When the Manchester (England) Fire Brigade showed off its aerial rig with a piercing nozzle attached to the tip in January, the fire service let out a collective "whoa."
It also led us to ask, what are we doing in the United States that pushes the boundaries of original intent when it comes aerial fire trucks? We're doing a good deal different, it turns out.
To find out more, I spoke at length with Paul Christiansen, aerial sales manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, and asked him whether equipment on the ladder tip or platform should be included in the original apparatus specifications or installed after market.
"Generally, we recommend that customers put equipment into the original specifications for the apparatus," said Christiansen.
Getting off the ladder and on to the building has been improved with the addition of ladder tips with a steep angle on the fly section handrails. This design is intended to make the transition from the building to the aerial ladder easier and safer for both firefighters and civilians. The angled tip also allows more space to move from a window to the ladder tip.
Light Emitting Diode technology is being used to improve visibility and scene safety by illuminating the ladder's path to the building.
The manufacturers are installing LED rope lights on both sides of the ladder sections to make it easier for the turntable operator to see where the ladder is during low visibility conditions. This illuminated path also improves the safety of personnel climbing the ladder.
For improved safety and effectiveness during rope rescue operations, manufacturers can install lift-rated eyelets for anchoring ropes. Ferrara Apparatus also uses a rope rescue pulley kit — a series of pulleys that run from tip to the turntable that enable the operator on the turntable to control rope rescues.
A dual-position waterway that is electrically actuated from the turntable can improve both safety and efficiency of aerial device operations.
According to Christiansen, "This impressive safety feature allows the operator to switch from rescue mode (waterway monitor one section down from tip) to water tower mode (waterway monitor at the tip) without going to the end of the ladder and move a mechanical pin or lever shift."
The positional system also has indicator lights to notify the operator of a complete shift sequence, as well as a time-delay interlock to prevent ladder extension before the shift is complete. For maximum safety, the shift is inactive whenever the ladder is out of the fully retracted position.
More efficient and effective use of the ladder's waterway as an elevated water supply is made possible by the installation of dual 2½-inch discharge outlets at the tip. This option allows the ladder to be used as an elevated waterway without having to disconnect the monitor from the waterway.
Another Ferrara feature on its aerial ladders is the creeper control at the tip.
"The creeper enables a firefighter at the tip of the ladder to move the ladder at a reduced speed for close-up maneuvering where the firefighter on the tip has a better view than the operator on the turntable," Christiansen said. "The operator on the turntable retains overall control and can override the creeper control at any time."
I found many options that enhance the operations from aerial platforms as well. One that is featured by several manufacturers is a swing out rappelling arm with a 500-pound capacity with rated tie-offs located at the back of the platform.
Another popular option is a roof ladder mounted to the front of the platform for safer egress from the platform to a parapet roof or false parapet walls. And what truckie hasn't maneuvered over a parapet wall or false parapet only to find a six to eight foot drop down to the roof surface?
Getting the platform to the point of entry or patient extraction only to be blocked out by the platform's spring loaded, inward opening door can be frustrating. Ferrara's outward swinging bi-fold gates, with roughly 2-foot-wide opening make it easy to bring people or equipment into the platform without having to overcome the gate.
"While most manufacturers would prefer that any equipment be installed during the construction of the apparatus, there are a couple of features that can be easily added later," said Christiansen. "Typically, these are things like lighting packages."
View from below
Platform lighting packages come in a variety of options are powered by both 12-volt and 120-volt sources. Popular choices are dual 12-volt LED or 120-volt quartz landing lights under the platform and 120-volt removable tripod lights on the back of the platform.
Other options include 12-volt LED spot and floodlights and remote control spotlights on the platform face.
Small remote camera technology is also making its presence felt on aerial apparatus. Color cameras with an LCD monitor on the turntable are becoming increasingly popular to give the turntable operator a clear and accurate view of what's happening at the ladder tip.
Aside from added safety, this feature improves effectiveness, particularly now that remote-controlled master stream devices at the tip have removed the necessity of having a firefighter at the ladder tip during master stream operations.
All in all, technology and innovation are teaming up to find far more uses for aerial rigs than was once thought possible.