5 game-changing fire truck technologies

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Robert Avsec

When I began my fire service career in 1981 with the James City County (Va.) Fire Department, our pumper was built on a cab-over Ford chassis, commonly known as a fire truck on a commercial chassis, as opposed to a custom-built truck.

Over the last 33 years, the apparatus industry came a long way in the protection provided to firefighters as they respond to and from emergency scenes aboard fire apparatus.

Here are five game-changing technologies in fire apparatus that will have a major influence on firefighter safety, efficiency and operations for years to come.

Alternative-fuel vehicle

HME Ahrens-Fox introduced the first vehicle of its kind: a fire, EMS and rescue response vehicle powered by a clean-emission, compressed natural gas (CNG) engine.

The Green Alternative CNG Powered Engine uses a Cummins Westport CNG engine. Vehicle owners report less oil consumption, improved idling, longer intervals between service calls and a lower operating cost per mile.

The engine easily meets EPA emissions standards without the use of the expensive filters and exhaust gas treatment devices that are needed on conventional diesel engines.

Apparatus roll-over protection

The Advanced Protection System (APS) from Spartan Chassis takes a systematic approach to creating a zone of safety for the apparatus occupants, particularly for side collisions. Spartan's APS employs eight airbags that are up to seven times larger than those found in other manufacturers' fire apparatus, the company said.

APS relies on satellite sensors located on the perimeter of the crew cab that constantly monitors the vehicle's chassis for impact.

The final component of APS is a smart seat belt system that actually pulls the occupant into the seat in the event of an impact or rollover. This feature provides more force during the initial lock, which when combined with a longer belt travel time, pulls the seat's occupant back into their seat on impact, especially for larger occupants.

This controls the strain of the belt on the firefighter, which reduces pressure on their chest and torso — a major cause of seat belt-related injuries.

Auxiliary power units

Rosenbauer’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) is one example of idle-reduction technology designed specifically for use on fire apparatus and could save a department thousands of dollars annually in operating costs.

Many departments are looking for effective and efficient ways to lessen the amount of emissions produced by the apparatus. Idling fire apparatus cost money in several ways.

First more fuel is burned. Second, nitrogen oxide is released in diesel emissions — while the APU does not alter the chemical make-up of emissions, it does reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides released.

Last, idling engines result in lower exhaust stream temperatures. The diesel particulate filter on today's fire apparatus capture unspent diesel soot that occurs when the engine operates at cooler temperatures. Thus, more idling results in more frequent service intervals for the filters.

Connected vehicle technology

Vehicles need fuel or electricity to keep moving, but increasingly it is data that keeps them running right.

Information from sensors in all of a car's critical sub-systems, from fuel injection to brakes, feeds into electronic control units that monitor and manage these sub-systems.

Manufacturers like Cisco and Continental are working to bring connected vehicle technology to the road to keep roads safer, less congested and cleaner by building a unified communications network platform for vehicles.

What does this mean? Fire apparatus could report diagnostic information to head off potentially expensive repairs and could receive system updates over a wireless data connection, using either an embedded radio or a phone linked to the vehicle's systems through Bluetooth.

By using short-range wireless technology, fire apparatus could also broadcast information about their position, direction and speed to nearby vehicles. This would allow collision-avoidance systems that are both less costly and more comprehensive than current approaches, which rely heavily on radar.

PTO-driven pumps

Several manufacturers, including Pierce and Rosenbauer, are selling apparatus with PTO-driven pumps rated up to 1,500 gpm.

PTO-driven pumps have a couple of significant advantages for the buyer. The cost of the pump is about 50 percent less than a mid-ship pump. The manifolding on these larger PTO-driven pumps is simple and custom designed, enabling manufacturers to prefabricate custom suction and discharge manifolds.

The pump can be tucked underneath the cab or located immediately behind the cab, using often-wasted space. PTO-driven pumps make for compact pump modules, and there may not be a need for a pump module at all, freeing up compartment space in the vehicle.

They also have easier operations because the apparatus operator engages the pump by simply pushing a button in the cab, regardless of whether the truck is in drive, neutral or park.

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