Apparatus design: Back to the basics

There are some important questions we need to ask ourselves in the coming year when designing a new fire apparatus

There have been many articles written on apparatus specifications in recent years. Remember, the best advice that you can follow is determining what is right for your department. The prices of custom fire apparatus have skyrocketed in recent times.

In 2010, the new NFPA-compliant engines have added to that cost, unless you were smart enough to pre-plan your purchase and order a vehicle before the year began or were able to get one of the stockpiled 2007 engines that some of the apparatus manufacturers had tucked away.

Regardless, the economy has played havoc with the fire service in general the past two years. The fire apparatus manufacturing industry has taken a 40 percent reduction in orders despite some enjoying large city orders and export deliveries.

Example of heavy rescue tool mounting, completed by Pierce.

Example of heavy rescue tool mounting, completed by Pierce.

Some of us are our own worst enemy. Sure, if the money is available why not order your new vehicle with twin Mars lights and Buck-Eye Rotor Rays. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy them as much as the next guy when it comes to added bells and whistles.

But I think because of the budget constraints overcoming all of us we are going to see a much more conservative approach when specing out options on new fire apparatus.

Will we see orders of custom fire trucks take a hit? Possibly, but I don't think that buying commercial chassis fire trucks is for everyone. Refurbing seems to be on the upswing, and the choice of downsizing vehicles for certain departments is also an added possibility.

Upward trend
Ordering a rescue pumper instead of a pumper and a separate heavy rescue vehicle has been an upward trend for the past few years. Doing more with less is becoming almost a necessity with the news of firefighter layoffs and station closures around the country.

Some important questions we need to ask ourselves in the coming year when designing a new vehicle include:

  • Do we really need 2000gpm pumps on all our apparatus?
  • Isn't a single stage pump going to give you enough water, especially if your response area is hydranted, and you don't need the added pressure for high-rise buildings?
  • Do we really need a 500hp diesel engine if your response area is on level ground and only has to respond a few miles?
  • Can you give up an engine and buy a quint if it doesn’t ruin your town's ISO Rating?

These are all questions you will have to ask your department's apparatus committee before you start writing your specs. These comments are only the tip of the iceberg.

Basic warning lights
Start with the basic warning lights that are required by NFPA 1901 — do you really need all of the extras that make the rig look good in a parade? How about hydraulic ladder racks — couldn't you just put the ladder back, low on the officer’s side, making it easy for everyone to reach?

Obviously you can't if you are specing a rescue pumper and you need high side compartments on both sides of the vehicle. But for a basic pumper it might not be a bad idea.

We are also seeing departments going back to the basics with hard wiring and manual gate valves, reducing costs and added maintenance problems.

Hopefully this article offers some food for thought. I bet if you think hard you can really come up with some more cost reductions when you think about what equipment you use and what you really need on your new engine, truck or heavy rescue.

The bottom line is to have your apparatus committee do some proper planning and keep within your budget means when designing your next vehicle.

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