Cantankerous Wisdom: Good-Looking Rear Ends

Bill Adams took detailed notes of the good-looking rear ends he saw at FDIC 2021.

By Bill Adams

Past-their-prime players in the fire service really appreciate good-looking rear ends—it’s probably because we no longer get to see them up close. There are several ways old timers can get a good look at them; many discreetly steal a second glimpse over their shoulders, others slowly but purposefully glance back, some just stop and stare. Often, they’ll reminisce to themselves: Wow—look at that one! or That’s put together rather well. Some white hairs will lament they’re not as activeas they used to be.

It’s 56 inches between the left hose bed side sheet and the slide-in ladder compartment (white arrows). The bed is 35 inches high and 98 inches in length, so there’s about 111 cubic feet of available storge space. Hose can only be packed as high as the height of the shortest divider. It shouldn’t be packed to the very top to prevent ripping off hose bed covers. Is losing one-third of the available capacity a design flaw or a specification shortcoming? (This could be a demo rig so it’s possible items may be tweaked before it is sold.)

Sometimes they’ll compare nice ones to ones that are not so nice. Some rear ends just aren’t built right. Some are old and are wearing out. One side or the other might sag a bit. Older ones may not be as good looking as the newer models. Snap out it—I’m talking about fire trucks!

This is a sharp-looking and interesting rear end. There’s slide-in storage for ladders below the hose bed. Two hard suctions are above the left-hand side compartments about 8.5 feet from ground level. Hopefully they are lightweight PVC sleeves. It has a 14-inch-deep rear step with “non-slip” type inserts. An intermediate step beneath the hose bed protects the traffic advisor light. It has a back-up camera and a pair of low-mounted 2.5-inch discharges. The single-sheet hose bed dividers are full height. They are supported on the front wall by two horizontal uni-struts.

At the 2021 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), I had the opportunity to look at a lot of rear ends on pumpers. Rear ends are the working end of a fire truck—also called the back end or rear panel. Most include a rear step or tailboard which manufacturers today call by politically correct terms such as the rear work platform and rear bumper.

This flat back design has a full-width hose bed above the side exterior compartments (upper horizontal arrows). The upward-facing arrow shows storage for two hard sleeves with hose storage above it. Can a firefighter on the ground reach them? The downward arrow shows how the sleeve storage is adjustable from side-to-side allowing for changes down the road. The lower arrows show a typical industry standard of four vertically mounted lower rear lights.

What Is It?

What is a good-looking rear end? It’s one that is easy to work off of; it’s functional and not inherently dangerous for firefighters to use. Regardless of the equipment or hose that must be accessed, firefighters should be able to safely retrieve and deploy it. Concurrently, it should be equally safe and easy to return the equipment. Well-laid-out rear ends make judicious use of the available space. What is important is how efficiently and safely firefighters can access their equipment without getting hurt. Well-thought-out designs and comprehensive purchasing specifications will ensure it. This piece looks at the rear ends of seven rigs that were at FDIC.

This older rig shows an alternative to vertically stacked lower rear lights. Four vertically stacked lights take up more height than the permissible 18 inches between steps allowed by NFPA 1901. That might require the use of smaller-width steps if they are mounted next to the lights. Mounting lower lights side-by-side allow for using wider auxiliary steps above the lights. In this case, it is a 20-inch-wide manufacturer fabricated treadplate step. If the side-by-side lights meet DOT and FMVSS requirements, why not mount them low? After all, how many people “mount stuff” on the tailboards that would obscure them? Cast Products, Inc. @ shows an assortment of prefabricated auxiliary steps. Some are up to 16 inches in width. Specify what works best for your firefighters.

The following comments are made through the prism of someone that hasn’t climbed on a fire truck in years. They are not intended to disparage purchasers or manufacturers. They are only made to make purchasers aware of considerations, options, and alternatives that could be incorporated into their purchasing specifications.

There’s a lot going on this rig’s rear end. There are three 2.5-inch discharges plus a rear LDH connection all accessible from ground level. It has a camera beneath the enclosed traffic advisor light as well as a rear siren speaker grill—no doubt for a radio speaker mounted inside the compartment. The red straps each side are attached to the paddle latch seat belt closures/openers that will hold a rear hose bed netting. Pull on the straps and they’ll enable unfastening while standing on the ground—an excellent idea. Note the scene light on the swing-out arm above the hose bed. The hose bed dividers are split-tube reinforced. The side compartments are extended rearward over the tailboard, leaving both the hose bed and tailboard a bit less than 6 feet wide. Doing the same for the full depth of the side compartments only leaves about 4 feet width for the work platform.

Flat Backs

Many of the pumpers at FDIC had “flat back” designs, meaning there’s a single straight panel from side-to-side (photos 1, 3, 6 and 7). There were no “beavertails” per se (photo 8). Some had their side compartments extend rearward over the tailboard (photos 2 and 5). I don’t know the purpose for the variations, but I’m sure there’s a reason as well as a substantial difference in cost. Ask. A downside is decreasing the available space on the rear work platform and in the hose bed.

This rig’s rear end is interesting. The low slide-in storage is for ladders stored on a single beam which is a “natural” position for one firefighter to remove and shoulder carry one without rotating the ladder after removing it. It saves a step on the fireground. It’s not often you see hard suctions carried in the same compartment as auto extrication tools. But, how often would you see them both used at the same time? The sleeves are mounted low—easy to remove. They must draft a lot. The small enclosed compartment on the rear step could be for a strainer or a hydrant bag—or both. Dual-function compartments on multi-function apparatus.

Most rigs at FDIC reflected the recent trend of purchasers clamoring for more compartment space which often results in full-depth high-side compartments. Occasionally they are on both sides of the rig, and ground ladders are often slid in the rear. Another trend is some purchasers demand “low” hose beds, which has no formal description. Both trends can make working off the back end and accessing equipment a challenge.

The upper arrows designate where two hard suctions are carried above ground ladders in the same compartment (saves the cost of a second door!). The top sleeve is over 9 feet from ground level. The tailboard is 12 inches deep and the intermediate step beneath the hose bed is about 8 inches deep.

Hose Beds

How much of whatever size hose is carried is immaterial. Likewise, the way it is packed. Ditto for preconnected hose if it’s carried at the rear. Do what’s best for your own department. What is important is how efficiently and safely firefighters can reach, deploy, and repack it without getting hurt.

Purchasers emphasize making optimal use of compartment storage space, but when it comes to hose beds sometimes maximizing the available storage is forgotten. It appears the hose bed dividers in photo 1 are about one-third shorter than the available height in the hose bed. Why? How often do purchasing specifications say how high hose bed dividers need to be? Perhaps they should. You are paying for the “space”—whether or not it is used.

This pumper has rear beavertails—one on each side of the hose bed. Years ago, single-piece hose body side sheets extended from the front of a rig to the rear and angled down to help support the rear step. It is unknown what function beavertails perform today. It probably varies from one manufacturer to another. Ask them. The hose bed dividers have split-tubing reinforcement. It’s doubtful they’ll bend or bow. They’re also supported by upper side-to-side adjustable tracking above the dividers at the tailboard. The square rectangular opening is apparently used to assist in packing a deep bed. Hope a coupling doesn’t get caught on the opening when laying hose. The entire tailboard is constructed with raised and perforated no-slip aluminum treadplate.

The height from ground level to the bottom of a hose bed is—in my opinion—immaterial. What is important is whether firefighters can reach the leading butt (on the hose…) or the nozzle, and the required number of folds to make a stretch without climbing onto the rig. Another consideration is the height of the hose bed dividers. If they are not supported at each end, a heavy hose load might squash the lighter load. One thousand feet of 5-inch LDH weighing 1,000-plus pounds can tilt an unsupported divider against a single-stacked 1¾-inch preconnect to the point a tow truck may be required to pull and deploy it. Good luck.

Most hose bed dividers are constructed of single sheet aluminum. Depending on their size, thickness, and method of supporting, some can “tilt, bow, and bend” when packed tight. Split tube, double pan, or double break reinforcements give them strength and rigidity (photos 5 and 9). All are labor intensive and expensive. They will also cut down somewhat on the usable width of a bed. Ask your vendor what options are available.

Adjustable dividers are usually supported at the front of the hose bed with horizontal unistrut. Did you specify one or two (photo 2)? At the tailboard, unistrut-type material is at the leading edge of the flooring. Extraordinarily high dividers are also supported on their tops at the rear end—but only if you specify so (photo 8). Handholes at the rear of dividers are very beneficial. Don’t just specify “a hand hole” or you’ll get a size and location the manufacturer wants. Specify the number, the size(s), and location(s) per divider. It is your rig; you should get to choose what’ll work the best for you.

Hard Suction

Depending on the coupling material and the manufacturer and hose type (hard rubber, corrugated rubber, or lightweight flexible PVC), 10-foot-long hard sleeves can weigh from 40 to 100 pounds. The balance point for all of them is in the middle—around five feet. Good-looking blue prints are one thing, reality is another. Imagine standing on a couple folding steps that just meet NFPA 1901 requirements—hanging on to a grab rail with one hand and sliding a hard sleeve straight out of an enclosure with the other—by yourself. Good luck. The average firefighter’s arm length is less than three feet.

Ground Ladders & Pike Poles

Unlike hard suction hose, ladders and pike poles do not bend. When stored in tight, “built to fit” enclosures, they must be pulled straight out. The higher they are stored on a rig, the harder it will be to manually remove one, especially when doing it with one hand. Remember, it is one hand for me and one hand for thee. When standing on a folding step and hanging on with one hand while trying to return a 10-foot-long pike pole, a firefighter might look like an off-balance javelin thrower ready to tip over.


A good-looking and a good-working rear end should be the result of determining priorities, practicality, and common sense. Rear ends should be designed to work with and for you—not against you.

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