As more development in western states continues in heavily timbered areas, the need for wildland urban interface (WUI) fire apparatus increases.
The confluence of higher densities of populated structures in forested areas presents fire departments with challenges not faced in typical wildland fire scenarios. The Insurance Information Institute reports that during the first three months of this year, wildfires in the United States increased by 240 percent over the same period in 2016. Manufacturers are responding to these challenges by building fire apparatus designed to meet the WUI needs of departments to allow them to handle the sometimes conflicting missions of structural protection and wildland firefighting.
|1 HME, Inc., makes WUI engines for some customers that are Type 3 engines with some elements of Type 1 rigs with, for instance, a 500-gallon water tank and a 1,000-gpm two-stage pump. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of HME, Inc.)|
Type 1, Type 3, or Both
|2 Many Type 6 wildland vehicles that HME builds are upsizing the pumps on their rigs, with some carrying a 1,500-gpm midship pump in addition to a 150-gpm auxiliary diesel pump for pump and roll.|
Ken Lenz, vice president of engineering for HME Inc., says that some wildland and urban interface customers are trying to expand the capabilities of the Type 3 engines they order. “Typically, a Type 3 has a 500-gallon-per-minute (gpm) two-stage pump on it, but a lot of these departments are asking for a 1,000-gpm pump,” Lenz says, “with the idea that they want a dual-purpose engine that can handle both wildland fires and structural fires. So, I think we’re going to see a blending of Type 3 and Type 1 engines in the future as a way of satisfying departments that want a rig that can meet both types of fires.”
|3 Rosenbauer built this Type 1 short-wheelbase WUI engine with Type 3 attributes for the Amador (CA) Fire Protection District. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)|
Doug Feldman, western region sales manager for Rosenbauer, notes that Rosenbauer is seeing a trend toward more four-wheel-drive WUI apparatus as well as Type 3 engines with Type 1 characteristics. “Departments want to be able to respond to wildland fires but also to be able to use the vehicle for regular fire calls. They want an all-purpose vehicle that can go out on a wildland strike team but also work in the city or WUI for structure protection.” Feldman cites Rosenbauer’s Timberwolf wildland pumper as a “Type 3-plus that has a 1,250-gpm pump and a 750-gallon water tank.”
|4 The Altus (OK) Fire Department had KME build this Type 3 WUI engine to use for both structure fires and wildland fires. (Photos 4-6 courtesy of KME.)|
Doug Kelley, product manager for KME, says that KME builds the Ridgerunner on a commercial chassis that is designed to meet both Type 1 and Type 3 pumper requirements. “The Ridgerunner has pump and roll, maintains good pressure at low speeds, is four-wheel drive, has a high ground clearance, and most often is outfitted with a bumper turret and hose reel,” Kelley says. “The rig carries between 800 and 1,000 gallons of water and has a 1,500-gpm WUI pump; a separate pump for pump and roll; and two preconnects low in a forward compartment, one on each side, and sometimes an added one in the front bumper.”
|5 This Meeks Bay (CA) Fire Department engine built by KME merges characteristics of both Type 1 and Type 3 pumpers.|
Kelley says sometimes a fire department will take a Type 1 engine and “ ‘wildland-ize’ it, by making the wheelbase as short as possible for maximum off-road maneuverability with a narrow 96-inch body, adding four-wheel drive, an auxiliary diesel pump, and at least a hose reel so they can do a standard moving attack on the side of a road. A lot of fire departments on the West Coast have at least some of their fleets configured this way,” he adds.
|6 KME built this Type 3 WUI pumper for the North County (AZ) Fire Protection District for use as both a wildland and paramedic engine.|
Mike Doran, senior vice president for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says most of the WUI apparatus Ferrara builds for Western fire departments are designed around California’s field operations guide manual that sets standards for engines from Type 1 through Type 7. “The angle of approach and departure are different for a WUI engine,” Doran says. “We’ve designed a WUI chassis and cab that can give a 20-degree angle of approach and departure.” A good example of a rig used on narrow, hilly roads, he says, is a wildland interface Type 1 engine Ferrara built for the Russian River (CA) Fire Protection District, with a 20-degree angle of approach and departure, a 160-inch wheelbase, a Hale midship pump, and an auxiliary pump for pump and roll.
|7 This rear-mount pump Type 6 WUI pumper was built by Spencer Manufacturing for the Black Hawk (SD) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Spencer Manufacturing.)|
“The three styles of wildland vehicles that we see most interest in lately are the Type 1 wildland urban interface engine, the Type 6 engine on a Ford or Dodge chassis, and the tactical tender engine on a Type 3 chassis,” Doran says. “The tactical tender has pump and roll and can flow water, usually through a bumper turret and underspray nozzles, but is a compact vehicle that can carry 2,000 gallons of water on a single axle, can have crosslays, and can carry a folding portable water tank.”
|8 Summit Fire Apparatus built this Type 6 WUI rig for the Jacksonville (MD) Volunteer Fire Company on a Ford F-550 chassis and cab with Super Single tires on the rear axle. (Photos 8-10 courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus.)|
John Slawson, president of Spartan Emergency Response, which recently acquired Smeal Fire Apparatus, says Smeal builds Type 1 and Type 3 engines for WUI applications. He notes the Type 1 design carries a 1,000- to 2,250-gpm midship pump, at least a 500-gallon water tank, and a 200-gpm auxiliary diesel pump on either a custom or commercial chassis with an 18-degree angle of approach and departure in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions. “The type 1 is a very popular model that can be used as a structural firefighting engine,” Slawson says. “They also can be used in wildland urban interface areas because they have similar capabilities as a Type 6.”
|9 The Western Holmes (OH) Fire District had Summit Fire Apparatus build this Type 6 WUI pumper.|
Type 6 Rigs
|10 The Eagle (IN) Fire Co. turned to Summit Fire Apparatus for this Type 6 wildland vehicle.|
Lenz notes that when it comes to Type 6 vehicles, fire departments are upsizing pumps on the rigs. “We make a Type 6 engine that has a 500-gallon water tank, a 150-gpm diesel pump for pump and roll, and also a 1,500-gpm midship pump,” he says. “A rig like that is getting more popular because it can handle a wider variety of situations.”
|11 Smeal Fire Apparatus built this Type 1 WUI engine for the Cameron Park (CA) Fire Department. (Photos 11-13 courtesy of Smeal Fire Apparatus.)|
Glenn Baley of Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) says BME has been seeing a lot of activity in Type 6 wildland pumpers. “These are on Ford F-550 or Dodge 5500 chassis and have smaller pumps of around 180 gpm with water tanks of about 300 gallons,” he says. “Departments also look for compartments on these rigs to carry their long-handled tools and usually have some type of foam on them, such as a 10-gallon foam cell and a FoamPro 1600 series foam system.”
|12 This Type 3 WUI engine was built by Smeal Fire Apparatus for Delta (British Columbia, Canada) Fire Rescue.|
Baley says BME recently built a Type 6 wildland unit with a rescue-style body for the Platte Canyon (CO) Fire Department with a 500-gpm two-stage rear-mount pump and 750-gallon water tank and also has developed an Extreme Type 6 with a 500-gpm pump, 750-gallon water tank, BME lift kit, Super Single tires, and complete skid plate undercarriage protection.
|13 The Fresno County (CA) Fire Department had Smeal Fire Apparatus build several Type 1 WUI engines with Type 3 wildland characteristics.|
Grant Spencer, president of Spencer Manufacturing, says his company has been building a lot of Type 6 wildland apparatus that can serve in quick-attack and structural protection missions during wildland fire events. “We built a wildland unit for the Black Hawk (SD) Fire Department on a Ford F-550 4×4 chassis and cab with Super Single wheels and tires,” Spencer says. “The pumper has a 500-gallon water tank and carries a rear-mount Darley 1.5AGE pump driven by a 39-horsepower Kubota diesel engine for pump-and-roll capability.”
|14 Skeeter Brush Trucks built this Type 5 wildland flatbed pumper for the Sapulpa (OK) Fire Department. (Photos 14 and 15 courtesy of Skeeter Brush Trucks.)|
Spencer notes that the Type 6s he’s been building have either aluminum or copolymer bodies and are prized by fire departments for their maneuverability, four-wheel drive, low height, and narrow width. “We try to package as much as possible on these vehicles to reach the rig’s sweet spot,” he says. “We even built a wet walk-around rescue with all transverse compartments for the Bangor (MI) Fire Department on a Ford F-550 4×4 with 300 gallons of water and a Darley Davey rear-mount pump.”
|15 This Type 6 wildland pumper was built by Skeeter Brush Trucks for the University of Texas.|
Todd Nix, apparatus consultant for Unruh Fire, agrees with other manufacturers that departments are turning to Super Single wheels and tires on their Type 6 wildland pumpers. “They’re migrating away from duallies because the Super Singles do really well off-road,” Nix points out. “They get better traction and give better maneuverability, plus they don’t get stuck like duallies do.” Nix adds that a lot of departments are asking for Polaris or Gator 6×6 utility terrain vehicles that carry 75 to 100 gallons of water, a high-pressure pump to make the water last as long as possible, and sometimes a Stokes basket carrier. “Gaining access is their chief concern with these vehicles,” he observes.
|16 Unruh Fire builds Type 6 wildland pumpers like this one on a Ford F-550 chassis with a rear-mount pump. (Photos 16 and 17 courtesy of Unruh Fire.)|
Perry Shatley, BFX’s wildland sales manager, adds that most departments that choose larger wildland rigs are putting 500-gallon water tanks on them, while the smaller Type 6s typically carry 200- to 300-gallon water tanks. “It’s all about water conservation when it comes to wildland fires and protecting the wildland urban interface,” he says.
|17 This utility terrain vehicle wildland unit was built by Unruh Fire on a Polaris Ranger 6×6 for the Big Sandy (TX) Fire Department.|
|18 The Carlsbad (NM) Fire Department had BFX Fire Apparatus build this Type 6 wildland pumper on a Ford F-550 chassis and four-door cab. (Photos 18 and 19 courtesy of BFX Fire Apparatus.)|
Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, says that while his company has built WUI-type rigs in the past, he believes the perfect wildland truck is built on a Ford F-350, 450, or 550 chassis with Super Single tires. “We build them on flatbeds, with a transverse compartment in front for long-handled tools, compartments down the sides for other equipment, 250 gallons of water, and usually a 250-gpm skid pump,” Messmer says. “With an independent gasoline or diesel-driven pump in the back, the nozzle pressure is always the same, instead of like what you find with a power-takeoff-driven pump.”
|19 BFX Fire Apparatus built this Type 6 wildland pumper for the South Metro (CO) Fire Department on a Dodge 5500 chassis and cab.|
Bill Davidson, vice president of sales for Skeeter Brush Trucks, says Skeeter builds around 50 wildland vehicles annually, typically Type 5 rigs, but also Type 3, Type 6, and tactical Type 4 6×6 pumpers. “We built a prototype Type 4 tactical for Ford Corporate that we displayed at FDIC International 2017,” he says. “It’s a 6×6 on a Ford F-550 chassis with 42-inch military ballistic tires, a 500-gpm pump, and a 500-gallon water tank.”
|20 Blanchat Manufacturing built this Type 4 WUI engine for the Rio Felix (NM) Volunteer Fire Department. (Photos 20 and 21 courtesy of Blanchat Manufacturing.)|
Justin Frost, general manager of BFX Fire Apparatus, says because of so many structures being built in wooded areas, there is much more emphasis on WUI these days. “Our customers want highly maneuverable trucks because of winding roads and hilly, curving driveways, and that means Ford F-550 and Dodge 5500 chassis,” Frost points out. “The two most popular pumps we’re putting on these vehicles are the Darley 1.5AGE pump with a Kubota diesel and the WATERAX BB4 with a Kubota diesel.”
|21 This Type 6 wildland pumper built by Blanchat Manufacturing is conducting a pump and roll attack on a wildland fire.|
Size and Water Capacity
Feldman says the biggest trend he’s seen recently in WUI is that departments are moving from commercial chassis to custom ones. “We’re seeing a shift to custom chassis likely because they are much safer chassis and more roomy in size,” Feldman says. “Rosenbauer developed the Warrior chassis a few years ago for the WUI market because, at 96 inches wide, it has a smaller footprint for off-road use. It used to be a 50/50 split between the two chassis, but now it’s 70 to 80 percent on the custom side.”
Greg Blanchat, president of Blanchat Manufacturing, agrees that conserving water is a prime consideration of fire departments fighting wildland fires. “In the Midwest WUI, we have fine fuel fires where the tactics are different than in the West,” he says. “The issue for us is the wind and how fast the fire moves because we don’t have steep, mountainous terrain but some rolling hills and flat prairie. The Anderson Creek fire a few years ago consumed a half-million acres in a 24-hour period, and a Kansas highway patrol officer clocked the fire at 37 miles an hour coming up the hill toward him. You have to flank the fire when it’s moving that fast and always keep one foot in the black.”
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.