The San Mateo (CA) Consolidated Fire Department wanted to replace its training battalion chief’s command pickup truck with a vehicle that didn’t use a slide-out tray in the truck’s bed but still kept turnout gear and SCBA out of the cab. The department found the answer to its needs in a Command Access Vehicle from Whaling Fire Line Equipment Inc.
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“My vehicle was due for replacement, and I didn’t like the pickup with a slide-out tray in the back because if you parked at an angle the slide-out was difficult to use,” says Robert Cook, San Mateo Consolidated’s training battalion chief, “and whatever equipment you needed, the tray had to be all the way out to access it, or you had to climb through a small window in the side of the cap.”
Cook says he thought there had to be a better solution, so he checked out the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department that has a number of different versions of its command vehicles, including one version with a utility-type body. He also looked at Humane Society trucks, each with three doors on a side, and a rear access also. “After a Whelen Engineering representative recommended we check out a command vehicle made by Whaling Fire Line Equipment, we contacted them and they brought a demo out for us to check out, and we knew it was the one for us,” Cook notes.
Mark Whaling, Whaling’s chief financial officer and a former Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department battalion chief, says he came up with the Command Access Vehicle (CAV) concept after he had seen a similar type of body used in the equine industry on farrier trucks. “We wanted to build a great field workshop office platform for a command vehicle,” Whaling points out, “so we went to Stonewell Bodies, who builds trucks for veterinarians and farriers, and worked with them to build the Command Access Vehicle.”
The Command Access Vehicle built for San Mateo Consolidated is on an Ford F-350 chassis with a four-door crew cab,” says Lou Sposito, owner of Stonewell Bodies. “That’s the most common chassis that we use, although we also build on Chevy, Dodge, and GMC chassis,” Sposito says. “The all-aluminum bodies are modified for the fire rigs, slightly narrower and with a higher body line to taper in with the Ford chassis.”
Sposito notes that all the CAV interiors are engineered to fire department needs. “We’ll set up the command pack, interior lighting, scene, and warning lighting to their specs,” he says. “The interior cabinets are created with efficiency in mind so the battalion chief has great visibility and can see his equipment easily.”
Cook points out that the body of the CAV has three compartments, two extending the length of each side, and the third in the rear, all covered by flip-up doors. “All the command and control equipment is inside the rear compartment, which has a command desktop and a Plexiglas map board as well as holding my turnout gear in a vented cabinet in the center,” he says. “There are filing cabinet drawers for carrying reference materials, and the radios are on the top left of the console.”
The left side compartment has a SCBA, thermal imaging camera, flashlight, and light box along with a cooler for hydration and first aid, Cook notes, while the right-side compartment has a large ABC fire extinguisher, a stack of road cones, an MCI kit, tool box, and gas monitor. The center area of the body is open so personnel on either side of the CAV can converse with each other, Cook adds.
The San Mateo County Fire Department has 154 paid firefighters operating out of 10 stations with 10 engines, two aerials, a hazmat vehicle, an USAR vehicle, and a Zodiac RIB on a trailer with two Jet Skis for water rescue. Cook notes that he is very satisfied with the CAV and its performance. “It literally delivers an office and all our necessary equipment to the scene,” he says.
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.