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Firefighter Pump Training System

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There are about 30,000 fire departments in the United States. With 87% of these departments being fully or mostly volunteer, many are woefully underfunded and lack adequate training facilities. It's common for fire departments to use their fire station or other community building as a makeshift training facility by using smoke machines, but there are some major limitations when doing this. One is that you can't flow water in these buildings, so the pump operator doesn't get much value out of training when conducting fireground simulations. The training system described here uses a Raspberry Pi and wireless technology to change that.

So what is this thing? 

At the most basic level, it's just some remotely-controlled water valves.  How they're controlled and used is where things get fun.  

There are two main methods used to control these water valves:  A simulated, wireless-enabled nozzle attached to a hoseline, or any type of WiFi device that has web-browsing capability.  These two conrol methods are used in two different training scenarios:

Simulated Fire Exercises

When conducting simulated fire exercises in a building where you can't flow water, here's how you'd use the system:

A wye appliance is connected to the discharge of the fire pump.  A wye simply splits one line into two.  The interior attack hoseline is connected to one side of the wye, and the other side is connected to the training system valve outside the building.  The simulated nozzle with the wireless transmitter is attached to the end of the interior attack line.  

When the fire pump discharge is opened, both hoselines connected to the wye are charged.  This allows the interior attack crew to operate with a fully charged hoseline.  When the interior attack crew opens the "bail" on their simulated nozzle, a wireless signal tells the remote valve outside the building to open, and water flows.  The pump operator must then respond accordingly by adjusting the throttle, monitoring tank water levels, wetc.  

Dedicated Pump Training

To use this system during dedicated pump operator training, here's how you could set it up:

In this scenario there is no interior attack crew, since we're just training a pump operator.  The remotely controlled valves are placed out of sight of the student/fire truck and are connected to various pump discharges on the truck.  The instructor can remotely control the valves via smartphone or tablet with a web-browser interface.  Predefined valve opening and closing sequences can be preprogrammed and run automatically to simulate actual fire water flow scenarios, and the instructor is then free to coach the student without having to worry about keeping track of which lines are flowing.  Real time pressure and flow feedback is provided to the instructor's smart device via the web interface, and all data is logged for post-drill evaluation.  

Design Aspects

There are a lot of different aspects of engineering that go into this project:

  • Water pressure, flow, and friction loss calculations and measurements
  • Electromechanical interface (H-bridge valve control)
  • Wireless connectivity (range analysis, system design, etc.)
  • Analog sensing interface (pressure sensors)
  • Mechanical design
  • Electromechanical interface (simulated nozzle)
  • Power supply and budgeting
  • Aesthetic design (HA! Right!  It's ugly, it's all about function for now, form will follow, maybe?)

Here's a video to explain how it works until I get the writeup completed.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  • 2 × 1.5" Sprinkler Valve with DC Latching Solenoid
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi
  • 1 × Custom PCB with H-bridge and A/D converter circuits
  • 2 × Wixel 2.4 GHz USB Wireless Module
  • 1 × USB WiFi Adapter

View all 9 components

  • Software Everywhere!

    andyknitt06/26/2014 at 15:48 1 comment

    Software Overview

    There's a lot of software that goes into this project.  On the Raspberry Pi there are several Python scripts running, a MySQL database, and a PHP web interface.  There is also C code running on the Wixels.  Here is a basic block diagram that shows what's going on:

    The heart of the system is a MySQL database that stores valve status (on/off) and pressure and flow information for each valve that's connected to the sytsem.  This system is an extension of the technique explained here that allows web control of Raspberry Pi GPIO.  In addition to web (LAN) control of the valves, we also want the simulated nozzle to be able to control them.  To accomplish this, there is a script that constantly checks the desired status of the valves in the MySQL database and turns the valves on or off whenever a status change is detected (remember we are using latching solenoids so we supply a pulse when we want to turn a valve on or off).  We can then have multiple programs or scripts reading and writing to the MySQL database as needed.  There is the possibility that multiple programs could be writing conflicting values to the database.  For instance, if an instructor uses his smartphone to turn a valve off while the simulated nozzle is trying to turn it on.  

    Eventually I'll get source code posted for everything, hopefully soon!

    System Configuration

    In a basic, standalone application, the Raspberry Pi can be configured as a WiFi access point to allow smartphones or tablets to connect to it.  This configuration is shown here:

    Another option is to have the Raspberry Pi connect to an existing wireless network created by an external wireless router.  This could potentially allow greater range between the Pi and the smartphone devices, and also allows the connected smartphones to access the internet via the existing wireless network while still controlling the valves.  Here is an illustration of this configuration:

    This configuration still requires that the valve control system be within wireless range of the simulated nozzle.  The Wixel devices are very low power and don't have nearly the range of WiFi.  This can cause problems, especially if firefighters are taking the nozzle into a metal building with the valve control system outside.  Because we're using a MySQL database to track desired valve status, however, it's possible to have a remote computer on the same LAN edit that database.  If a Wixel is connected to this remote computer, we can set up a remote receiver for the Wixel away from the valve control system, thus extending the range using WiFi.  This is shown here:

    Eventually I'd like to replace the Wixel boards with a WiFi based board like this.  Doing this would put everything in the system on the same WiFi network to allow the most flexibility.  It also eliminates the need to make sure that the Wixel and WiFi systems are running on different channels to reduce interference.  Multiple WiFi access points or WiFi repeaters could be added to the system as needed to improve range.  Here's what that might look like:

  • Nozzle

    andyknitt06/21/2014 at 03:12 0 comments

    A key part of this system is the simulated hose nozzle with a built in wireless transmitter.  This simulated nozzle should have a look and feel similar to an actual firefighting nozzle, but block the flow of water in the hose.  Remember that the goal of this system is to allow firefighters to take a fully charged (pressurized) hose line into a building but not allow them to flow water and damage the contents of the building.  When they open the "bail" on this simulated nozzle, a valve will open to allow water to flow outside the building, thus exercising the pump and pump operator. 

    This proof of concept simulated nozzle is built mostly of 1.5" PVC pipe and fittings, along with a few other mechanical components. The electronics inside consist of a Wixel transceiver board, a cheap flashlight, a couple magnetic reed switches, and a holder for 2 AAA batteries.  After assembly I spray painted it black just to make it look a little more like an actual nozzle.  The picture below shows what parts were used for the exterior (the picture was taken after it took some abuse in a training exercise):

    Most of these parts can be found at any local hardware or home improvement store, with the exception of the 1.5" NPT to NH threaded adapter.  That piece adapts from tapered pipe thread (national pipe thread, or NPT) to fire thread (national hose thread, or NH) so that the nozzle can be attached to the end of a fire hose.  NH threads use a gasket for sealing as opposed to pipe threads which must be sealed with pipe dope or teflon tape.  This adapter can be purchased at any local firefighting supply company. 

    While several of the joints in this simulated nozzle are glued together, several others are left dry and fastened with drilled holes and bolts.  This allows the nozzle to be partially disassembled for easy access to the interior parts.  The pictures below show how the nozzle is taken apart to gain access to the battery holder and the other parts mounted inside.  The nozzle "bail" handle is made out of a piece of scrap metal that I bent in a vise to the shape I wanted and then drilled to accept a carriage bolt.  One of the round drill holes was filed square to accept the carriage bolt head, which forces the bolt to turn as the bail handle is moved. 

    The heart of this simulated nozzle is a Wixel programmable USB wireless module with an attached magnetic reed switch from sparkfun.  The Wixel code is set up to simply transmit the status of the reed switch to a companion Wixel.  The reed switch is activated by a magnet that is attached to the carriage bolt holding the scrap metal "bail" or activation handle of the nozzle.  Here's a picture of the Wixel with a magnetic reed switch connected from one of the GPIO pins to ground:

    The Wixel is simply mounted to the inside of the nozzle body using double sided tape in the vicinity of the magnet on the carriage bolt.  When the bail is actuated, the magnet rotates with the bolt inside the nozzle body.  By fine tuning the location of the magnet and the Wixel, it's easy to get the reed switch to activate when the nozzle is "open" and deactivate when it is "closed".  Power is supplied to the Wixel by two AAA batteries in a holder that's mounted in the "pistol grip" of the nozzle (the PVC sanitary tee).  A slide switch has been superglued to the AAA battery holder to allow power to be turned on and off without having to remove the batteries.  This battery holder and switch are covered by a PVC cap when in use so that the switch can't be accidentally deactivated as the nozzle gets drug, banged, and beaten around by ambitious firefighters.  

    What about that flashlight I mentioned earlier?  The intent is that when the simulated nozzle is "opened", it would produce a beam of light to simulate water spray, and also produce a spraying water sound.  This gives students and instructors...

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  • H-Bridge Latching Solenoid Control

    andyknitt06/07/2014 at 21:28 1 comment

    Since the brains of this project is a Raspberry Pi, we want to be able to control the valves from the Pi somehow.  Since the valves are simple on/off valves, using the Pi's GPIO pins is a logical solution.  However, there are a couple problems we need to address.  First, the GPIO pins can only supply 3.3V at a relatively small current, while the DC latching solenoids that control the valves are 9V devices that pull more current than the GPIO pins can source.  Another problem is that the DC latching solenoids require their supply polarity to be reversed to turn the valve off.  

    The solution to both of these problems is an H-bridge circuit.  H-bridges are commonly used to drive DC motors in either direction by reversing the polarity of voltage being sent to the motor, and are commonly controlled by microcontroller pins.  In this case we won't be driving a motor, but instead using the H-bridge to reverse the polarity of the voltage being sent to the DC latching solenoid.  A schematic of the circuit I used is shown below.

    This can look a little confusing if you've never seen an H-bridge before, so let's step through it.  The two terminals of the solenoid are connected to the S1A and S1B points.  If we apply 3.3V to point H1B, that will turn on NPN transistor Q2 and allow current to flow from point S1A to ground.  At the same time, that 3.3V also turns on NPN transistor Q3, which pulls point H1C low, which in turn turns on PNP transistor Q4.  When Q4 is on it allows current to flow from the 9V supply to point S1B.  So now we have current flowing from the 9V supply, through Q4 to the solenoid coil connected at S1B, through the solenoid coil to point S1A, and from S1A through Q2 to ground.  The current path is complete, and the solenoid will activate, turning the water valve on.  Since this is a latching solenoid, we only need to apply 3.3V to point H1B for about 500ms.  This gives the solenoid enough time to fully activate and latch, and then we can remove power.  

    To switch the solenoid in the other direction, we apply pulsed 3.3V to point H1D.  The current path is then from the 9V supply, through Q1, out to the solenoid coil via point S1A, through the coil, into point S1B, and to ground through Q5.  So we now have current flowing from S1A to S1B, which is opposite of when we applied 3.3V to point H1B.  This switches the solenoid in the opposite direction, turning the valve off.  

    We can now use two GPIO pins from the Pi connected to points H1B and H1D of the H-bridge circuit to turn a single valve on and off.  

    I created a PCB that contains two of these H-bridge circuits along with some analog input circuitry for reading pressure sensors.  This PCB connects via ribbon cable directly to the Pi.  I'll post full schematics and PCB layouts (created in KiCad) eventually.  In the mean time, if you have any suggestions for how to improve this circuit, by all means leave a comment to let me know!

  • Choosing Valves

    andyknitt06/07/2014 at 16:13 0 comments

    Finding water valves that will work for this project is a bit of a challenge.  Actually finding valves isn't a huge problem, but finding valves that are affordable is.  Here are some of the requirements:

    • Support 1.5" to 2.5" hoselines
    • Support maximum pressures of at least 250 psi
    • Support flows of 150-250 gpm without excessive friction loss
    • Cost $100 or less
    • Controllable via battery power

    A motorized ball valve would be ideal for this project because it would allow the valve to be partially opened or closed.  This feature can be used to deliberately introduce additional friction loss, which can simulate additional sections of hose.  In addition, motorized ball valves tend to open and close slowly, which minimizes water hammer.  However, motorized ball valves in the 1.5" to 2.5" range are very expensive.  

    Instead, I ended up using a solenoid-controlled valve that was originally intended to be used in in-ground sprinkler systems.  Finding a sprinkler valve that could handle the pressure and flow requirements was a challenge, since most sprinkler systems run at much lower pressures than fire hoses.  However, the folks at www.sprinklersupplystore.com were great and helped me find the Toro P220 series of valves.  These valves are rated to operate at up to 220 psi, which is a little short of my 250 psi goal.  However, the 250 psi requirement is mostly just for robustness.  Fire hoselines are typically operated at nozzle pressures of 50 to 100 psi.  The discharge pressure at the fire truck will be greater in order to overcome the friction loss in the lines at high water flows (100 to 250 gallons per minute), but is still usually under 200 psi unless a very long run of hose is being pumped.  Fire pumps are usually rated to go to 250 psi, but rarely do in actual practice.  Since the P220 valves have a burst rating of 400 psi, I was ok with using them in this project even though they didn't quite meet the 250 psi operational requirement that I had hoped for.  They'll still work to simulate 90% of typical fireground scenarios.  

    Solenoid valves are "on-off" valves.  They can't be partially opened or closed.  They operate by way of an electric solenoid that opens or closes a small passageway in the valve, and the water pressure in that passageway is then used to open or close the main waterway.  In most lawn sprinkler applications the solenoid is operated by 24VAC, similar to what's used for HVAC controls.  Apply 24VAC and the valve turns on, remove voltage and the valve turns off.  Generating 24VAC in a portable, battery-powered device is certainly possible, but it makes life a little more complicated.  Luckily, there are sprinkler control systems that are designed to run off of 9V battery power.  The valves in these systems use a 9VDC latching solenoid instead of the 24VAC solenoid.  A latching solenoid is a unique animal.  When a 9VDC pulse is applied in one direction, the solenoid activates and latches. The 9V power can then be removed, but the solenoid will stay latched in that position.  To switch the solenoid back to the other position, 9VDC is pulsed in the opposite polarity.  This is perfect for battery-powered applications, since the solenoid does not continuously draw power when the valve is on, unlike 24VAC solenoids.  To switch a 9VDC latching solenoid with a microcontroller, an H-bridge circuit is used.  While this is a little bit complicated, it's not nearly as bad as having to generate 24VAC.  A future post will detail the H-bridge design and how the valves are controlled. 

    I ended up using a 1.5" P220 series valve with a 9VDC latching solenoid for the proof of concept design.  The part number is P220-26-96.  While the 1.5" valve introduces some significant friction loss into the system while operating at typical fire flows, I'm using this to my advantage. ...

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Neal wrote 10/10/2015 at 04:21 point

As someone who just got to witness a test burn for a fire detection/sprinkler system, I must say - this is a wonderful idea.  My industry can only do so much before the firefighters have to come in and finish the job, and they are only as good as their training.  This should prove must useful.  Something that could be added to this for the benefit of the hose crew's training - maybe a laser tag like system to allow for "time to/time on" target tracking.  The space is available.

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theschlem wrote 06/26/2014 at 01:43 point
Like. Voting for it. Stay safe out there!
schlem
EFD

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Adam Fabio wrote 06/17/2014 at 04:24 point
Awesome Job Andy! Thank you for entering your pump training system in The Hackaday Prize! Don't forget to upload your code and build information - the more open, the better your chance of winning the prize!

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GriffenJBS wrote 06/02/2014 at 22:49 point
I'm not sure whether to leave a serious or silly comment. Dude! This is like flight sim gear for firefighters! Seriously, training equipment is always very useful and fire rescue is serious, and often underfunded, business. This kind of "hack" is exactly what I like to see. Someone saw a problem and put together a solution.

Keep up the good work, I look forward to seeing more results!

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andyknitt wrote 06/07/2014 at 15:07 point
You're right Griffen, the training equipment that is available is often very expensive because the market is small and specialized. No benefits of mass production. Small departments usually can't afford that stuff. This was borne out of necessity...nothing like it existed, so we made something that would work that's relatively inexpensive. I'm hoping others can put it to use.

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