Adams, Apparatus, Pumpers

How Have Multipurpose Apparatus Impacted the Fire Service?

Issue 3 and Volume 22.

Editor’s Note: One of the most prevailing trends in fire apparatus design in the past decade has been departments spec’ing rescue-pumpers. Along with rescue-pumpers, quints have become common. There are numerous reasons for departments taking two rigs and combining them into one and myriad opinions. We asked Editorial Advisory Board members Bill Adams and Ricky Riley to give their perspectives on multipurpose apparatus.

Combining two single-function fire apparatus into a single multipurpose rig is not a new concept. The acceptance of motorization in the fire service brought about the creation of the triple combination pumper, combining the steam engine, hose wagon, and chemical wagon into one rig. Unlike today, the staff reduction and elimination of the expense of maintaining horses were results of the concept and not a reason for it. Following the triples were quads, quints, pumper-tankers, rescue-engines, and a multitude of other combinations with various monikers. The benefits of multipurpose apparatus are touted by manufacturers, purchasers, industry experts, and pundits alike. Many are outspoken and make compelling arguments. Most are valid.

Actual and perceived benefits are the driving forces behind multipurpose apparatus acceptance in the fire service. The benefits cannot be viewed objectively from a single perspective. There are too many players and too many variations. Concurrently, the players have equally varied opinions for why they dislike the concept. Career and volunteer firefighters, manufacturers and their dealers, as well as politicians have numerous, yet varied, reasons for promoting or accepting the concept. Seldom admitted and never discussed in the fire service is the possibility that personal agendas can obscure fact and reality.

In my opinion, there are hidden dynamics that some purchasers have failed to address when evaluating the multipurpose concept. Whether it is intentional or an oversight is immaterial. They are there. It must be acknowledged that the valid reasons for or against can vary by the size, location, and makeup of a fire department. What works well for a department in a congested northeastern metropolitan area may not be appropriate for a small department in the sparsely populated southwestern plains states. The pumper-rescue (or rescue-pumper) concept has become very popular in the past decade or two. A good majority of today’s pumper designs are of that style. It is difficult to do an objective analysis of the pumper-rescue concept because of the multiple variations of the unit and scenarios it may be placed in. Is the pumper-rescue always run as a first-out piece or as a support vehicle? Is the rescue portion of the vehicle designed exclusively for auto-extrication responses? Or, is it expected to perform as a “service company,” supplying lighting, salvage, and self-contained breathing apparatus support? A department may be hard pressed to find a vehicle to adequately perform all those tasks as well as serve as a basic and effective engine company on the fireground. It may be impossible if the functions are expected to be accomplished at the same time.

My intent is not to demean any multipurpose apparatus. They are tools no different than axes, nozzles, or cut-off saws. If used properly as designed and intended, they are an asset to the fire service. Because of the popularity of the rescue-pumper, I will be a “devil’s advocate” with that particular design – not to take an opposing point of view for the sake of debate but to make purchasers aware of possible limitations. Sometimes, asking a question gives a person cause to think and analyze. My disclaimer: I have both sold and purchased fire apparatus, and my opinions are traditional and biased.

  • Regardless of size, type, color, or manufacturer, fire trucks do not put out fires. Firefighters do. If there isn’t enough staffing, the job will not get done efficiently and in a timely manner. If a pumper and a rescue, each with seating for six, are replaced by a pumper-rescue – also with six seats – the available staffing is cut in half. How long is it going to take the one crew to accomplish the tasks of two? How far away is the cavalry, and how long will it take them to arrive?
  • In a previous commentary about quints, I posed a scenario similar to this: Park your rescue truck in one bay and your pumper in another. Pull in the new rescue-pumper and start mounting all the equipment on it. How much didn’t fit?
  • When contemplating the pumper-rescue concept, consider the impact on your long-term apparatus replacement schedule. A four-pumper fire department with an aerial and a heavy rescue might replace its pumpers every five years, giving them a 20-year life cycle – five years as first out, five to 10 years in a wing house or as second due, five as last due, and the remaining five as a reserve piece. Suppose the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is willing to pay 50 percent more for a pumper-rescue than a pumper. Politicos may believe the pumper-rescue is a one-time purchase. If the department runs it as the first-due piece, what happens when is it time to replace the other three pumpers? Is the AHJ willing to keep purchasing pumper-rescues at an increased cost? Firematically, what happens to the operational running order?
  • In continuing the running order discussion, what happens if the pumper-rescue is out on another call or does not arrive “on location” in the expected order of response? How will it affect fireground operations? Can it function well as a supply pumper, including drafting? Will overall fireground effectiveness be compromised if it cannot function as expected as an initial attack piece?
  • Will the size (length, wheelbase, and overall height) of a pumper-rescue intimidate drivers?
  • In evaluating basic engine company operations, will it be easier or harder to perform basic functions such as deploying a 1¾-inch handline, a 2½-inch handline, or a portable monitor; laying a supply line; or removing a ground ladder?

Purchasers may be doing themselves and their taxpayers a disservice if they do not prioritize the expected missions of a multipurpose apparatus. Is equipment being left off the new rig? Why? Why was that equipment purchased in the first place? The most important consideration to keep in mind is staffing. Are the tasks a multipurpose apparatus is capable of accomplishing expected to be done by the one crew at the same time or in sequence? All firefighters have a point at which their physical endurance is exceeded. Don’t burn them out. Firefighters’ safety is priority one, regardless of the apparatus they ride to the scene.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.