Editor’s Note: In recent years, heavy rescue trucks have gone from walk-through units to predominantly walk-in or walk-around rigs. There are pros and cons for both designs and largely depend on what is best for the residents a department serves and what is most efficient for personnel. This month, Editorial Advisory Board members Bill Adams (left) and Ricky Riley (right) comment on these rescue truck designs.
Asking which is better is a loaded question – similar to asking whether mechanical sirens are better than electronic sirens or if single-piece engine companies are more efficient than two-piece engine companies. There is no correct answer unless the context in which the question posed is defined as well as the parameters in which the rescue is to operate. The debate should entail more than comparing physical attributes between two styles of rescues. Determining how it is going to be used, where it is going to be used, and how many people are going to use it should be the initial step in the evaluation process.
Commentators, vendors, and pundits are hard pressed to recommend either until pertinent facts are known. Remember: A vendor’s job is to sell product; hence, one’s recommendation may be slightly skewed. This is not a condemnation of apparatus salespeople. Their advice, product knowledge, and expertise are invaluable and should be actively sought. Prior to seeking outside guidance, objectively answering some basic questions in-house will help in the evaluation process. It may prevent apparatus committees from having “deer in the headlights” looks when vendors ask similar questions. And, make no mistake – competent vendors will ask them.
Factors affecting apparatus purchases are occasionally overlooked – sometimes to the embarrassment and humiliation of the fire department. What is the usable door width and height and length of the apparatus bays? Do apparatus bays have a maximum floor rating? What are the angles of departure and approach? Are there any bridge weight and travel height restrictions in your response district and neighboring districts? Are there any extraordinary governmental Department of Transportation or local vehicle road-use rules and regulations the apparatus must meet? Is there an established minimum wall-to-wall turning radius for your response district? Is the intent to pull a new rig out of the barn and back it in in one swing? Is there a size rig that may intimidate volunteer drivers?
Important is establishing a definitive job description for the apparatus. Purposely left out of this discussion is having a rescue truck pulling double duty such as a command post, urban search and rescue support rig, mobile communications center, or rehab vehicle. Will it be the proverbial toolbox on wheels that’ll bring everything needed to the scene? If so, what equipment will be carried now and what is anticipated in the future? Does the job description entail transporting firefighters to the scene? How many? Is the priority carrying equipment or people? You might not be able have it both ways.
A controversial subject is honestly determining how many firefighters the rig will carry. Career departments may have more stable estimations of crew size. Requesting seating for eight or 10 may be hard to justify to city hall for a rig consistently running with three or four firefighters – especially if staffing was agreed to contractually. What is the justification for extra seating, just in case the mayor asks in a public forum? Volunteers stating they expect to or hope to carry 10-plus firefighters on every response may be overestimating. Claiming to regularly respond with that number may be boastfulness. Reality is the actual number consistently riding on the apparatus. What are you willing to pay for: reality, boasting rights, or wishful thinking? After establishing a crew size, a discussion can be had about where to seat them – in the rescue body, crew cab, commercial chassis, or custom chassis.
Regardless of the type of rescue truck chosen, keep in mind that firefighters have to safely access and remove the equipment carried. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines ergonomics as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.” In fire truck speak, when standing on the ground removing equipment from a compartment, there is a point of inefficiency when the task can become difficult to dangerous. Unfortunately, it is not defined anyplace. It is easier to remove higher up equipment than it is to put it back. Don’t subject firefighters to unnecessary injury by having a poorly designed equipment layout. This is where vendors can really be helpful.
Consider evaluating when or should firefighters climb off of a rig carrying equipment. Regardless of whether they are egressing from the cab or a walk-in entry door, a recessed stairwell, or an access ladder bolted to the body, they should use one hand to hang onto a grabrail. The last step to the ground (usually 24 inches high) is the toughest when carrying equipment. Efficiently and safely removing equipment is utopia. Unfortunately, establishing that level of efficiency and safety is sometimes decided by people who may not have ridden on a fire truck in many years.
Answering the preceding questions creates an operating envelope for a rescue truck purchase. The answers form baselines on which the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of each type of truck can be evaluated. Regardless of whether it is for people or equipment, space is what you are buying when purchasing a rescue truck. If space itself is the one and only consideration when purchasing a rescue, use the rule of thumb that a walk-in rescue truck body loses about one-third the available space that’s in a walk-around body. And, don’t bother paying any attention to the preceding questions.
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.
Riding in the Box
Heavy-duty rescue squads are complex and sometimes very large pieces of apparatus. The decisions and options that go into these rigs can be difficult and time-consuming to determine as we research each pro and con. One of the many decisions that needs to be made is if your department is going to purchase a nonwalk-in rescue squad or a walk-in rig.
One of my favorite body styles for rescue squads is the walk-in unit, a very popular choice in many areas and departments on the east Coast. I hope to lay out some of the pros of this choice with my own opinion and opinions of apparatus purchasing committee members with whom I talked regarding this article.
The box that we bolt onto the frame rails behind the cab is just that – a large box in which to put tools, equipment, and personnel. The box dimension impacts the choices we make at the engineering conference for a particular rig. For instance, if the fire company wants tandem axles on the unit, this will affect the amount of storage in the box. Adding large-scale components such as air compressors or cascade systems will also affect the amount of storage in the box. And last but not least, if a department chooses to add a pump to the rig, then we will really have an impact on the storage in the box. So, making the right large-component choices is a critical decision during the initial planning stages for the box.
Once those decisions have been made, we can move on to the walk-in or nonwalk-in decision. This decision for some companies can be a battle like hybrid units or nonhybrid units or smooth bore or fog. But personally, I am a fan of the walk-in rescue and believe that it has a number of features that can be incorporated into your next rig.
Seating is one of the big reasons for using a walk-in type of unit. If your company or department is fortunate enough to have ample staffing or a good volunteer turnout, this configuration will allow for a large number of seated positions with self-contained breathing apparatus, spreading them out along the length of the box, unlike trying to fit everyone inside the cab area. The more people you try to fit in the cab, the larger the crew area you’ll need, thus extending the wheelbase of your already large apparatus. The amount of personal protective equipment (PPE), tools, and equipment inside crew cab areas can make for some very tight and cramped riding areas. Putting crew members in the box gives them the chance to spread out and store their PPE and equipment in a larger area. In full disclosure, the box does not have the same crash test ratings as a cab does and will not have the same vehicle air bag protection that many crew cabs have on modern fire apparatus. Riding in the back also has been said to encourage not using seat belts. This issue is strictly in the hands of the department that purchases the apparatus. All manufacturers can equip these riding positions with seat sensors and approved seat belts. Also, adding a camera system from the front to the rear can help the officer monitor the personnel in the back.
One of the main reasons I have heard not to have a walk-in is the loss of compartment space. The box you choose, regardless of the size, will always have the same cubic inches of space. How to use the space is up to the department. The center space on a nonwalk-in is usually very deep inside the box and cannot be accessed by crew members just reaching in. Access will normally require using long roll-out trays or equipment boards. When fully extended, these require quite a bit of room and can be very heavy when loaded with all the stored equipment. If a piece of equipment is usually stored in the center part of the tray, it normally is not a highly used piece of equipment and can be bulky or long. This equipment can be stored inside the walk-in box up on a shelf on one side or the other and secured to meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Crews can then easily check this equipment and deploy it by using the entrance at the rear of the rig, rear steps, and one or two firefighters.
Using the walk-in box allows for easy firefighter and operational equipment deployment. Each seated position and associated tactical assignment can have all tools mounted and positioned relative to the seated position. These tools and equipment MUST be mounted per NFPA 1901 to ensure firefighter safety in case of an accident. They also will not be crowded and sitting on top of each other as it is with the way most crew cabs are configured. Storing bulky and long items is afforded in the box by using shelves built in the back, which in some cases can enhance the deployment of this equipment. An example would be fully assembled vehicle stabilization struts with feet and tips attached and ready for use. This storage can be challenging in units using side compartments and may have to be assembled after arriving on the scene.
The walk-in also allows departments to store a host of technical rescue equipment that will not be exposed to the dirt and grime inside the compartments. This can include rope and rope systems, water rescue equipment, and hazmat monitoring equipment. This equipment will be readily accessible to the crews as they respond to such incidents, affording them the opportunity to do checks on the equipment, calibrate it, or ready it for deployment on arrival.
Some departments now use a hybrid version of the walk-in with all the shelving and storage in the back of the box but not allowing for any firefighters to ride in the back. It provides the advantage of using the room for all the reasons mentioned earlier about equipment storage but does not put firefighters in a position to be in the box where there is a lack of protection from accidents and rollover protection.
The walk-in is a very functional design if your department has the operational need and the staffing to support it. Do not rule out this design based on a lack of storage or perceived loss of storage. If the design works for you, then use it; all fire trucks are not built the same. And, we all have our reasons for buying what we buy and designing what we design. Just remember to always look at all the options – not only what you are used to or have been buying for a number of years. As always, make sure it works operationally for your department and for your geographic area.
RICKY RILEY is the fire apparatus manager for the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire and Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as 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.