BY ALAN M. PETRILLO
Many fire departments around the country are leaning toward smaller rescue trucks compared with rescue trucks built five to 10 years ago.
Some departments cite budgetary considerations, some staffing issues, and others the ease of use and greater mobility of smaller rescue trucks. While this movement toward smaller rescues is taking place, several manufacturers report that the rescue trucks coming off their production lines continue to be midsize single-axle rigs or heavy single- or dual-rear-axle rescues.
Todd Nix, apparatus consultant for Unruh Fire, thinks that budgetary considerations are the main reason that a fire department chooses to build a small rescue. “Cost of the vehicle will dictate the size of the truck they build,” Nix says, “usually on a Ford F-550 or Dodge 5500 chassis with a nine- to 12-foot body. Typically, there’s a single compartment on each side, although we have built small rescues with a transverse compartment. Then there are some departments that want full access from a large slide-out tray at the back of the rescue.”
SUMMIT FIRE APPARATUS
Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, says he has seen movement for some time in the rescue truck market toward smaller vehicles like those on Ford F-550 size chassis. “We’re doing more small- to medium-sized rescues these days, although we still get orders for heavy rescues,” Messmer observes. “For instance, we built a rescue for the West Chilton (AL) Fire Department on a Dodge 5500 chassis with a 19,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and also a heavy rescue with a Fire Boss self-contained compressed air foam system (CAFS) for the Alexandria (KY) Fire Department.”
Messmer believes that the considerations of using smaller rescue trucks, including those on International 4400 and Freightliner M2 chassis, are being driven by personnel shortages, greater maneuverability, and purchase cost.
Bob Sorensen, vice president of SVI Trucks, notes that while SVI has built some smaller rescues on Ford F-550 chassis, like one it built for the Eagle Pass (TX) Fire Department, custom heavy rescues tend to be the rule. “We’re still seeing the trend in fire departments trying to do more things with one truck, sort of like a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ type apparatus,” Sorensen says. “We’re building a tandem-rear-axle walk-around heavy rescue for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and another for the Delta (BC) Fire and Rescue that have Bauer breathing air compressors on them to refill self-contained breathing apparatus bottles, as well as equipment for technical rescue, trench collapse, rope rescue, and motor vehicle accidents.”
Grant Spencer, vice president of Spencer Manufacturing, says his company has been building both wet and dry rescues on smaller chassis for some time. “We built dry rescues for the Manchester (MI) Fire Department, the Black Hawk (SD) Fire Department, and the Cedar Creek (MI) Fire Department,” Spencer points out. “The Cedar Creek walk-around rescue is on a Freightliner M2 chassis with a four-door cab and a single rear axle. We also built a wet rescue on a Ford F-550 chassis with Super Single wheels and tires for the Attica (IN) Fire Department.”
Bill Proft, rescue program director for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says Pierce has not seen a trend toward smaller chassis rescue trucks. “We have been building both single-rear-axle and tandem-rear-axle rescues,” Proft says. Pierce recently built a custom cab walk-around rescue on a single rear axle for the Twin Valley (PA) Fire Department. The rescue carries eight firefighters, is 36 feet 2 inches long, is 10 feet 10 inches high, and has two 60-inch-wide compartments forward and behind the rear axle.
For the Henrico County (VA) Fire Department, Proft says Pierce built a walk-around rescue on a tandem rear axle with an aluminum body and a hinged rear access staircase that’s manually operated and assisted by gas struts. The tandem rear axle uses Pierce’s TAK 4 T3 independent rear suspension and rear steer, with Super Single rear wheels and tires to allow the vehicle to turn in a tighter turning radius and give it more maneuverability, Proft points out.
For the Lansing (NY) Fire Department, Pierce built a stainless-steel-body walk-in rescue on a tandem rear axle with an overall length of 42 feet and an overall height of 11 feet 11 inches. The rescue has a 60-inch-wide compartment in front and behind the rear axles and roll-up doors on all compartments.
Mark Kopunek, product manager for KME, says that while many municipal fire departments continue to purchase heavy rescues, many smaller departments, especially volunteer companies, are looking to purchase combination vehicles that serve as both a pumper and a rescue. “We’re building a lot of combination units but also traditional rescues,” Kopunek says. “For the Forest Grove (NJ) Volunteer Fire Company, we built a rescue with a five-compartment (per side) body that’s a huge tool box,” he says. “We had to shorten the cab in order to give them the maximum size body and amount of storage space they wanted.”
For the Youngsville (NC) Fire Department, KME built a walk-around rescue on a custom cab and chassis with a manually operated rear stairway for topside access that slides up to the roof of the body. The Colonial Park (PA) Fire Company had KME build it a wet rescue, with the pump and plumbing in the two forward compartments, Kopunek says. “The water tank is behind the L2 compartment, and the rest of the body is built as a four-compartment rescue,” he adds. “The compartments are 29 inches deep and have hinged doors, except at the pump panel, which is covered by a roll-up door.”
Mike Marquis, vice president of national sales for Rescue 1, says his company builds both small- and large-chassis rescues, although most of those built last year have been the larger size. “We built a small water rescue for the Agawam (MA) Fire Department on a Ford F-550 chassis with a 14-foot six-inch body that has a Zodiac boat on top,” Marquis says. “For the Plymouth (PA) Ambulance Association, we built a rescue on a Ford F-550 with the same size body as Agawam that carries three XRT rescue tools powered off of an onboard generator. The Plymouth rescue has a Will-Burt light tower with four Whelen Pioneer LED light heads and a 16,500-pound Warn winch at the front.”
Rescue 1 built a heavy rescue for the Washington (PA) Fire & Hose on a Spartan Gladiator tandem-rear-axle chassis with a 24-foot body and a long four-door cab with a 20-inch raised roof, Marquis says, adding, “They wanted a big rescue that could fit everything onboard, including a Tri-Max 30-gallon premixed CAFS, an air cascade system, an air booster pump, and a two-station fill enclosure.” For the Perry Hi-Way (PA) Hose Company, Rescue 1 built a walk-through heavy rescue on a Spartan Gladiator tandem rear axle chassis with a 25-foot body. The vehicle has all hinged doors, a Will-Burt light tower, a 35-kW power takeoff (PTO) driven generator, hydraulic rescue tools in the forward section of the body, and a hydraulic power unit and two hydraulic reels on each side.
Mike Mildner, rescue sales specialist for E-ONE, says when E-ONE builds smaller rescues they are typically on Ford F-550 chassis, both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models, with either two- or four-door cabs, and 10- to 12-foot extruded aluminum bodies. “We are seeing small pumps and water tanks and small air CAFS being added to small rescues,” Mildner points out. “But, 80 to 90 percent of the rescues we build are the larger rescues. We just built a heavy rescue for the Anne Arundel (MD) Fire Department and are building a tandem-rear-axle heavy rescue for the Aurora (CO) Fire Department that’s designed similar to an urban search and rescue truck and will carry a lot of wood for trench work, building collapse, confined space, and road rescue.”
For the Couteau (LA) Fire Department, Mildner says E-ONE built a medium rescue on a Freightliner commercial chassis with a single rear axle and a 22-foot aluminum body. “It’s what we call a wet rescue,” Mildner notes, “with a rescue-dominant body and transverse compartments but with a pump and small water tank on it.” It’s not uncommon for a fire department to want fire knockdown power on a rescue, Mildner observes. “For the Millsboro (DE) Fire Department, we built a single-axle stainless-steel-body walk-in rescue that has a Burner foam system in the front transverse compartment,” he says. “The 60-gallon Burner system has two compressed air bottles, a mixing system, and forestry hose booster line on a skid that can make 200 gallons of Class A or B foam. It is fast to deploy and has a fantastic knockdown ability for about half the cost of having a pump and a water tank.”
Ed Smith, sales and product manager for Vanmor Enterprises, says he is working on a project to develop a lighter rescue body. “We wanted to make the body lighter but maintain its strength,” Smith says. “We went through nine months of engineering and came up with a completely different manufactured product that is all formed 100 percent aluminum. It’s the same body design but is about 1,800 pounds lighter for a 10- or 12-foot body that would go on a Ford F-550, a Dodge 5500, or the new Navistar CV to be introduced this year.”
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.