Aerials, Apparatus, Petrillo, Pumpers, Rescues

Fire Apparatus – United States vs. Europe

Issue 6 and Volume 21.

Take a look at a pumper or aerial in the United States, then look at a similar vehicle in the United Kingdom or a European country. As the French say, “Vive la différence,” an expression of approval meaning, “Long live the difference.”

Those differences in structural firefighting apparatus go well beyond the outward appearance of the vehicles and reflect differences in the geography of the areas covered, the types of structures protected, street layouts, firefighting tactics, and a host of other issues.

1 A typical pumper in Europe is built on a commercial chassis and has high compartmentation with highly organized interior spaces. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)
1 A typical pumper in Europe is built on a commercial chassis and has high compartmentation with highly organized interior spaces. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Size Influences

Sam Itani, vice president of international and government sales for E-ONE, says that in Europe fire apparatus are more compact than comparable vehicles in North America. “The European apparatus is shorter, narrower, and tighter in design than what we see here,” Itani says. “In the United States, we usually have larger, wider roads and highways, so we don’t need the tighter designs in most cases.”

The structures and types of buildings in Europe also have an influence on fire apparatus, Itani points out. “European lifestyle revolves around major cities, while their suburbia is an extension of the city,” he says. “There are a lot of narrow streets in their cities, many of them one way. And with the different building construction, they have to design vehicles to go into narrow, congested areas, yet still allow firefighters access to the tools and hoses on their trucks.”

2 Pull-out steps are common on European fire apparatus to allow easy access to the top of compartments on vehicles. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc
2 Pull-out steps are common on European fire apparatus to allow easy access to the top of compartments on vehicles. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Lisa Barwick, director of business development and product management for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., agrees that because of the infrastructure of European cities, their fire apparatus have to be smaller and more agile. “The roads and streets are much narrower over there,” Barwick says, “so their apparatus, especially their engines, are much smaller than those over here. They also tend to use more commercial chassis, like MAN and Mercedes, rather than custom chassis.”

She adds, “While some Northeastern cities in the U.S. have low overall height and length restrictions and tight streets that might require smaller, more maneuverable apparatus, usually in North America everything seems to be on a grander scale because we have the room, as well as the types of our buildings, and much wider streets.”

Custom vs. Commercial

Dave Reichman, national sales manager for Rosenbauer, says the apparatus chassis is the most noticeable difference between the United States and Europe. “In the States, we’ve seen a huge increase in the use of custom chassis,” Reichman says. “In the last two to three years, 75 to 80 percent of our chassis are custom, while in Europe, about 95 percent of chassis are commercial. MAN, Mercedes, and Volvo are what they build on over there.”

And while European pumpers may be built on commercial chassis, they still can carry a lot of firefighters, Reichman notes. “Depending on the fire department, they could have up to nine firefighters on a first-due pumper,” he says. “Up front, in the commercial cab, are the driver and officer, and the back part of the body has seats for firefighters but usually without any provision for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).”

3 This custom chassis pumper, built by Pierce Manufacturing Inc. for the Midlothian (TX) Fire Department, illustrates the size differences between U.S. and European pumpers, as well as the compartmentation differences. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)
3 This custom chassis pumper, built by Pierce Manufacturing Inc. for the Midlothian (TX) Fire Department, illustrates the size differences between U.S. and European pumpers, as well as the compartmentation differences. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Reichman adds that in Europe, and especially in Germany, fire trucks are very job-specific. “The first due is a pumper, the second is an aerial, and the third due is another pumper that feeds the aerial,” he says. “Most aerials in Europe don’t carry pumps or water tanks, so they need a pumper behind them to provide a water source for a master stream if that’s what they need.”

That said, Barwick adds that engines in Europe often serve as multipurpose units. “The amount of equipment they put on their engines is impressive,” she says. “They usually are a blend of an engine and a rescue and will carry search and rescue as well as hazardous materials equipment in addition to their fire suppression equipment.”

Compartmentation

Dave Rider, director of global product management for Smeal Fire Apparatus, says that a typical European pumper has higher compartments than those in the United States. “The Europeans love having gadgets on their trucks, like fold-down steps so they can reach the top compartments, and the manner in which they handle their ladder racks, which are high up on the body of the vehicle,” Rider says. “They also use removable pod systems where a hook-lift truck carries a pod that might be set up for hazardous materials, collapse rescue, command, a pumping system, or as a canteen. The European approach is very compartmentalized.”

4 Rear-mount pumps are common on European pumpers, but some U.S. fire departments choose a rear-mount to fit their specific needs, such as this rear-mount pumper on a custom chassis built by Rosenbauer for the Junction City (KS) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer
4 Rear-mount pumps are common on European pumpers, but some U.S. fire departments choose a rear-mount to fit their specific needs, such as this rear-mount pumper on a custom chassis built by Rosenbauer for the Junction City (KS) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

“Their vehicle bodies look like California Closets, where they use every inch of their high-compartment truck bodies,” Barwick adds. “Their compartments have slots for hose coils because they don’t have traditional hosebeds like you see in the U.S., and everything is very organized with drawers, shelves, and pull-outs.”

Aerial Trucks

Rider notes that very few aerials in Europe have pumps and water tanks on them. “Their aerials are centered around rescue and not water flow or fire suppression,” he says. “Many European aerials don’t have fixed waterways, although most of them have a basket or small platform that can take firefighters up and victims down. They also tend to use straight ladders a lot as well as articulating platforms.”

Barwick says that most of the European aerials she has seen are smaller than their U.S. counterparts. “Europe keeps its aerial units quite small, likely because of the street limitations and the building heights and construction,” she says, “and are used mostly as a ladder for rescue. In the U.S., we put a lot of equipment on our aerials that is used for fire suppression up high, rescue, and ventilation, which is why U.S. aerials are so much larger, longer, heavier, and often on tandem rear axles.”

5 Straight-stick aerials with a rescue basket on the tip, which often can be raised and lowered separately from the ladder itself, are the norm for European aerials, which are tasked chiefly with rescue. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc
5 Straight-stick aerials with a rescue basket on the tip, which often can be raised and lowered separately from the ladder itself, are the norm for European aerials, which are tasked chiefly with rescue. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Itani agrees on the basic difference between European and U.S. aerials. “Aerials in Europe are used mostly for rescue and not fire suppression,” he says. “And because of the high-rise buildings in narrow streets, you see smaller, more compact aerials and more articulating platforms in Europe than we use in the U.S.”

The cabs on aerials in the U.S. are much bigger than those in Europe, Barwick adds. “In the U.S., we’ll see an average of six firefighters carried in an aerial, while in Europe, it might only be two or three firefighters.”

Pumpers

Reichman says that the Europeans carry very little large-diameter hose on their fire vehicles. “Typically they use a three-inch supply line to connect to hydrants,” he says. “Their hose is stored in coils in metal cages that are compactly stored in an engine’s compartments. You won’t see any preconnected crosslays, speedlays, or 2½-inch preconnects off the back of a pumper in Europe.”

In Europe, a large pump on an engine would be in the 1,000-gallon-per-minute (gpm) range, Reichman notes. “The typical pump on the average European pumper is about 500 gpm,” he says, “which helps make for a lighter vehicle. Water tanks on European pumpers are in the 300- to 500-gallon range, compared to a typical 750- to 1,000-gallon range in the United States.”

6 Straight-stick aerials, such as this Eureka Springs (AR) Fire Department rig built by Pierce Manufacturing Inc., are typically shorter than their European counterparts but are tasked with more jobs, such as ventilation, rescue, and high fire suppression. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)
6 Straight-stick aerials, such as this Eureka Springs (AR) Fire Department rig built by Pierce Manufacturing Inc., are typically shorter than their European counterparts but are tasked with more jobs, such as ventilation, rescue, and high fire suppression. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Itani says the location of the pump on European pumpers also is different than that seen commonly in the United States. “They will mount the pump at the rear and then put the controls at the back of the vehicle on one side or another,” he says, “so they have a good view of the scene. You don’t see a lot of midship, side-mounted pumps in Europe.”

Europeans also tend to use rear-mount pumps on their engines, Barwick notes. “That’s very different than in the U.S.,” she observes.

In addition, European pumpers tend to be lighter than their U.S. cousins, Reichman points out. “In Europe, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) on pumpers is in the 30,000- to 36,000-pound range,” he says, “compared with 40,000 to 45,000 and even 47,000 pounds in the United States.”

7 While articulated boom platforms are used widely in Europe, they also are popular with some North American fire departments, such as this 115-foot T-Rex built by Rosenbauer for Guelph (Ontario, Canada) Fire and Rescue. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer
7 While articulated boom platforms are used widely in Europe, they also are popular with some North American fire departments, such as this 115-foot T-Rex built by Rosenbauer for Guelph (Ontario, Canada) Fire and Rescue. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist 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.