Fire Apparatus

The Rescue-Engine Debate

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.

For a large portion of my career, I was a staunch advocate of engines doing engine work, trucks doing truck work, and rescue companies who cut people out of cars and performed support operations on firegrounds. I lived it and breathed it in the organizations I was fortunate to be a part of, and it worked rather well with our apparatus and staffing models.

As I became a chief officer, we were able to place extrication tools on our front line engine company in my volunteer organization. These tools were just there for the quick door pop and to assist the rescue company on its arrival. Being a busy department, we responded to a large number of extrications in our response area and the surrounding areas. This mainly was because we were positioned to run a number of high-speed roads and limited access highways in our area. We made sure we documented these calls in the company journal and had a narrative added to each call so we could keep track of equipment and tools used on these incidents. This data collection started to steer the department in a direction of providing these services on a larger scale to our citizens. During this time, the rescue-engine concept had started up in the Washington, D.C., metro area with a number of departments trying to accomplish two functions with one rig. Also, manufacturers were starting to construct units that were specifically designed for the demands that this apparatus type was going to have to endure to perform these dual responsibilities.

Our department wanted to ensure that we were not adding just a function without supporting the core function of putting water on a fire. With staffing a concern for any department, we did not want to be out on the road coming back from a call or out performing community service in a single-function unit and have to go back to the firehouse to get the unit that flows water to respond to a structure fire. Having the standalone function units is great when the department has staffing for each one and it can respond quickly to calls for service without delaying the response time by having to go back and get the right unit for the call dispatched. By limiting these scenarios, we saw a chance to replace an aging unit with a hybrid unit that could enhance rescue capabilities for our community without sacrificing our ability to provide the engine function in a quick and timely fashion.

This hybrid concept did not come easy for the department, as we all had the mindset of a single function for each unit. Plus, a large number of the apparatus trying to fill these hybrid roles at that time were really not designed or constructed to do either one of the functions very well. They did not carry enough or the correct rescue equipment to properly handle the extrications, unique rescues, or technical incidents. Or, they could not function as an engine very well because of hosebeds that were built way too high or attack lines that required a ladder to reach and pull them. When we went and talked to the apparatus builders, we expressed our concerns about a number of issues:

  • Hosebeds that were too high.
  • Attack lines that were out of reach.
  • The ability to carry a large tool and equipment complement.
  • Compartment floor ratings to handle the heavy rescue equipment.
  • Durable construction to handle the call volume.

Weighing all of this and our commitment to providing both engine and rescue services, we decided to purchase a rescue-engine. And by designing it to meet our department’s and response area’s needs, we were able to get a hybrid unit that could function highly as an engine and rescue company. The design part I feel is the crucial part of the concept. You will need those diehard engine personnel and the diehard rescue heroes to make sure they have a hand in the design for each service. Then, work with the manufacturer to build the unit to those specifications. Our first unit certainly worked well but at that time was limited by the manufacturer’s design architecture. Some of our designs did not work out as well as we thought, and some of the builder’s concepts did not work out as planned. With advances in apparatus engineering and with the department’s experiences and chronicled rescue and engine incidents, we have been able to design an even more functional and operationally sound hybrid unit on our current rig.

Having a dual function unit can certainly enhance the service that your department can provide to the community. But, it will require you to fully understand the needs of your response area and whether you can carry all the equipment it requires to service that area. It also will necessitate that your department fully train its personnel to be good rescue crews and good engine crews, a commitment that cannot be taken lightly. One of the major myths that comes with hybrid units is that they cannot do either one of these functions well. By having a great training program, dedicated personnel, and a great apparatus design, a rescue-engine is a fantastic rig to serve your community and will provide a two-pronged attack on your incidents. Departments are only limited in the hybrid world by their apparatus designs, department training, and dedication to “DOING THE JOB.”

RICKY RILEY is the fire apparatus manager for the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He previously served as the operations chief in Clearwater, Florida, and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He is the rescue-engine captain at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.