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#62 - What is an Underwriters Playpipe and What is it Used For?

Posted by Jason Hugo and Anna Hartenbach on 5/5/2017 to Fire Hose
The Underwriters Playpipe is a historically significant tool used by firefighters, city officials, and contractors alike to test fire pump or hydrant flow rates. Despite its impact on firefighting as we know it today, it remains somewhat undefined and obscure online. Until now…

This article explores the history of the Underwriters Playpipe and its significance, uses, types, and benefits. Keep reading to learn all of this and more! If you would prefer to skip ahead, refer to the subheadings below to get your burning (pun?) questions answered or see the Underwriters Playpipe product page here.

Where did the Underwriters Playpipe originate? What challenges does it solve for firefighters?

Rich with history, the Underwriters Playpipe was born following a series of studies on hydraulics and the flow of water through a fire hose by John R. Freeman in 1888. Despite modern technology, many of today’s fire service challenges are the same as in Freeman’s day, the largest of which: effectively transporting water from its source to the fire.

Freeman studied the flow of water through regular fire hoses of various makes and types. His experiments tested nozzles with different water pressures and diameters. This allowed him to observe and note the water streams produced by each nozzle, along with the heights and distances reached by each stream. This led to Freeman’s invention, the Underwriters Playpipe, which is still in use today.

What is an Underwriters Playpipe?

The Underwriters Playpipe is a straight, brass pipe, most often 30 inches long with a 2 ½ inch inlet diameter, a 1 ¾” outlet nozzle, and a 1 1/8” removable tip. The Underwriters Playpipe features a set of swivel handles for control and efficiency. Without handles, it becomes more difficult to hold on to while climbing a ladder a ladder.

The design of the Underwriters playpipe features a tapered nozzle and a body wound in fabric or cord, so it’s easier to hold. At QRFS, we only recommend Playpipes made of brass. Cheaper models made of rubber or fabric can rot and become unusable very quickly.

Components of an Underwriters Playpipe

What are the uses and types of an Underwriters Playpipe?

In Freeman’s time, most firefighting took place outside of the building and the Underwriters Playpipes functioned as part of their efforts. The playpipe functions as a means shape water and increase its distance, which it does by reducing turbulence and straightening out the water flow as its velocity increases. Since the flow of water smoothly transitions from pressure to velocity inside the playpipe, the stream is made more effective. While Playpipes can still be used the same way today, most firefighters opt for conventional fog, automatic, low-pressure, or other modern nozzle types.

Today, because of its standard nozzle and its ability to stream water to great distances, the Underwriters Playpipe serves as a way to conduct flow tests from fire pumps and hydrants when paired with a Pitot Tube and Gauge Kit. Using a playpipe, the output water pressure can be measured and converted to gallons per minute (GPM).

A short Underwriters Playpipe has been a topic of debate over the years. It’s believed a short, well-made Underwriters Playpipe can be safely handled and managed by any able-bodied person even at higher pressures when it is made without handles and is attached to a 1 ½-inch hose. On the other hand, when used with a 2 ½-inch hose or a yard hydrant, it’s considered awkward and carries with it the potential for accidents.

Regardless, the playpipe is not designed with the intention of use inside of buildings. Because of its weight and size, it’s difficult to maneuver.

Why is it important to test the flow rate?

In the case of a fire or emergency, adequate water supply and pressure is essential. Testing the flow of fire pumps and hydrants ensure that water is available and that the infrastructure is satisfactory for optimal water flow in times of need. Furthermore, it ensures that there are no closed valves and flushes out rust and other debris from water mains.

City officials and professional contractors perform Hydrant pressure tests following guidelines and regulations set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). There are various options for performing the tests, but as mentioned above a Pitot Gauge in conjunction with an Underwriters Playpipe serves as a quick and easy method to test the flow.


Why buy an Underwriters Playpipe from QRFS?

QRFS offers an Underwriters Playpipe that measures 30” long, has a 2 1/2” inlet diameter, and 1 1/8” removable tip. Our Underwriters Playpipe is UL/FM approved and features a Red Marlin trim for a no-slip grip.

While the product is excellent, the pricing, delivery, and service is better. When you purchase from QRFS, you benefit from our competitive, low-overhead price model, super-fast delivery and our unmatched customer service. Still have questions before you purchase? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them!


This blog was originally posted by Jason Hugo and Anna Hartenbach at QRFS.com/blog on May 5, 2017. If you’ve gained a better understanding of the Underwriter's Playpipe by reading this, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS to stay updated on all of our latest articles and products.

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