The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Firefighting Intake Valve

At some point in your firefighting career, you will need to choose a new intake valve. Whether you are spec'ing one for a new apparatus, selecting a replacement for an old intake valve, or deciding to upgrade, it is important that you fully evaluate your options.  

As you work through the choices you will be evaluating everything from the waterway size to the warranty offered – as you should.  

To help you be as thorough as possible, we’ve put together this guide to help you figure out exactly what you need before you decide.  

Let’s start with the basics. 

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Why do You Need an Intake Valve? 

An intake valve allows you to control the flow of water into your pump from an outside water source. That source may be a hydrant, drafting source, or other common water source within your response district. 

Municipal and rural departments may have different uses for their intake valves, with a municipal department using their valve more regularly with pressurized sources. Rural departments might see more drafting operations 

Featured Article and Video: Why Do You Need an Intake Valve? 

What Types of Intake Valves are Most Common? 

In the fire service the most common types of intake valves are Ball Intake Valves or BIVs, piston intake valves, butterfly or wafer style intake valves, and master intake valves. 

Ball Intake Valve 

Ball intake valves use a ball valve or half-ball valve to control the flow of water. They are installed on the large intake connection of your pump panel and give you a lot of options with straight elbows, detent elbows, and various waterway sizes.  

Piston Intake Valves 

The piston intake valve uses an internal piston to open and close the valve. The piston sits horizontally which means there is always some resting water inside your valve which may accelerate corrosion or lead to icing issues during freezing weather. 

Butterfly Valve 

The butterfly valve uses a quarter turn handle to rotate a valve disk 90-degrees, allowing water to pass on each side of it. This design means there is always an obstruction in the middle of your water flow which increases friction loss and turbulence. 

Master Intake Valve 

A master intake valve is built into your pump and provided by your pump manufacturer. They are well protected from outside damage but cannot be easily removed for service or replacement. Any service requires your apparatus to go out of service with the intake valve. 

Featured Article: What is an Intake Valve? 

Five Things to Consider When Choosing an Intake Valve 

As you try to narrow down your choices on intake valves, consider these five things: 

Consider your pump panel layout 

Pump panels are getting smaller and more crowded, which means it is especially important for you to consider the layout of your panel prior to choosing an intake valve. Consider the size, depth, nearby obstructions, and whether it is behind a roll up door.  

Evaluate Waterway Size and Friction Loss 

Typically, we recommend getting the largest possible waterway. This allows the most water to move through your intake valve with the least amount of friction loss. Some apparatus may not need a large waterway or may be unable to accommodate the larger intake valve due to pump panel size or layout.  

Choose Handle Placement Carefully 

Handle placement can be trickier than expected. Be sure to measure the area and check for equipment that may cause an obstruction with your handle. Ensure it rotates fully and explore whether another placement choice would be more beneficial.  

Consider Remote Control Options 

For some departments, a remote-controlled intake valve is necessary due to staffing limitations or other factors. For those with top mounted pump panels, a remote-control valve allows your pump operator to control the intake valve without climbing down to run the valve.  

Know the Cost of Ownership 

For any intake valve you evaluate, be sure to understand the warranty, serviceability, cost of replacement parts, cost of annual maintenance, and availability of service staff or classes from each manufacturer. 

Featured Article: Five Tips for Choosing the Right Intake Valve and Three Tips for Choosing the Right Intake Valve for You 

Five Intake Valve Considerations for Industrial Facilities and Refineries 

Intake valves are also used at industrial facilities and refineries as intake and discharge valves. If this applies to you, be sure to consider your unique needs.  

Find a Large, Unobstructed Waterway 

Fire suppression at a refinery or industrial facility means moving a large amount of water to mitigate damage and loss. The largest waterway is going to give you the most water with the least amount of friction loss. Ultra-manifolds can benefit from the larger waterways as it minimizes strain on the pump and moves the most amount of water.  

Durability 

Your intake valve is likely to sit outdoors where it will need to stand up against the weather in your area. Consider the type of intake valve and whether its internal mechanisms are built to withstand cold, heat, and prolonged exposure to the elements. The last thing you need is a cracked or frozen intake valve when you need to move water.  

Corrosion Resistance 

The likelihood that your intake valve will stay outside makes it important for it to maintain excellent corrosion resistance, but the water quality is another major factor. The turbulence caused by high water flow during an emergency stirs up slime growth, sludge, and sediment from the bottom of your waterlines. This mixes with water and travels through your intake valve. If it is not made of the correct materials and coatings, the life of your intake valve will suffer.  

Pressure Ratings 

Your industrial facility is likely to use higher pressures than the municipal side of firefighting. Your apparatus often uses larger pumps and piping, and intake valves might be used as intake or discharge on a larger, external pump. It’s important to be sure your intake valve can withstand these pressure ratings and that the manufacturer does thorough testing.  

Customer Service 

Routine inspection and maintenance are important for your valve, but if something does go wrong, you need support. Be sure to understand the warranty and customer service procedures for the manufacturer you choose.  

Featured Article: Five Intake Valve Considerations for Industrial Facilities and Refineries 

Common Mistakes When Choosing Your Intake Valve 

There are a few mistakes we commonly see when departments or industrial facilities choose an intake valve.  

Not Considering Pump Panel Layout 

It is easy to forget about a roll up door or get the wrong measurements and layout for your pump panel. It is also tempting to choose an intake valve based on waterway size and flow capacity without considering how it will fit in the pump panel. This can lead to obstructions and an inability to use your intake valve properly. 

Ignoring Your Water Source and Necessary Waterway Size 

As you select an intake valve, you should consider where your water comes from and how that may affect your needs. Departments that draft from large static sources regularly or who use well-fed fire hydrants have vastly different needs than those who regularly draft from portable tanks and smaller static sources. 

Forgetting About Water Quality 

Water quality can affect the life span of your intake valve, the operation, and the necessary maintenance over time. Some intake valves are not compatible with saltwater sources or may be adversely impacted by brackish or sediment heavy water.  

Understanding the necessary maintenance, service, and warranty implications of your potential water sources should not be forgotten.  

Not Considering Your Weather and Temperatures 

The life span and usability of your intake valve can be affected by your area's weather. If you regularly see freezing weather, you may want to consider an intake valve that does not keep water sitting inside the valve.  

Not Thinking About Available Personnel 

The operating style of your intake valve may depend on your department’s staffing levels. Consider whether you have enough firefighters to run a manual intake valve or if a remote-controlled model would be necessary. 

Featured Article: Five Common Mistakes When Choosing an Intake Valve 

Do You Need a Straight Intake?  

It is possible that you will want a straight elbow on your intake valve instead of a bent elbow. There are a few reasons this might be ideal for you. 

Limited Pump Panel Space 

If your pump panel is exceptionally tight or sits behind a roll up door, you may need a shorter, straight intake valve to avoid obstructions. 

Drafting 

For departments that draft from a portable tank often, a straight intake valve may be easier for connecting your hard suction hose since you will not need to adjust an elbow.  

Aerial Inlets 

Many departments prefer to use a straight intake valve on the backend of their aerial truck. This allows you to easily supply your master stream device without worrying about adjusting the elbow.  

Featured Article: When To Consider a Straight Intake Vs an Elbow 

Is a Detent Elbow Right for You? 

A detent elbow is a bent elbow on your intake valve that allows you to swivel it to a new position and lock it in place. This supplies a lot of versatility for your crew. You may want a detent elbow for a few distinct reasons.  

Pump Panel Layout 

Again, the pump panel is extremely important when choosing your intake valve. The detent elbow is another solution to fitting your intake valve behind a roll up door and can provide flexibility if you have obstructions on your panel.  

Easier LDH Connections 

Connecting a large diameter hose line is difficult enough. A detent elbow allows you to swivel into a new position and better meet the angle you need for your hose line. 

Keep Roadways Clear 

If you are worried about keeping the roadway clear for your second due, a detent elbow may work well for you. The swivel allows you to adjust the angle you connect at, potentially keeping the roadway and other spaces clear on the fireground.  

Featured Article: Is a Detent Elbow Right for Your Intake Valve? 

Do You Need a Pressure Relief Valve? 

A pressure relief valve does exactly what it says it does! If the pressure inside your intake valve rises too high, the valve relieves that extra pressure. Most pressure relief valves can be set to your desired pressure, giving you options to fit your needs.  

Why would you want one? 

Protect Your Pump 

Your pump and internal plumbing can be damaged if you experience extreme water hammer for any reason. A sudden surge of pressure when you have a pressure relief valve is no big deal, though. The relief valve will open to release the extra pressure, protecting your pump and internal plumbing. 

Dealing with Hot Hydrants 

If you have well fed hydrants with high pressure, it is great for moving a lot of water. However, it can spell disaster if there is a sudden surge of pressure. A hot hydrant can easily damage your pump and internal plumbing. A pressure relief valve can help relieve this pressure.  

Featured Article: Does Your Intake Valve Need a Pressure Relief Valve? 

Intake Valves and Drafting 

Unlike a pressurized water supply coming from a hydrant, drafting requires you to pull water from a static source by priming. Your intake valve can be optimized to minimize friction loss, ensuring you get the most water on the fire in the fastest way possible.  

Consider these factors when evaluating intake valves for drafting. 

What is Your Static Water Source? 

Are you using an abundant static source like a lake, pond or river to draft? A larger waterway will be beneficial as you can supply the most water to your pump with the least amount of added friction loss.  

If you use a portable tank for drafting, you may want a smaller waterway to avoid draining your tank too quickly.  

How Many Intake Valves Do You Need? 

Some departments do well with a single intake valve on their apparatus. Adding an additional intake valve can be beneficial if you do a lot of high-volume drafting or a lot of variety in where your water source is. These second intake valves allow you to do a twin tube draft or use the intake valve most accessible from your water source. 

How Big of a Waterway do You Need? 

The more water you want to move, the larger the waterway should be. The larger water way limits friction loss and gives you the most bang for your buck. This is why we almost always recommend the largest waterway size for drafting operations.  

Departments that have a particularly crowded pump panel or have no pressure supply issues on their hydrants may need a smaller waterway. Be sure to take your department's unique needs into account!  

Featured Article: How Does Drafting Impact Your Intake Valve Choice? 

Is a Budget Intake Valve Right for You? 

In some cases, it makes sense to go for a budget option when choosing an intake valve.  

Reserve Apparatus 

If the intake valve you choose is going on a reserve apparatus, you may not want the larger, more expensive intake valve. It is likely that you will have another apparatus chosen for drafting, and the budget option will work when you need it. 

Moderate Flow Capacity 

If your apparatus features a smaller pump or you work in an area with limited access to water, a smaller budget intake valve might be right for you. These intake valves tend to have smaller waterways, limiting the amount of water that can move through them. If you draft from portable tanks or deal with unreliable water sources regularly, this may be a better option for your needs.  

Tight Budget 

If you are facing a particularly tight budget or unexpected replacement of an intake valve, it might make sense to get the budget choice. Just make sure your intake valve comes from a trusted manufacturer and has a warranty before purchase!  

Featured Article: Three Reasons You Might Want a Budget Intake Valve 

Want to download and take all the articles referenced in this guide with you? Request your download here!