Boiler engineers help a horse-drawn
fire engine stay up to date.
FOR OLD STEAM
Brass-era automobiles hold special fascination for car enthusiasts. But when Charlotte Fire Department Chief Jon Hannan wanted to find someone to help en-
sure that the steam boiler in a heritage fire engine met mod-
ern safety standards, he turned to power plant engineers.
For mechanical engineer Richard Coutant, who has been
a boiler engineer at Duke Energy for 34 years, that meant
hitting the books.
“I had no idea how to work on a 115-year-old boiler,” Cou-
Old Sue was built well before the first boiler and pressure
tant said. “So I went to the national boiler inspection code to
find out what the rules were for historic boilers and spoke to
other owners of historic boilers.”
The Charlotte Fire Department has maintained the Metro-
politan steam fire engine since its purchase in 1902 and had
planned to use Old Sue (as it is called) during the national
conference of firefighters in July. The State Department of
Labor, however, wanted proof that the steam boiler could
meet the current safety standards.
vessel code was written. Coutant said the original design
specs were no longer available.
Instead, Coutant and his team established the boiler’s
original design through reverse engineering.
“We used ultrasonic gauges to test the thickness of the
The moment of truth for the engineers was when they
boiler’s metal shell and fiber-optic remote video to view the
internal components,” Coutant said. “We took all sorts of
measurements such as surface area, shell diameter, staybolt
spacing and so on to come up with a maximum allowable
working pressure to be used going forward for any further
The team—Coutant, welding program manager Scott Bow-
es, and non-destructive evaluation program manager Tony
Battaglia—set up an inspection and testing checklist for the
fire department to go through and get the boiler recertified.
Fire department battalion chief Robby Myers disassembled
parts of the boiler for testing by engineers, reassembled the
steamer, and prepared it for inspection.
reassembled the engine and conducted the first operational
test, with North Carolina state inspectors there to verify that
all the systems were working.
The fire department was ecstatic when Old Sue passed the
“We saw the steam pistons pumping the engine. You got
the smoke the smells and noise from this great piece of mechanical art and you were transported back to the era when
the engine was horse-drawn with a guy on the back and
the fire going in the pumper as they go through the streets,”
“It was a whole different world back then.” ME
Duke Energy engineer Richard
Coutant, left, helped the Charlotte
Fire Department certify a 1902
steam boiler. Photo: Mark Hames