A rescue truck is a big box that carries equipment to an incident, and it can be called by nearly a dozen different names. In most cases it's extremely difficult to determine exactly what its purpose is just by looking at it.
By my count, there are 11 different names that could be attached to these "boxes on wheels." They are, heavy rescues, medium rescues, light rescues, air and light trucks, command posts, hazmat units, rescue pumpers, walk-in rescues, ladder tenders, rescue-ambulances and squads.
Some 50 years ago, a rescue truck in an East Coast volunteer department was a hand-me-down bread truck or maybe a one-ton panel truck with some interior shelving and compartments. Equipment was limited and usually thrown into any space that was convenient. One of my departments even had a small, locked compartment that was used to store whiskey - strictly for medicinal purposes of course.
Today, some very sophisticated rescue trucks cost as much, or more, than a 100-foot quint and take longer to build. Satellite/TV uplinks and downloads, cell phones, faxes, light towers, cameras on extendable poles, military-like communications and tactical displays are available and are being specified, particularly when being funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
Some apparatus builders have done very well at designing and constructing the whole unit, while others are building the box and sending the unit to an electronic specialty house for the interior wiring and trim.
Through this column, I'd like to help departments better understand these rigs. The first step is to determine how many tasks will be required of the unit and what they are. That's a good first step, and departments need to remember they need to be realistic.
For instance, departments that want to carry a large amount of miscellaneous equipment and incorporate a command center as well as an air bottle refill system should be prepared to have a big truck and an expensive bill.
On the other hand, a light rescue, designed to carry a minimum amount of equipment on an F550 Ford, can most often be purchased for less than $100,000.
Rescues are special vehicles and before purchases are made departments should consult with several apparatus builders that have been designing and constructing rescues for at least a few years. The builders have the advantage of having engineered previous units - which will save you many hours and dollars, provided you take their advice.
Don't forget the National Fire Protection Association 1901 Annex B has a questionnaire designed to help fire officials determine what should and should not go on their new rescue apparatus.
And, a word to the wise, when it comes to equipment mounting, let the manufacturer do it. Most manufacturers have the experience to do it right. They know the equipment and where and how to mount it so it's readily available for any incident.
Factory mounting will probably cost about 10 percent of the overall price, but it is well worth it in the long run. So, when the truck is delivered, it's all done and ready to go into service. Those who do the equipment mounting themselves find they may be spending three or four months tinkering, trying to install homemade brackets or jury-rigging brackets to make them work.
The photos accompanying this column illustrate what some of the experienced builders of rescue trucks are producing. Some trucks are super large, and others are very small.
Without a doubt, drafting a spec for a rescue truck - or whatever you choose to call it - is the most difficult of any apparatus. Don't be afraid to seek help and keep your main objectives in mind.
It's oh so very easy to add on additional duties for the rig, and all of a sudden the cost and size are well beyond your original expectations.