Continuing to Improve Your Next Apparatus

Some changes Bill Adkins would recommend to other departments looking to build a tanker/tender.

By Bill Adkins

When building your apparatus, one believes we hit on everything before we send it to the manufacturer to spec out. Going bumper to bumper and double-checking everything just isn’t enough. For us to understand if everything is perfect, we must field-test it. We all know that we can’t test our particular build unless it’s already built. Most demo trucks are somewhat basic, and if you are ordering custom options you will have to wait until your apparatus is built before you know if it will work perfectly for you.

As mentioned in a previous article, building a relationship with the manufacturer you decide to go with may help you. Many times, a manufacture representative will be able to guide you in the right direction. Keep in mind that you will still want the custom design that meets your needs; however, if they have tried something in the past and it didn’t work they may have another solution.

Today I will be referring to one of my most recent apparatus I helped spec out (Tanker 85). As a committee we have spent many hours setting this truck up to work for us and we are extremely happy with the results we received. I will admit that this “Nurse Tanker” will make you feel guilty when operating on a fire scene—watching everyone on the fire ground working so hard and you are barely breaking a sweat. There are a few things, however, I would change if I had it to do over again. When it comes time to either replace or add another tanker to our fleet, these are some of the changes I will propose and would be things I would recommend to another department looking to build a similar tanker/tender.

Rear Intake

We wanted a rear intake due to drafting off the rear of the apparatus. We like to use the “single lane” method when setting up our dump tanks. Having a rear intake allows us to use only one section of hard suction instead of the need for connecting two sections to reach the side intake. Threading two sections of hard suction hose together takes longer to set up and most importantly can prove difficult for an operator when working by themselves. I know what some may be thinking: “I do it all the time and I don’t have a problem,” and I don’t doubt that you can. However, there are a lot of operators throughout the country that will have a hard time with it.

The problem is not the rear suction itself; it is the location of the rear suction. When looking at spec sheets we see what we wanted and did not put into perspective that the dump valve may be in the way when connecting our hard suction to the rear intake. On the rear of Tanker 85 we have an intake, a dump valve, and a tank direct fill. We use the rear intake far more often than our direct tank fill. We should have switched the locations of the direct fill and rear intake so our dump valve would not be in the way when connecting the hard suction hose. This is a very minor problem, but, as stated before, we are trying to improve our next build.

Relay Discharges

Most departments set up relay discharges on the passenger side of the apparatus, and we were no different. This keeps the hose away from the pump panel and gives the operator more room and less mess to trip on. Fayetteville and “most,” but not all, surrounding departments use 5-inch supply hose. Because of this we had a large diameter (4-inch) discharge for relay pumping. One piece that slipped through the cracks on the spec sheet was that we did not add a 2 ½ discharge as well. Now when using 2 ½- or 3-inch to relay pump, the hose must come off the pump panel side or rear of the truck.

Since we are talking about the passenger side, something that the spec sheet didn’t show was that the generator junction box was actually mounted on a door. It was something that was not clear when looking at the final spec sheet. One would have to look closely to even notice it was mounted on a door. Because of this we have had to make adjustments to the hinges to keep the door straight.

Adding a 2 ½-inch discharge on the passenger side helps free up space at the pump panel when relay pumping using 2 ½- or 3-inch supply hose. Do not mount the junction box on to a door that is not strong enough to handle the weight.
Bumper load discharge could have been a 2 1/2 fitting with a gated wye instead of a 1 1/2 fitting.


When adding a pre-connected bumper load I wish we would have added a 2 ½ discharge reduced down with a gated wye. This would allow for another line if needed. I know this sounds small, but we were already paying for a front discharge and the plumbing to the front bumper would supply a 2 ½ discharge. The only change needed would be the fitting on the bumper.

I know it is only my opinion on this, but I would change the crosslays to double-stacked instead of single. In my experience, I have had better luck with them being double wide rather single. The hose seems to pull off easier and the hose doesn’t end up getting stuck.

Crosslays are tight with the single-layer hose bed.


When a department specs out an apparatus, it is with the intent to build something that will last. We know we will need to replace the unit at some point to keep up with NFPA standards, but we don’t want to replace it because the chassis didn’t hold up for what it’s intended to do. Because of this statement we went with a large, heavy-duty chassis. I now believe we went too big.

We went with a Kenworth T800 chassis with the larger hood. Since receiving Tanker 85, I have seen and tested some T880 chassis with the aero dynamic hood that would have been more than sufficient. We also noticed even though a custom cab would have been longer, the turning radius would have been smaller. In rural areas we need to be able to get our apparatus in some narrow drives. Do what you can to purchase the smallest, most capable chassis you can get.

T800 Kenworth Chassis with large hood.
T880 Kenworth Chassis with aerodynamic hood.

Final Thoughts

Take a look at how you operate on the fireground and build your apparatus around that theory. You may need to look at the spec sheets and act that operation out to see if there is something you need to change. Almost any time you purchase an apparatus you will find something you wish you would have done differently. It is imperative that we learn from it and apply it to the next apparatus. Even with a low budget we can do big things to help us on the fireground.

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