Bright Future for Fire Crew Labor Saving Devices


Fire departments from as far afield as Asia and South America are poised to benefit from trailblazing labor and time-saving devices pioneered by Central Oregon technical innovators Deschutes River Manufacturing.

For years, the ‘grunt’ work involved in hand rolling hoses and lugging them back to the fire truck following an incident has fallen to newer fire fighters, tasked with laboriously rolling, squeezing and re-decking, or reloading, 100-foot-plus lengths.

But in recent times, hoses have grown ever wider and heavier, especially when residual air and water needing to be expelled is factored in, and the ante has been upped regarding back injury risk for effective weights that can hover over150 pounds.

Pondering the situation led Deschutes River Manufacturing’s founder David Johnston to tap 27 years of mechanical experience as a millwright to develop an ingenious portable, motorized fire hose roller first launched onto the market in 2002.

Since then, the Bend-based company has been revolutionizing the way industrial, municipal and wildland firefighters in the U.S. and Canada work, while recently great strides have been made towards spreading the word on a global scale.

Named after the crew members who traditionally handled hose heavy lifting, the ‘Rookie’ line features portable fire hose rollers that quickly roll fire hoses up to 7-1/4 inches in diameter at the scene, enabling fire fighters to manage hoses rapidly, easily and safely, while saving their energy and physical condition for the demanding front line fire suppression work. Models are equipped with a gas engine or electric motor, with larger variants featuring variable-speed controls.

The Rookie, which rolls hoses up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, is one of the company’s several products, which also include: The Rookie Sidekick, which is smaller but more powerful and fits on the back of a four-wheeler and rolls 3/4- to 3-inch hoses; The Rookie Sidekick LDH, which rolls a 5-inch hose; The Rookie Reloader, which allows firefighters to transfer the hose back to the vehicles; and The Rookie All-In-One, which utilizes adjustable pins to roll from 1 1/2- to 7 ¼-inch hoses and comes with a reloader and portable stand.

Firefighters have welcomed the breakthrough of a modern hose management system, lauding it as saving a significant amount of time compared to doing the job by hand and without risk of back injuries from stooping over to roll and lift.

The Rookie Sidekick is currently being used by fire suppression agencies and firefighters from Texas to Canada, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, power utilities and municipal fire departments. Industrial customers include Hagemeyer, Union Carbide-Dow Chemical, Marathon Oil, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon-Mobil and Suncor.

“After our department tried The Rookie Sidekick, we felt it was a piece of equipment we had to have,” commented Gary Spoor, assistant chief, South Bend VFD, South Bend Washington. “We recently upgraded to 5-inch hose on our engines. The Rookie Sidekick has helped us out with that for two main reasons: one is safety — the larger diameter hose is heavier, harder to handle and more likely to cause back injuries. And the other is time — The Rookie does a better job getting air out of the hose for redecking it.”

Johnston, formerly with Kor-Pine/Willamette Industries in Bend before Weyerhaeuser acquired then shuttered the company and he parlayed a knack for numbers and mechanical technology into his own business, commented: “We are committed to continually researching, developing and field testing the highest quality, best designed fire hose handling equipment technology available today to make fire fighting easier and safer for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.”

Johnston continues to refine design elements including a recent change to the Sidekick Stand for increased maneuverability, and improved foot pedal cable connections.

For James Norman, chief of the East Bend Volunteer Fire Department in North Carolina, The Rookie has saved him and his crew the two-hour job of rolling mile-long hoses back on the truck. The hoses need to be long enough to reach from a pond – or other water source – to the fire scene. Done in 100-foot increments, rolling the hose back up takes less than an hour with The Rookie, Norman said.
“I tell you what, that’s a great machine that saves lots of time,” Norman said. “It pushes all the water and air out of the hose, which then lays flatter on the truck than when you do it by hand.”

DRM has ratcheted up efforts to expose its product on a wider basis, with the help of new sales manager Steve Grediagin, who said he is enjoying hitting the road and showing customers first-hand “what a quality, industrial grade machine it is.”

He added that he was already talking to fire departments as diverse as Hong Kong and Brazil about adopting the systems, adding: “With a proven track record of customers that includes every major U.S. public land management agency, some of the world’s largest energy companies, water utilities and fire departments on three continents, the potential is enormous to help save these departments money, personnel and time.”

DRM is increasingly tapping into other vertical markets that use large-diameter hoses, including municipal water systems. The City of Bend’s Water Reclamation Department purchased a Rookie Sidekick this year to roll up the fire hose it uses to pump out sewer lines during maintenance and repairs.

The industrial sector – oil refineries and chemical companies – is also quickly becoming a hot market.
“(The Rookie products) really cut down on the manpower and cut down on time,” said Becky Gibson, vice president of sales and marketing for TSI Inc., the company that distributes Johnston’s products to the oil and chemical companies up and down the Gulf Coast. “It also is a safety issue for saving people’s back, that sort of thing.”

“They have an incredible product that the market needs,” she said from Baton Rouge, La. “It’s just a matter of getting it out in the marketplace.”

And that effort is being boosted by contact with a business development analyst at the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council to begin to explore market opportunities in the oil fields of the Middle East.
This is just one of the several new export markets the company has been able to make in-roads into – with the support  of Alexa Hamilton, Global Trade Specialist at Business Oregon, the export assistance arm of the State of Oregon Business Development Department, and Gail Snyder with the U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Service in Portland.

Grediagin added that on the domestic front sales were also growing, and involvement with the General Services Administration (GSA) government procurement system had seen three Sidekick rollers recently sold to Alaska Fire Service.

Just in the last few weeks sales have also been executed with Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, U.S. Forest Service Three Rivers Ranger District in Washington – a repeat customer with five units – Fluor Hanford (environmental clean-up contractor at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington) and repeat customer Conoco Phillips in Texas.

Deschutes River Manufacturing, .877-868-1951;


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