By Chris Mc Loone
I recently sat in on a rather spirited but informal truck committee meeting at my fire company-informal because although the group of us will be on an upcoming truck committee, we weren’t in any official decision making capacity at the time, and the committee in its entirety hasn’t been named yet.
It was spirited because we had a number of personalities in the room who had very strong opinions about how our next apparatus should be equipped and how it should be designed. As I looked around the room during one rather loud yet not heated discussion, I began to wonder, Who will be the voice of reason moving forward during this process; who will be the most persuasive; and, frankly, how in the world are we going to get through this?
In some ways, this is uncharted waters for the truck committee. The last truck we built was an engine. We took delivery in 2010. Although it was not a simple process, to my recollection we did not have any of the impassioned debates we are starting to have already. Actually, the other members of the committee may disagree with that, because I really wanted a bell on the engine. And, I know some of us had some convincing to do to get a booster reel on the truck. But, all in all, it was a relatively smooth process. A rescue truck, however, is a whole different animal.
In this month’s FAMA Forum, Bill Proft mentions that a rescue vehicle is an expensive toolbox. Not only that, but a rescue vehicle is probably one of the most heavily customized fire apparatus on the road. The amount of equipment and degree of customization leave a lot of room for debate.
For an engine, there is certain equipment we have to carry per NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. It creates a rather defined starting point. When we were specing our engine, it was relatively simple outside of deciding how many discharges to go with, figuring out the crew cab, and equipment location. NFPA 1901 has no classification for a rescue truck. It falls under the “special service apparatus” heading. The minimum requirements for special service apparatus do not include rescue equipment, which is where our debate begins. It’s pretty hard to build a truck when there isn’t a baseline from which to start.
You might think, “What’s the problem? You have the equipment. Put it on the next truck.” This is where some of the uncharted waters are for us. The entire fire service is being asked to do more with fewer personnel, and in some cases the volunteer fire service isn’t being asked to do so but is being forced to because of declining numbers. We are looking at designing a truck around realities we haven’t had to focus on as of yet. We have to more carefully consider daytime numbers vs. the numbers we get at night to build a truck with equipment that realistically can be deployed by one person. We need to take a closer look than ever at the walk-in and walk-through designs we’ve employed on past rescues and decide whether it’s realistic to expect that we could have up to 13 personnel on the truck. We can pick up a lot of space by reducing the size of the walk-in area at the very least or eliminating it completely.
Data are going to come in handy for this one. It’s not going to stop disagreements over seating, but it’s going to be hard to argue with data that say we staff the truck with X amount of personnel beyond the driver and officer on average. We have the data-one of the benefits of the accreditation process we’ve been going through that I talked about last month.
We purchase our apparatus ourselves, so the truck committee will have to justify the purchase to the general body of the fire company, and the expenditure will come to a vote. Our next rescue truck undoubtedly is going to be a departure from rescue trucks of the past in many ways, and the committee will have to explain the rationale behind many of its decisions. The data we’ve collected regarding the types of rescues to which we respond and the staffing levels on the current truck are going to play an important role in justifying these decisions. Stay tuned. I’m sure this isn’t the last time you’re going to hear about this truck as we move through the process.