment but there was a stage when we realised that it could work...”

Life saver

“When we connected the inflation gauge, hose, BA cylinder and regulator the first time, that was when I realised that we could be onto something,” said Peter. “We could see that we could actually do it; it was great to see all of the elements come together. The fire service does such a fantastic job, so to be helping them out in our support capacity is very rewarding.”

Consisting of 44 staff in total, 21 of which are engineers or technicians, the workshop based in Colchester is the only one of its kind in the county, serving the whole of Essex, with the team responsible for 130 fire appliances and specialist vehicles, 200 cars, vans and other assets and 18,000 pieces of operational equipment.

“I’m not a fire fighter – I’m non-uniform – from the point of view of working for emergency services, the opportunity came up, and I thought that it’s a great chance to use those skills to help be part of the emergency service. It’s a great environment to work in,” said Peter.

Overcoming challenges

Winner of the second annual Sir Moir Lockhead Safety Award, Peter is pleased that his team have been recognised for their hard work, but also proud of what can be achieved when engineers are given the freedom to create. The final units now in production are the result of their problem-solving ethos and months of collaborative effort between internal teams and PCL Pneumatic Components (PCL), the manufacturers, he said.

“I don’t know if there was a eureka moment but there was a stage when we realised that it could work; each challenge we got over bought it closer to reality. It’s always been an issue with our industry, because of the duty cycle of our vehicles and the rural locations of some of our stations. In the good old days, they could go to a local garage and pump the tyres up, but garages don’t go up to the pressure that we’re seeing on modern fire appliances,” said Peter.

“Unfortunately, there’s a decline in the number of local garages as well, so that gives you the problem of how you get the tyres checked or inflated. So, you could put a compressor in with pipe outlets – but then you’ve got the relatively high cost of it for just one or two vehicles at that location. You’ve also got the regulatory inspections regime on it and you’ve got the physical size of the pressure vessel and its housing.

“What we decided to do, after collaboration from colleagues nationally, was to consider buying some hydrovane compressors – these work well but are cumbersome to move around the bays. People have in the past rigged up cylinders to actually inflate rescue paths and air bags and tyres, but what we did was consider if it’s possible to do this more professionally with a digital gauge, so we started by building a rig in our own workshop to make sure it would work. We ran some tests with a full cylinder on a completely flat commercial tyre and found the inflation speed was sufficient, before we spoke to the cylinder and regulator manufacturers to ensure they had no objection to us using it in that way,” he added.

After overcoming other challenges, they contacted PCL to see if their digital gauge could be incorporated and, after they produced a prototype, Peter and his team started to test the final model, and asked others, such as peer fire and rescue fleets and end users, for their opinions.

“As chair of the Scania fire user group, I demonstrated the unit to them and got good feedback, so we pushed on for a business case for 20 units. It was successful, and it’s taken off from there. It’s won an award from the tyre industry, too,” he said.

"To have received this award for something that we developed in our workshops is a fantastic recognition of our work..."

Sir Moir Safety Award

“When I got the call to tell me we had won the Sir Moir Award, I was very pleased, not just for me but for the whole team and the enthusiasm shown to move it forward. We are very much a support service to our operational colleagues – they do such a fantastic job – so to be helping them by applying our engineering and problem-solving skills is great. Then to have received this award for something that we developed in our workshops is a fantastic recognition of our work and a great way of highlighting the importance of tyre inflation in keeping vehicles safe.

“The other thing that I’m really pleased about is that with a little bit of imagination this can be used throughout the UK, Europe and worldwide – or wherever there’s emergency services. It’s the reason why we come to work,” concluded Peter.

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