Apparatus, Petrillo, Rescues

Traditional Rescue Trucks Remain Popular with Fire Departments

Issue 2 and Volume 22.

By Alan M. Petrillo

The rescue-pumper has been around for a number of years and makes up a strong part of many fire department fleets, but some departments remain loyal to traditional medium and heavy rescue trucks-both walk-in and walk-around models.

1 VT Hackney Inc. built this heavy rescue truck on a tandem rear axle for the Madison Township (IN) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of VT Hackney Inc.)
1 VT Hackney Inc. built this heavy rescue truck on a tandem rear axle for the Madison Township (IN) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of VT Hackney Inc.)

Rescue truck manufacturers are continuing to build traditional rescues for departments that want the kind of carrying power that a dedicated rescue allows, from hauling equipment for vehicle extrications to that required by a number of technical rescue disciplines.

Straight Rescue Market

Ed Smith, director of the emergency vehicles group for VT Hackney Inc., says that Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association data for 2015 show 280 apparatus identified as rescues, and that 2016 figures through the third quarter were within two percentage points of 2015. “So, there’s been no growth in the purchase of traditional rescue trucks,” Smith says but notes that “we are still building a good number of big traditional rescues, usually on bodies of 20 to 24 feet long that some states classify as heavy rescues.”

2 The Berea (OH) Southwest Emergency Response Team went to Hackney for this technical rescue rig. (Photo courtesy of VT Hackney Inc.)
2 The Berea (OH) Southwest Emergency Response Team went to Hackney for this technical rescue rig. (Photo courtesy of VT Hackney Inc.)

Smith adds that Hackney’s rescue truck percentages were up during the past year, especially for light-duty vehicles with 10- to 12-foot bodies on Ford F-550 or Dodge Ram 5500 chassis and cabs. “Departments are designating them as rescue companies and also using them as squads to run medical calls,” Smith says. “The next step up is a medium rescue that would also carry air bags and cribbing, and then heavy rescues that carry equipment for structural collapse, trench rescues, and other types of technical rescue, including hazardous materials response.”

Hackney has seen most heavy rescues going to cities with populations of 100,000 or more, Smith points out. “We’re also seeing smaller rural and suburban fire departments buying heavy rescues when they have the specific need and the resources to purchase them.”

3 The East Freehold (NJ) Fire Department chose Rescue 1 to build this tandem-rear-axle traditional walk-around heavy rescue truck. (Photo courtesy of Rescue 1)
3 The East Freehold (NJ) Fire Department chose Rescue 1 to build this tandem-rear-axle traditional walk-around heavy rescue truck. (Photo courtesy of Rescue 1.)

Mike Mildner, rescue sales specialist for E-ONE, believes that rescues have evolved into highly specialized vehicles. “While very large departments might have two or three specialized rescue vehicles, some of them put it all together in a heavy squad that handles technical rescue,” Mildner says. “Usually hazardous materials is on a separate vehicle because if a combo unit that has hazmat on it is out on a rescue call, it would be tied up if it was needed for a true hazmat call.”

Mildner notes that E-ONE has been seeing the use of more combination rescues recently, where a vehicle might have vehicle rescue, specialty rescue, rehab, and dive support functions on it. “We’re also seeing more wet rescues where the main focus of the truck is rescue,” he says, “but they have a small power takeoff (PTO)-driven pump and a couple hundred gallons of water onboard to handle vehicle fires and protection during a rescue.”

4 Weldon Fire Company, in Glenside, Pennsylvania, had Rescue 1 build this walk-in heavy rescue. (Photo courtesy of Weldon Fire Company
4 Weldon Fire Company, in Glenside, Pennsylvania, had Rescue 1 build this walk-in heavy rescue. (Photo courtesy of Weldon Fire Company.)

Need Remains

Mike Marquis, vice president of national sales for Rescue 1, dismisses rescue-pumpers “as a fad to reduce the number of vehicles at a scene” and says that fire departments that want to be in the rescue business need to have a dedicated truck to do so. “There is still a need for large heavy rescues dedicated to multiple tasks such as auto extrication, scene lighting, breathing air systems, rehab, hazmat, and technical rescue,” Marquis says.

Marquis notes that battery operated hydraulic tools are making inroads on rescue trucks, being popular because they are not tethered to the vehicle during a rescue. “All rescues have light towers now, and most are outfitted with LED scene lighting, although some departments still prefer halogen lights,” he says. “We’re also seeing a comeback of walk-in rescues, not for carrying crew in the back but for more like a walk-in equipment closet.”

5 The Atlanta (GA) Fire Department chose KME to build this front-to-back walk-in heavy rescue truck. 6 KME built a crew-cab heavy rescue with a walk-around body for the Pennsville (NJ) Fire Department. (Photos 5-6 courtesy of KME
5 The Atlanta (GA) Fire Department chose KME to build this front-to-back walk-in heavy rescue truck.

Wet rescues are becoming more commonplace, Marquis agrees. “We’re seeing PTO-driven pumps of 250 to 300 gallons per minute with a water tank, a trash line in the front bumper, and maybe a booster reel,” he says. “Also, we are seeing a lot of portable foam systems, like the Trimax that comes in 30-, 60-, and 120-gallon pressurized water tanks. They usually are attached to a single handline, but if they are plumbed for two lines, you have to direct the flow to one or the other. The system makes up to 600 gallons of foam from a 30-gallon tank, working off of onboard air vessels.”

Doug Kelley, product manager for KME, says many departments and county agencies have at least one dedicated rescue vehicle. “Mostly they are walk-around rescues, although in the big cities you’ll typically see walk-in rescues,” Kelley says. “With the walk-around rescues, we’re seeing about 70 percent of the ones we build on single rear axles, probably because they are more maneuverable than tandem-rear-axle trucks.”

5 The Atlanta (GA) Fire Department chose KME to build this front-to-back walk-in heavy rescue truck. 6 KME built a crew-cab heavy rescue with a walk-around body for the Pennsville (NJ) Fire Department. (Photos 5-6 courtesy of KME
6 KME built a crew-cab heavy rescue with a walk-around body for the Pennsville (NJ) Fire Department. (Photos 5-6 courtesy of KME.)

Kelley says KME recently delivered a rescue truck to the Atlanta (GA) Fire Department that’s a walk-in from front to back, while the Pennsville (NJ) Fire Department got a crew-cab rescue with a walk-around body in back. Another walk-in rescue KME built was for the Elmwood Park (NY) Fire Department that has a breathing air fill system on it where bottles can be filled from inside the crew cab.

Specialized Functions

Trapper Meadors, sales engineer for Precision Fire Apparatus, says Precision sees a lot of heavy rescues being built as hazmat trucks. “We just built a rescue platform truck for the Westmoreland County (PA) hazmat team on a Spartan chassis with a Vannair generator/air compressor unit on it that can rapidly build up to 200 pounds per square inch and also generate electricity and lighting on a scene,” Meadors says.

7 Precision Fire Apparatus built this heavy rescue with a rear-mount pump on a single rear axle for the New Haven (PA) Fire Department.
7 Precision Fire Apparatus built this heavy rescue with a rear-mount pump on a single rear axle for the New Haven (PA) Fire Department.

Shane Braun, product manager for rescue products at Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says that rescues are niche products in the fire service-specialized vehicles that often combine several rescue disciplines. “We are selling about 80 percent walk-around rescues to 20 percent walk-ins,” Braun points out. “But no matter what type we build, they are very large toolboxes, often set up with each compartment serving a different function.”

Keeping equipment that’s used most often at ground level is critical in the design of a rescue truck, Braun says. “Many customers want a 20-inch raised roof and then a body profile that extends straight back,” he notes. So, we’ll put in slide-down stairs, a staircase, or a PUC-style ladder at an angle to access the storage on top of the rescue.”

8 The Lake Ozark (MO) Fire Protection District went to Precision Fire Apparatus for this traditional walk-around heavy rescue. (Photos 7-8 courtesy of Precision Fire Apparatus)
8 The Lake Ozark (MO) Fire Protection District went to Precision Fire Apparatus for this traditional walk-around heavy rescue. (Photos 7-8 courtesy of Precision Fire Apparatus.)

Making a Comeback

Michael Cox, vice president of sales for Emergency Vehicles Inc., thinks that rescues have made a comeback in the past year or two. “Some departments are trying to do more with their rescues, combining rescue, command, and hazmat into a single vehicle,” Cox says. If the rescue has a small crew area, like a two-person cab, Cox notes, the vehicle is often a walk-around style. “A lot of them are on custom chassis, but we’re seeing a resurgence of commercial chassis rescues, like on International and Freightliner chassis.”

Todd Nix, apparatus consultant for Unruh Fire, says his company gets a lot of interest in traditional rescue trucks. “A lot of departments want to segregate the individual needs onto one truck,” he says, “such as traditional rescue, water rescue, structural collapse, and trench rescue. We’re building both trucks and trailers to meet those needs.”

9 The Reading Benefit (KS) Fire Department had Unruh Fire build a rescue truck on a Ford F-550 extended cab with a four-wheel-drive chassis. (Photo courtesy of Unruh Fire
9 The Reading Benefit (KS) Fire Department had Unruh Fire build a rescue truck on a Ford F-550 extended cab with a four-wheel-drive chassis. (Photo courtesy of Unruh Fire.)

Nix says Unruh also has seen movement toward lighter duty rescues. “Ford F-550 and Dodge 5500 size rescues with a 12- or 14-foot box on them and a 19,500 gross vehicle weight rating are still popular,” he points out. “They make a huge difference in cost to the fire department too because it might be $100,000 or more for a large chassis and only half that for a smaller one.”

Kevin Arnold, rescue products manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says Ferrara recently built two walk-in rescues for the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department. “There’s a walk-in cab with EMS equipment and a walk-in area at the back with a squad bench and lots of equipment space,” Arnold says. “The vehicle is on a short wheelbase designed for easy maneuverability on San Francisco’s tight streets.”

10 The San Francisco (CA) Fire Department went to Ferrara Fire Apparatus for two walk-in heavy rescue trucks.
10 The San Francisco (CA) Fire Department went to Ferrara Fire Apparatus for two walk-in heavy rescue trucks.

On the opposite side of the coin, Arnold notes Ferrara recently built “a very large walk-around rescue for the Clifford (PA) Fire Department. It’s 46 feet long on a tandem rear axle and has a triple frame rail, 600-horsepower (hp) Cummins engine, and six compartments on each side plus a rear compartment. But, that kind of vehicle is out of the ordinary.”

Bob Sorensen, vice president of SVI Trucks, says SVI recently built a medium duty rescue for Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) Fire and Rescue. “We had built a breathing air support truck for them, and they wanted a technical rescue truck,” Sorensen says. “We built it on an International 4400 two-door chassis and cab with a walk-around body, powered by a 330-hp MaxxForce 9 diesel engine, and having a 30-kW Onan generator, Weldon V-MUX Vista III lights, an 8,000-watt Command Light tower, and OnScene LED compartment lighting and cargo slides.”

11 This very large walk-around rescue was built for the Clifford (PA) Fire Department by Ferrara Fire Apparatus. (Photos 10-11 courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus)
11 This very large walk-around rescue was built for the Clifford (PA) Fire Department by Ferrara Fire Apparatus. (Photos 10-11 courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)

John Cares, owner of Granite Fire Apparatus Inc., the Northeast dealer for 4 Guys Fire Trucks, says he recently delivered a 4 Guys walk-around heavy rescue to the Wilmington (VT) Fire Department. “It’s on a Spartan Metro Star chassis with a 20-inch raised roof on a single rear axle,” he says. “The department wanted a shorter wheelbase because parts of its protection area are rural with tight roads. “We customized the cab for five firefighters and built the cab’s rear wall with a refrigerator and storage compartments made out of stainless steel and aluminum.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and 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.

12 Edmonton (Canada) Fire and Rescue had SVI Trucks build this traditional rescue on an International 4400 two-door chassis and cab. (Photo courtesy of SVI Trucks
12 Edmonton (Canada) Fire and Rescue had SVI Trucks build this traditional rescue on an International 4400 two-door chassis and cab. (Photo courtesy of SVI Trucks.)