By Alan M. Petrillo
At one time, swing-out or swing-up doors were practically the only type that could be found on the majority of fire apparatus. But these days, roll-up doors seem to have eclipsed the use of swing-outs and have become nearly standard equipment, showing up in nearly every location possible on a fire truck.
Terry Bay, applications engineer for ROM Corporation, notes that ROM brought the manufacture of roll-up doors to North America in 1988 and estimates that 70 percent of all fire apparatus are now using roll-up doors. “The main advantage to roll-up doors is safety,” Bay says. “If the vehicle has hinged doors and they are open, a firefighter doesn’t have a clear view of the complete side of the truck. And, when at a motor vehicle accident scene on a highway with concrete barriers, if the truck is up against the divider it could be difficult to open a hinged door.”
Cory Eckdahl, engineering manager of metal products for Gortite, which is owned by Dynatect, agrees that roll-up doors provide a greater measure of safety for firefighters than swing-out doors. “In an emergency setting, the swing-out doors can jut out into traffic and firefighters have to go around them,” Eckdahl says, “but not so with roll-up doors because roll-up doors do not increase the footprint of the truck. And, roll-up doors are lighter than swing-out doors, and everyone knows that every pound counts on a fire truck.”
Bruce Whitehouse, president of AMDOR Inc., believes the safety aspects of using roll-up doors have led to their greatly increased use on fire trucks. “While their use varies by region and fire department, roll-up doors have reached about 65 percent penetration into the fire apparatus market,” Whitehouse says. “We see several reasons behind the transition to roll-up doors. From a safety perspective, they don’t force firefighters into traffic lanes when working alongside a road; they aren’t a sight barrier when open like a swing-out door; and at tight fire scenes, trucks can be positioned closer together if necessary.”
Whitehouse points out that another benefit to roll-up doors is that they can be opened partially, at any place along the door’s frame, instead of having to be fully open. “In addition, you don’t have to remember that a high side swing-up door is open when you’re in the station and, when you get a call, drive away with it open, damaging the door,” he adds.
Bay notes that a roll-up door is made up of four parts: a spring, sidewall track, slat assembly, and bottom rail. “We use all aluminum on ROM doors except for the shaft inside the spring-loaded roller and the spring itself,” he says. “Our slats are double-walled aluminum extrusion, strong but lightweight.”
Bay says that ROM’s Series IV shutter door is the company’s fourth generation of roll-up doors. “The Series IV features over-molded idler wheels for smoother and quieter door up and down operation, new side shutter seals for a superior watertight seal and reduced wear on shutter surfaces, and an improved co-extruded inner seal between slats to provide a better seal and stronger door,” Bay says. “The Series IV also has a stronger lift bar with a unique D shape that will not bow or bend, a grooved finger pull plate for better traction when pulling down doors, and a door-ajar switch with improved reed switch for reliability and ease of wiring.”
Eckdahl of Gortite says that Gortite aluminum roll-up doors are made of double-sided anodized aluminum extrusion slats with a weather seal between each slat and have a three-inch spring roller, instead of the typical four-inch spring roller, to minimize the space used by the door at the top of a compartment. He says that Gortite roll-up doors have a stainless-steel lift bar, a noise and vibration idler roller, individual slat end caps to protect against leaking, and five side rail options.
Accessories include a manual key or power lock, LED cabinet lighting, a magnetic door-ajar switch, a pull strap, see-through slats, and an inside opening lift bar, he adds.
Whitehouse says that features of AMDOR roll-up doors include a driven ball and socket hinge joint, inter-slat seals, a flat exterior surface, a stainless-steel lift bar, full capture strikers, hand cutouts on the bottom rail, recessed side seals, integral LED compartment lighting, a nonmarring top seal, a door-ajar switch with two powered leads, an HD flex pull strap, drip shields, double-bitted automotive keys for key locking, and a dust shutter on the locking cylinder.
ROM, Gortite, and AMDOR also build roll-up hosebed covers for fire apparatus. Bay says that ROM has built roll-up hosebed covers up to 76 inches wide and 16 feet long that are capable of supporting 800 pounds. “The hosebed cover rolls up into a spiral plate housing and is powered by a one-third horsepower electric motor,” Bay notes.
Eckdahl says that Gortite’s hosebed doors are not a slat-type product. “It’s a stainless steel sheet with ribs attached to the bottom that wrap inside a scroll like a roll-top desk,” he says. “Typically, they are manually operated, and the scroll is attached behind the truck’s cab and the cover is contained within it. You are able to walk on the cover when it’s in place.”
Whitehouse notes that AMDOR “tends to advise against horizontal installations, but we have done some of them for customers. We’ve also built roll-up doors that open and close on an angle, including one inclined roll-up door across the width of a top-mount pump panel.”
Author’s note: Hansen International, also a roll-up door manufacturer, was unable to contribute to this article because of the effects of Hurricane Florence in October.
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.