Aerials, Apparatus, Pumpers

Squeezing Apparatus into Old Firehouses

Issue 11 and Volume 17.

Alan M. Petrillo

There are a lot of fire departments around the country that have to house new fire apparatus in old fire stations that may have height, width, or length restrictions. Some old stations even have landmark status and cannot be easily altered or expanded to fit the new apparatus.

In cases where the fire station doorway may be just a bit too tight or the bay floor may not be as long as desired, manufacturers have to get creative to squeeze their new apparatus into tight spaces.

(1) The Ellsworth (ME) Fire Department chose Spartan ERV and Smeal
Fire Apparatus to build a 75-foot aerial quint with a height of less than
11 feet to clear beams running inside the station that limited clearance.
(Photo courtesy of Ellsworth Fire Department.)

Narrowing Down

Tim Smits, senior manager for national sales and product support at Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says Pierce has had to do a lot of unique things with apparatus when working with departments that have smaller, older stations.

“Very often it’s a height issue, either with the doorway or with low-hanging beams or equipment in the bay,” Smits says, “but sometimes we run into a width issue too.” He cites a heavy duty rescue that Pierce recently built for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) as an example of a width issue. “The heavy duty rescue had to go into a tight older firehouse, so we built it on our Arrow XT chassis that’s 94 inches wide,” Smits points out. “Our 96- and 100-inch-wide cabs wouldn’t fit in that older station.”

Although cabs can be customized for width, Smits notes, it’s difficult for manufacturers to shave too much space in that area without impacting the driver or officer areas. “Instead we can save some width by installing recessed handrails and rubber fenderettes that have more give than chrome fenders if they rub against a building or doorway,” he says.

(2) The St. Paul (MN) Fire Department bought two E-ONE H-100 aerial
ladders in low-height versions because of door height restrictions on their
(Photo courtesy of E-ONE.)

Aerial Challenges

For departments dealing with various height issues, aerials seem to be the vehicles that need the most attention.

Joe Hedges, product manager for aerials and chassis at E-ONE, says the most difficult adjustments for fitting apparatus into firehouses are when building aerials. “It’s not only the old firehouses that are a problem,” Hedges points out. “Bridges and viaducts also can be problems in terms of height. Cities keep paving over roads and what was once an 11-foot, four-inch-high clearance might now be down to 11 feet, one inch.”

Hedges says E-ONE’s Hurricane chassis is built in a 10-foot, eight-inch travel height range, while the low-travel-height Cyclone II cab allows E-ONE to meet the height restrictions of most fire departments by dropping three inches. “The St. Paul (MN) Fire Department recently bought two HP-100 ladders that were low-height models because of station door heights, and the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department bought a group of CR-100 and CR-95 aerial platforms with 80-inch stretch cabs and a trough in the roof that allowed us to lower the travel height by three inches,” Hedges says.

He notes that the St. Paul situation was complicated by 12-foot-high doors with station ramps having a five degree or more angle of departure.

Additionally, the Boston (MA) Fire Department bought an E-ONE Cyclone stretch cab with a deep notch for the ladder, Hedges says, getting the apparatus down to 10 feet, 10 inches high, but there was no waterway on the aerial. The Ramsey (NY) Fire Department chose an HP-95 midmount platform without a pump or water tank to go into an older station.

Hedges points out that E-ONE’s HP-75 and HP-78 rear-mount ladders can drop four inches by making a cab alteration. “In working with a customer on lowering an apparatus to get into an historic firehouse, you have to make compromises,” Hedges notes. “You lose available space for components, so you have to determine where to minimize the reduction in space, whether in compartments, the hosebed, or elsewhere.”

(3) KME customized the rear end of a tractor-drawn
aerial it built for the Reading (PA) Fire Department to
allow personnel to walk behind the vehicle when it is
parked in the station. Without the truncation of the
body, the rear of the unit would have butted up against
the rear station wall, blocking access behind it.
(Photo courtesy of KME.)

The Midmount Route

Scott Oyen, vice president of sales for Rosenbauer, says midmount aerials are popular in lower height applications. “They’re not as restricted in height because the ladder doesn’t have to get over the cab in the nested position,” Oyen says. “So, the midmount’s overall height is lower than that of a rear-mount, but it adds approximately 10 to 12 feet to the length. But, you can add a section to the ladder to shorten the vehicle’s length in that case.”

Rosenbauer recently built a 100-foot midmount platform for the Cortland (NY) Fire Department, says Mike McLaughlin of Empire Emergency Apparatus Inc. “The fire department had a door height issue and also problems with interior overhead beams,” McLaughlin says. “There also were weight limitations on the truck. This new aerial was going into Cortland’s main station, which is believed to be the oldest operating firehouse in New York State.”

McLaughlin says Rosenbauer got the midmount’s height down to 10 feet, three inches and its weight to an 83,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The all stainless steel aerial carries a five-section ladder, a 2,000-gpm pump, and a 300-gallon water tank.

Beyond Door Height

Ken Creese, director of sales and marketing for Sutphen Corp., notes that although his firm only builds midmount aerials, it still has run into some interesting challenges in building low-height vehicles. “Typically we run into firehouses that were built 80 to 100 years ago; have 10-foot or 10-foot, five-inch doors; or have other obstructions on the ceiling,” Creese says. “We also see examples where the apron isn’t flat so it shoots the truck up at an angle when backing into the firehouse.”

Creese notes that a midmount manufacturer starts off with an advantage with the height issue because the boom is not on top of the cab, allowing a lower profile to the apparatus. “However, we have designed some lower profile machines where we changed the orientation of the bucket to sit lower and lowered the turntable assembly,” Creese says. “We have made tandem-axle, five-section 100-foot aerial ladders that are nine feet, 9¾ inches in height, and our 75-foot, four-section, single-axle aerial is under 10 feet.”

Sutphen also makes a 70-foot aerial platform on a single axle with an overall height of less than 10 feet. Called the Low Profile 70, it carries a climbing ladder on it but has a turntable assembly that is designed to sit low on the vehicle.

Creese points out that some departments like to buy aerial platforms without climbing ladders attached to the aerial. “If you take the climbing ladder off of an aerial platform device, you can get the vehicle’s overall height down to around 10 feet,” Creese says. “With the ladder, it’s about 11 feet, four inches.”

Creese notes that both the Syracuse (NY) Fire Department and the Hartford (CT) Fire Department use aerial platforms that don’t have climbing ladders.

Single-Axle Advantage

Richard Peck of New England Fire Equipment and Apparatus says the Ellsworth (ME) Fire Department approached him about replacing a low-profile aerial. “Its firehouse has 12-foot doors, but there are two beams running inside the station that bring the clearance down to less than 11 feet,” Peck says. “Also, the station has three 1950s-era double-deep bays that are holding six fire trucks, so there was a severe length restriction too.”

The Ellsworth truck committee got together with Peck, Spartan ERV, and Smeal Fire Apparatus to produce a Smeal 75-foot quint aerial with a 1,500-gpm Hale CAFSPro pump and 400-gallon water tank that came in at a 10 feet, nine inches high.

Richard Tupper, Ellsworth’s chief, says by dropping its specs to a 75-foot aerial instead of a 100-footer, the department was able to put the vehicle on a single axle, which helps getting it into the door. “The geometry of it allows us to get it into much tighter spaces, so we’re using it in more applications than our previous aerial,” Tupper says. “The fire service tends to look at apparatus as bigger and better, but when you get too big you can’t get the apparatus into someone’s driveway.”

Josh Fullerton, Spartan Chassis sales supervisor, notes the Ellsworth quint is built on a Gladiator chassis, where a dropped cab can sit 1½ inches lower on the frame. The Gladiator trench (or notch) option can lower the aerial either three or six inches, he says.

Combination of Features

Phil Gerace, director of sales and marketing for KME, says his company can offer numerous travel height options on its aerials and also some of the shortest wheelbases in the fire service because of KME’s compact pump houses, custom chassis, and range of cab length options.

Gerace says KME recently built a pumper for the New Haven (VT) Fire Department that required a low overall height, so KME custom constructed a light bar to fit under the vehicle’s sun visor. For the United States Air Force, KME built a top-mount pumper with a very short wheelbase because of short turning radius requirements around the missile silos it protects.

For the Reading (PA) Fire Department, the tractor drawn aerial KME was building would have blocked the walkway when it was parked in the station, so KME stopped the body before the end of the tiller, allowing personnel to get past the truck in the station by walking under the tiller cab.

Gerace says that besides old firehouses with tight doors and lengths, other factors limiting apparatus size include low bridges, railroad overpasses, covered bridges, narrow streets, and beams within fire stations. “KME addresses these sorts of issues with combination vehicles like our PRO series pumpers that combine a full pumper and heavy rescue into one unit,” Gerace notes. “The body includes up to 580 cubic feet of compartmentation, and our short 176-inch wheelbase provides for a highly maneuverable turning radius. The unit includes a 1,000-gallon water tank and a 2,000-gpm pump.”

Station Depth

Paul Christiansen, marketing director of Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says Ferrara can get a rear-mount aerial ladder down to 10 feet, four inches high on either an Inferno Igniter or an Ultra chassis. “We offer a three-inch trench in the cab roof on the Ultra and both a three-inch and eight-inch trench on the Inferno,” Christiansen says.

Although low-height issues are common in old firehouses around the country, and especially in the Northeast, Christiansen notes that some of them also have length issues. “Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has issues like that,” he says. “Ferrara built a number of 100-foot aerial ladders on Ultra chassis for FDNY that were less than 40 feet in overall length and 10 feet, 10 inches in overall height. And, the FDNY trucks were not even on a low-profile cab; we could have taken it down three more inches.”

Christiansen says Ferrara recently delivered two low-profile aerials at 10 feet, four inches high-a 102-foot aerial ladder to the South Orange (NJ) Fire Department and a 77-foot aerial ladder to the Islip (NY) Fire Department.

(4) Pierce Manufacturing Co. built this low profile pumper for the
Violet Township (OH) Fire Department because of low height
station issues. Note the light bar on the brow of the pumper.
(Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)

Other Options

Smits points out that roof notches for aerials are only one of the ways to lower a vehicle’s height. “We can lower the turntable structure height by lowering the torque boxes that support the turntable and ladder,” Smits says, “and we can play with different suspensions and use low-profile tires to drop the aerial’s height. It’s all a matter of inches. But with a four-inch roof notch, low-profile tires, a different suspension, and a lower turntable, we can get down six or seven inches, which can make a big difference in getting an aerial into an old station.”

Smits notes that Pierce recently sold an Arrow XT midmount ladder and midmount platform to the Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department with overall heights of nine feet, 10 inches to allow the department to squeeze them into two older stations that have 10-foot-high doors.

He notes that some old stations also have arched doorways, which can cause problems when the aerial’s turntable tries to fit into the space. “Because the aerial turntable console is upright, we’ve had to put a 45-degree notch on some of them to get them past an old station’s doorway arch,” Smits says. “And while aerials tend to be the biggest problem in fitting into old fire stations, some pumpers have problems too. To solve those issues, we’ve made flat-roof pumpers with no light bars or air conditioning units on top by putting the warning light bar on the brow of the vehicle.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.