Aerials, Apparatus, Pumpers, Rescues

Evolution of Smaller Apparatus: Making the Switch

Issue 1 and Volume 21.

Jim Peterson   David Wunderlin

Today’s fire departments across the United States and around the world must respond not only to their emergency calls for assistance but also to the challenges in the ever-changing global economy.

Fire departments are continually impacted by budget constraints, and they face such hurdles as reduced staffing, extended vehicle replacement schedules, and station closures, to name a few. Most, if not all, organizations have been through some really trying times in the past few years. As leaders in the fire protection industry, we must consider doing more with less instead of slipping into the somewhat misleading viewpoint of the “new normal.”

1 Many departments have found that the smaller chassis not only are more maneuverable, allowing for an expedited response, but also are more economical in initial purchase cost, fuel, maintenance, and insurance. These smaller chassis are also much safer to operate. (Photos courtesy of Maintainer Custom Bodies.)
1 Many departments have found that the smaller chassis not only are more maneuverable, allowing for an expedited response, but also are more economical in initial purchase cost, fuel, maintenance, and insurance. These smaller chassis are also much safer to operate. (Photos courtesy of Maintainer Custom Bodies.)

One plan of attack of late for increasing efficiency and reducing operational costs is to “downsize response.” This is a call for making a transition from the long-standing approach that “bigger is better.” Historically, we have designed apparatus for “all hazards” response types. Remember the quint? It is now a reality that departments must continually refine their approach to incident response and operations. To make this comprehensive transition, departments need to evaluate their historical data and identify a new strategy for their apparatus requirements, developing designs based on what would characterize the majority of their initial response criteria.

Equipment Needs Evaluation

With this type of process, departments must create a complete evaluation of the equipment they need to carry and how to strategically place that equipment. The initial step is to define the mission and qualify the priorities based on the historical data. Some basic key factors for evaluation include the following:

  • What functions will the new apparatus be required to perform?
  • How many riding positions will need to be accommodated?
  • What kind of terrain is the response area?
  • What style body best lends itself to the overall operation?
  • Does the body style allow access in and out with the equipment required to be carried?

Understandably, departments must be realistic in evaluating their needs. They must determine what is necessary to get the job done, including transporting both personnel and equipment to and from the incident. More times than not, agencies faced with developing a plan to downsize their response arrive at a conclusion that, ultimately, the vast majority of responses can be addressed by a vehicle that is substantially smaller. The trend is to use smaller rescue and quick-attack vehicles for initial response. Many departments have found that the smaller chassis are not only more maneuverable, allowing for an expedited response, but also more economical in initial purchase cost, fuel, maintenance, and insurance. These smaller chassis are also much safer to operate.

2 For the rescue environment, the “walk-around” style body offers the most flexibility and the greatest amount of usable space. In addition to this style, if the body is configured to have at least two transverse areas, it will offer a layout to accommodate larger, bulkier rescue components.
2 For the rescue environment, the “walk-around” style body offers the most flexibility and the greatest amount of usable space. In addition to this style, if the body is configured to have at least two transverse areas, it will offer a layout to accommodate larger, bulkier rescue components.

A number of agencies have found that they can use smaller to midrange chassis-like the Dodge 5500 or the Ford F550 series chassis-as the basis in this transitional process. Many small chassis manufacturers have found the need to provide additional options to tailor their products to the requirements of the fire industry. Examples include transmission power takeoff (PTO) ports to support functions such as hydraulic winches and generators. Also, most now offer options with increased electrical system capacities such as dual batteries and dual alternators in addition to four-door and four-wheel-drive options.

Of course, one initial limitation is the gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs) of the chassis, but most have found that they are more than adequate to fit the format of the vehicle for the downsized response. When considering the overall format of the apparatus body, combining functions and the configurations of the compartments are truly the keys. When considering the options for locating equipment, there are a multitude of innovative features that can be incorporated into compartment designs.

Compartment Layouts

For the rescue environment, the “walk-around” style body offers the most flexibility and the greatest amount of usable space. In addition to this style, if the body is configured to have at least two transverse areas, it will offer a layout to accommodate larger, bulkier rescue components like vehicle stabilization kits or shoring components. Larger items like breathing air cylinders can often be located in a recessed area of the roof or upper coffin-style compartments.

3 When considering the options for locating equipment, there are a multitude of innovative features that can be incorporated into compartment designs.
3 When considering the options for locating equipment, there are a multitude of innovative features that can be incorporated into compartment designs.

As for individual compartments, departments can adopt a varying array of adjustable trays and shelving options that can be used to maximize storage. These include fixed or adjustable standard pull-out design, dual-direction roll-outs for transverse areas, and roll-out tilt-down models for upper areas. You will also see many optimum styles of slide-out tool boards and vertically hinged swing-out tool boards.

Special compartmentation can be incorporated for specialty items such as self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinders, lifting bags, rescue tools, stokes baskets, and backboards. Recent developments can allow a department to use battery-powered rescue tools that are much easier to store than conventional hydraulically powered tool systems. Ultimately, a department can choose to combine power resources that incorporate a hydraulic generator and rescue tool hydraulic pump, which can operate multiple tools simultaneously and off of a single PTO drive.

The Benefits

In the long run, once a department has put forth the effort to downsize its response, it will be able to reap an entire group of benefits including, but not limited to, a safer expedited response and more cost-efficient operation and maintenance. The small to midsize chassis is safer to operate, in general, because of the ease of entering and exiting the vehicle. The firefighter is faced with less need to operate above the ground on these vehicles, which leads to fewer strains and sprains, a leading injury to firefighters. In many cases, the savings of transitioning to a smaller vehicle have allowed fire departments to add more vehicles to a fleet of similar design, in turn allowing expanded capabilities for multiple responses.

4 As for individual compartments, departments can adopt a varying array of adjustable trays and shelving options that can be used to maximize storage. These include fixed or adjustable standard pull-out design, dual-direction roll-outs for transverse areas, and roll-out tilt-down models for upper areas
4 As for individual compartments, departments can adopt a varying array of adjustable trays and shelving options that can be used to maximize storage. These include fixed or adjustable standard pull-out design, dual-direction roll-outs for transverse areas, and roll-out tilt-down models for upper areas.

With adequate planning and extensive brainstorming, you can store a large cache of equipment in an organized and orderly fashion. In this transition to smaller apparatus, the only limitations are those in a department’s imagination.

DAVID WUNDERLIN is a veteran of the fire service, as a firefighter, a training officer, and currently a director with the Redings Mill (MO) Fire Protection District. He has an associate of arts degree in fire science and an associate of applied science in communications technology. He is a past adjunct faculty member for the University of Missouri, Fire & Rescue Training Institute, Columbia, Missouri, and has certificates for Firefighter I and II, Fire Investigator, and Fire Instructor I and II. He was previously a firefighter candidate evaluator for the Missouri Division of Public Safety. Wunderlin is the sales manager for Maintainer Custom Bodies.