Aerials, Apparatus, Petrillo, Pumpers, Rescues

Apparatus Cabs Offer More Functional Space for Firefighters

Issue 9 and Volume 21.

By Alan M. Petrillo

Fire apparatus makers have found ways to make the space in apparatus cabs more functional-from the driver and officer cab area to the extended cab where firefighters ride and additional gear is stored.

Besides the roominess of wide-body cabs, manufacturers are putting in custom cabinetry, seating, and ancillary equipment to create a more functional work space for firefighters on the way to a call.

1 The officer area in a pumper built for the Buffalo (MN) Department by CustomFIRE inside a Spartan cab shows the accommodations made for a mobile data terminal, where the cut-away dash can accept a laptop or iPad that can be swung away from the front of the seat. (Photo courtesy of CustomFIRE
1 The officer area in a pumper built for the Buffalo (MN) Department by CustomFIRE inside a Spartan cab shows the accommodations made for a mobile data terminal, where the cut-away dash can accept a laptop or iPad that can be swung away from the front of the seat. (Photo courtesy of CustomFIRE.)

Wayde Kirvida, sales engineer for CustomFIRE, says the crew cab area of fire apparatus has been getting more and more attention from department apparatus committees. “They are paying more attention to the needs of the firefighters who have to use that space,” Kirvida says. “We just completed a prebuild meeting on a truck for the Duluth (MN) Fire Department, where things on their list include air ride seats in the crew cab; cup holders; and space for the equipment they use daily, like emergency medical services (EMS) gloves, gas monitors, thermal imaging cameras, irons, 12-volt receptacles, and USB ports.”

Bruce Nalesnik, chassis group product manager for KME, calls design of crew cabs an issue of functional space instead of simply space for firefighters. “The past 10 years have seen an explosion in new cab designs, where potential storage areas are making use of every possible space that firefighters can think of,” he points out.

Seating

The number of seats typically found in a medium four-door cab (six seats) and a long four-door cab (eight to 10 seats) is changing too, Nalesnik says. “Now, departments are only putting four seats in a cab and putting compartmentation in the other areas to handle additional equipment and items firefighters are carrying,” he notes. “They want quick and easy access to that equipment, so we’re putting compartments under the front and rear crew seats and in the cab step-well areas and replacing rear-facing jump seats with EMS cabinets.”

Trapper Meadors, sales engineer for Precision Fire Apparatus, says he’s seen a change in seating trends in crew cabs. “We’re seeing either one rear-facing and four forward-facing on the back wall or three on the back wall with the other seat spaces taken up by EMS or other cabinets,” Meadors says. “We also outfitted a cab with a work desk in the rear-facing seating position, with a cabinet in front and charging stations across its top.”

2 KME customized the interior of this cab for the Warren City (OH) Fire Department along the cab’s back wall with two vertical cabinets and one horizontal cabinet under the two forward-facing seats. (Photo courtesy of KME
2 KME customized the interior of this cab for the Warren City (OH) Fire Department along the cab’s back wall with two vertical cabinets and one horizontal cabinet under the two forward-facing seats. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

Bob Sorensen, vice president of SVI Trucks, says that he’s seen a mini trend toward limiting the number of seats in the crew cab and installing what amounts to office or command space with what’s left. “We’ve done a number of these kinds of setups where a cab that seats four firefighters with two rear-facing seats in the crew area is also set up with what can be called a command area,” Sorensen says. “The back of the cab might have a built-in desk with a communications setup that has a couple of forward-facing seats behind it. If the desk faces to the back, we’ve even built full-height cabinets outboard of it, which can be made lockable-especially if the department is putting medical gear in the cabinets.”

Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, agrees that more departments are putting command areas in apparatus cabs. “We can take the inside of a custom cab and, depending on how big they want it, transform the space into an office or command area instead of seating area,” Messmer says. “The air conditioning, heating, and communications are already in that area. Usually the rear-facing seats stay, but the back wall is where the command table or tray is located, usually a pull-out table or slide-out.” The back of the cab also is available for storage cabinets, he adds.

Cab Size Influences

Pierce Manufacturing makes seven different cabs and chassis, with different heights depending on the model. John Schultz, director of custom chassis products for Pierce, says heights range from flat roof to raised cabs 10 to 24 inches higher. “In our Velocity and Impel cab and chassis models, we’ve introduced the forward roof (FR) variant,” Schultz says. “We’ve moved the raised roof farther forward in the vehicle to maximize space, which allows cabinets in the front part of the crew cab, giving more space for the rear-seat- facing occupants.”

Schultz adds that Pierce “also is having engine-specific doghouses (engine tunnels) that are not ‘one size fits all.’ The doghouse is specially built for the engine installed in the vehicle where we have small and medium block applications tapered closer to the floor in the crew cab area to give greater visibility and added volume of space for storage.”

Jeff Seal, OEM account manager at Spartan Motors, says federal emissions regulations in 2007 and 2010 “put a huge damper on space inside cabs, meaning all the major custom builders went from 94- and 96-inch-width cabs up to 100 inches. They had to make the cab wider to keep the usable space inside the cab.”

3 Inside this Pierce crew cab are two storage compartments, one on each side of the engine doghouse, covered by nylon netting to keep the equipment secure. The compartments are built in the location of rear-facing seats. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc
3 Inside this Pierce crew cab are two storage compartments, one on each side of the engine doghouse, covered by nylon netting to keep the equipment secure. The compartments are built in the location of rear-facing seats. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Spartan’s Gladiator cab is available in widths up to 99 inches, Seal points out, and now is available with a smaller engine tunnel that allows more hip and leg room for the driver and officer, as well as leg room for the crew. Spartan’s raised roof cab starts forward of the officer’s headroom area, Seal notes, which helps with entering and exiting the vehicle.

Engine position is critical to crew area space, Seal maintains. “We like to set our engines farther forward of the front axle and lower in the chassis,” he says. “It allows us to use a wider front axle and larger tires, which gives a tighter turning radius; makes the ride in the cab quieter; and, in the event of a traffic accident, you have the engine in front of you for greater protection.”

Seal says that Spartan’s Gladiator chassis is its most popular overall, although the 94-inch-wide Metro Star cab is the most popular in pumper applications. Spartan offers 10 raised-roof sizes on all of its cab and chassis models.

Cabinetry

EMS cabinetry continues to grow in overall usage, Schultz points out. “There is a lot of variety in EMS cabinets,” he says. “They can be fixed cabinets that take the place of a seat and even have secondary doors on the outside of the vehicle for dual access. Usually they are at the back of the cab area or between the driver and crew cab doors, but we also have done flat transverse compartments underneath the rear wall crew cab seats.”

Schultz says that many departments are turning to mesh netting to cover their inside cab compartments instead of roll-up or other types of doors. “It makes the compartment more visual so they can see what’s inside, and the mesh netting doesn’t take up additional space,” he adds.

For a specialized hazmat truck, Meadors says that Precision built cabinets in the cab that hinge into the ceiling. “They are 14 inches high, so they can hold the reference binders they use,” he says, “and are located on the back wall and also above the two rear-facing seats.”

Summit installs a lot of overhead cabinetry in fire apparatus, Messmer notes. “We’re putting them in all types of vehicles, even pumpers,” he says. “Almost every truck we build gets a binder holder of some type, and many get the overhead cabinets too.”

4 SVI Trucks built in a slide-out desk, space for monitors and communications gear, electrical outlets, and two floor-to-roof cabinets covered by roll-up doors inside this apparatus cab. (Photo courtesy of SVI Trucks
4 SVI Trucks built in a slide-out desk, space for monitors and communications gear, electrical outlets, and two floor-to-roof cabinets covered by roll-up doors inside this apparatus cab. (Photo courtesy of SVI Trucks.)

Rich Suche, president of Fort Garry Fire Trucks, thinks that departments are removing irons and other tools from crew cabs and replacing them with medical cabinets. “We put in a lot of EMS cabinets,” he says. “And, generally it makes for a cleaner cab with no equipment mounted and everything in cabinets.”

Fort Garry designs EMS cabinets to hold defibrillators, oxygen equipment, medical bags, suction equipment, and even refrigerators for drugs that need to be kept cold, Suche says, although most refrigerators end up on rescues and rescue-pumpers rather than other kinds of vehicles. “The raised-roof cabs often will have overhead storage cabinets,” he adds. “We’ll build in cabinets wherever there’s room.”

James Maddy, engineering project manager for Sutphen Corp., says the most popular cab Sutphen’s customers have chosen is its 10-inch raised roof custom model. “At a preconstruction meeting, we’ll lay out the cab model and have the department members bring the equipment they want to store in the cab so we can design the cabinets around their needs,” Maddy says. “Most of the custom cabinets we build are for EMS, and we’ll do them in any shape or size as long as they don’t violate the structural integrity of the cab.”

Sutphen has built custom crew seat compartments, Maddy says, closed either by netting secured by hook-and-loop fasteners or aluminum doors. “On our 73-inch cab, we offer compartments behind the rear crew doors that are accessible from inside and outside the cab,” he notes. “They can be an EMS cabinet or for any other type of ready-use equipment.”

More Cab Functionality

Nalesnik says that KME also is custom forming air-conditioning shrouds inside cabs to allow more headroom and also provide more usable space. “That area in front of the driver and officer is being opened up, allowing for larger control screens that can eliminate a bank of switches on the dash,” he says. “We can put climate controls in the touch screens too, which frees up more space instead of using knobs.”

Sutphen also offers a range of coatings inside cabs (as do many other manufacturers). “We offer a couple of different coatings, Maddy says, “like Scorpion, Rhino Linings®, and LINE-X®, which are very durable, rough finishes and able to take an impact.” The coatings also are available on cabinetry as well, he adds.

5 Sutphen Corp. built this overhead storage compartment covered by nylon netting above the rear-facing seats in this pumper’s cab. (Photo courtesy of Sutphen Corp
5 Sutphen Corp. built this overhead storage compartment covered by nylon netting above the rear-facing seats in this pumper’s cab. (Photo courtesy of Sutphen Corp.)

Kirvida points out that stowing helmets “continues to be a hassle. Many firefighters hate the helmet holders, so one solution is to put them in a compartment inside the crew cab instead of in a bracket.”

Nalesnik believes that electronics are the major element changing the face of fire truck interiors. “We have gone to multiplexing as standard across the board for our vehicles,” he says. “It greatly reduces the complexity of cabs in terms of the number of switches and knobs and allows us to install screens that can be either button- or touch-controlled.”

Messmer observes, “The interior of fire apparatus cabs are a different world today.”

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.