BY ANTHONY SVOBODA
That’s usually what I say when answering questions about the Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department’s “RAMP” trucks. In reality, the name serves two purposes: first being the basic concept that our department purposely remodeled two brush trucks to operate as parking ramp response vehicles, and second, that they do much more than just that. They are “Rapid Attack Multiple Purpose” units, hence RAMP.
In roughly 2014, the department realized a need to up its game in battling vehicle fires on parking ramps. At that time, a large business complex was building several new ramps, adding to the large number of elevated parking structures already within the city. The largest ramp, a bus station, was planning to double in size within the next few years as well.
The department took action to develop what it has come to know as its RAMP trucks. Initially, the plan was to use the department’s funds to custom build a brand new unit. However, with the staffing structure Eden Prairie operates under, that would leave the unit off duty at certain times of the day. Therefore, the department decided to repurpose two brush trucks.
REPURPOSED BRUSH TRUCKS
Both trucks were nearly identical early 2000 model Ford F-350 two-door, long-box pickups, each equipped with CustomFIRE drop-in skid units and sporting a 250-gallon water tank, pump, two reel lines, and an 1¾-inch preconnect.
The skid units were sold, and the trucks’ light bars were removed. FireSafetyUSA was contracted to build conceptual replacement packages. The design consisted of some basic mini pumper essentials with the explicit limitation that the cargo area not be higher than the cab roof. Tank, pump, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), tool storage, hosebed, and a preconnected handline were included with the bid, all of which needed to be accomplished without removing or modifying the truck box.
Delivery of the units proved to us that we were getting what we paid for. The return of our former brush trucks yielded two newly designed, and first of their kind, units for our department. Both trucks went back into service at their former stations and gave the crews the ability to perform with units that are versatile and unique.
Specifications for each truck include the following:
- 200-gallon water tank.
- Five-gallon foam cell.
- 550-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump.
- Hosebed with capacity for 400 feet of 2½-inch hose.
- Speedlay tray that can have a preconnected 200-foot 1¾-inch hoseline.
- Enclosed storage for SCBA, tools, and brush fire equipment.
- Side- and interior-mounted pump controls.
- Bumper-mounted turret with interior joystick operation.
- Low-profile lighting and siren package.
The department spent countless hours developing a new response plan for mitigating ramp fires. Gone were the days of lugging hose and equipment up the stairs or through the building. The new units gave us the ability to drive to the fire. An engine company would set up at the fire department connection and supply water to the standpipe systems. Once at the level of the fire, the crew from the RAMP truck would use the tank water and bumper turret while establishing a water supply from the standpipe. After the crew made the connection, deploying the preconnected handline made for easy fire control and mop up.
The design of these units was with one very specific task in mind. However, they still carry the expectation to perform in many other ways. Most important was the need to fulfill the role of a brush truck—a task that they accomplished very well. Although they are not intended to travel off road, the use of four-wheel drive and pump and roll have made battling brush fires much easier. The preconnected line was reduced to only 100 feet, allowing us to better control the line if the truck would to be moving. Reinstating the brush fire equipment allowed the department to transport water bladders, rakes, flappers, and brooms to the working area of a brush incident. The units have also been versatile on outbuilding fires, motor vehicle accidents, structure fires, and other incidents throughout the city.
UP FOR REPLACEMENT
After four years of use, the older unit of the two is up for replacement. A truck committee gathered to develop “Version 2” of the RAMP concept. Taking into account budget limitations and the idea that we would continue to use a pickup truck bed, the committee was able to develop a suitable replacement. Firefighters were also keen in developing the new truck. After several years of service, there were plenty of ideas on how we could make these units even better, all of which were taken into account.
Later this year, the department expects to take delivery of the new RAMP unit. The new truck will feature a four-person cab and greater towing and hauling capacity. Updated emergency warning equipment, specifically lighting, was required because the former unit did not have adequate coverage. “Version 2” will use the existing drop-in skid unit that the previous truck hauled and carry similar equipment, which will be mounted on a 2018 GMC 3500, four-door, long-box truck, giving us the ability to haul more firefighters and equipment to the scene.
Overall, I have been a fan of these trucks. They have served their purpose with the department and they are very versatile. They are not perfect by any means, however. As you can imagine, nothing great comes from remounting equipment repeatedly. We have had our fair share of concerns over time with the units. General overall weight of the skid units has placed the maximum amount of load on the suspension and braking systems. The lighting packages are underrated and do not effectively provide enough front warning. In addition, of course, a two-person cab just does not satisfy the crew capacity that we need. The new unit will benefit our department in many ways beyond what its predecessor could have.
In the future, I anticipate that the department will take this concept even further. The city is expanding into areas that we cannot access by means of a traditional engine company. It is my thought that the use of the RAMP truck will be instrumental in reaching those homes. Expanding the capability of the RAMP concept will be necessary to accommodate our response goals. I imagine that having a larger water tank and pump capacity would be a requirement as well as the ability to maintain pumping capacity and crew resource needs for an extended period. Larger tires and suspension systems would also benefit the department when operating the units off road.
ANTHONY SVOBODA is a lieutenant with the Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department. He has been a member of the department for seven years where he has served as an equipment coordinator and has worked on the truck and equipment committee. Along with three other full-time staff, he works in dual roles as a fire inspector and firefighter while on duty.