Aerial Ladder…Part Two!

E-ONE supplied a rear-mount 95-foot platform
E-ONE has supplied a rear-mount 95-foot platform to Unity Township Fire Department. It has dual underslung jacks and a reduced jack spread.
Fenton, Mich. chose a 110-foot Sutphen platform
Fenton, Mich., chose a 110-foot Sutphen platform with the original style, low-slung platform for its firefighting needs. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Euless, Texas uses a single axle ladder Sutphen quint.
Euless, Texas, uses a single axle 75-foot straight ladder Sutphen quint that only requires a single set of jacks for stability. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
London, Ontario has placed in service an e-one bronto platform
London, Ontario, has placed in service an E-ONE Bronto articulating platform. Because of the advanced electronics, the unit can be short-jacked without the danger of inadvertent tipping. (Fire Apparatus Photo)
Sutphen delivered Grand Prairie, TX a 100-foot platform with the new basket design
Sutphen delivered Grand Prairie, Texas, a 100-foot platform with the new basket design that does not hang down at the rear of the vehicle. (Staff Photo)
Upper Allen has placed a midship mounted E-ONE platform in service
Upper Allen has placed a midship mounted, 95-foot E-ONE platform in service. The front and rear straight down jacks facilitate quick and easy leveling on a sloping street. (Fire Apparatus Photo)

Last issue I covered aerial builders, including reviews of Smeal, American LaFrance and KME. This issue I will cover three builders of aluminum ladders and towers.

There are advantages to aluminum. It is corrosion resistant and will not rust like steel resulting in a longer field life and lower maintenance costs.

Aluminum is lighter than steel, which means less wear and tear on apparatus engines, transmissions, brakes, tires and suspensions resulting in reduced maintenance costs and a longer vehicle life.

Less weight also means more equipment and water capacity, and a lower center of gravity, creating more stability.

Aluminum aerials’ natural finish means they’ll never need painting, saving thousands in repaints over the apparatus’ life. Rubber rung covers, typically found on steel ladders, require maintenance and periodic replacement. Aluminum rungs are typically extruded with a permanent non-slip surface.

Here is a short summary of US aluminum aerial builders Sutphen, E-ONE and Pierce. All three offer a full line of custom chassis, pumpers, tankers and rescue trucks in addition to their aerial devices. Pierce is the only builder offering both steel and aluminum ladders.

Both Pierce, with its SkyArm, and E-ONE with its Bronto offer steel articulating aerial platforms.

Sutphen Corporation

Sutphen began in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, as a dream of C.H. Sutphen. His son, Harry, took an interest in the business and carried it on until his death. Harry’s two sons, Thomas and Robert, joined the business after World War II. Sutphen is the country’s oldest continuously family-owned and operated fire apparatus manufacturer.

Along with their success, came a need for larger quarters, and the company moved to Grandview, Ohio, and then, in 1964, to the present site of the corporation at 7000 Columbus-Marysville Road, Amlin, Ohio, now a Columbus suburb.

Today, Sutphen has five facilities. The largest is the Amlin factory where aerial platforms, custom extruded aluminum pumpers and walk-around rescues are assembled.

Aerial Tower Plant

Hilliard, Ohio, located 6 miles south of the main plant, is the home of Sutphen Towers. This facility manufactures the SP 70 aerial platform and aerial ladders with stainless steel bodies.

Sutphen custom chassis are built in Springfield, Ohio, 45 miles west of the main office. Located adjacent to the chassis plant is their newest facility, the Sutphen Service and Refurbishment Center, where they do minor repairs to major restorations.

The Sutphen East plant, located in Monticello, N.Y., is where aluminum and stainless steel bodies are fabricated for both custom and commercial pumpers.

Sutphen’s main claim to fame is the midship mounted, aluminum, Huck bolt-riveted (not welded) box boom construction aerial platform. Introduced in the late 1950s, this unit was so well engineered that the basic design has virtually remained unchanged in 45 years. The sizes have expanded to 65-, 70-, 75-, 85-, 95-, 100-, and 110-foot lengths, but the construction method has stood the test of time.

The aerial devices are midship mounted for increased maneuverability and lower travel height, some as low as 9-feet-10-inches. Waterways are encased inside the boom to protect against contact with buildings and other solid objects. Two 1,000 gpm monitors are normally supplied with their aerial platforms.

The Sutphen stabilizer jack system requires only two out and down jacks in the turntable area, except for the 110-foot. An additional set of down only jacks are provided, located behind the rear wheels for 85-foot and above platforms. This allows easy and quick setups.

At Sutphen Towers in Hilliard, Huck bolted, aluminum, conventional aerial ladders, three sided, are produced in 75-foot and 104-foot versions. The 75-foot unit has a 1,000-pound tip load and 1,500 gpm flow capacity. A recently introduced version of the 75-foot Quint includes a box boom with a climbing ladder on top.

In addition to the full aerial line, Sutphen produces custom chassis, stainless steel and aluminum pumper and rescue trucks.

E-ONE, based in Ocala, Fla., is another aluminum ladder builder. It opened in 1974, as an ambulance builder with the name Emergency One, which was officially shortened to E-ONE decades later. It quickly branched out into mini and regular pumpers.

E-ONE’S first aerial, a 55-foot telescopic boom, was available in 1979. In 1981, the company introduced a four-section, welded extruded aluminum 110-foot, which was followed shortly thereafter by a 135-foot ladder and a 95-foot aerial platform. E-ONE’s original production idea was to make the various sections of ladders interchangeable. The 95-foot platform used the first three sections of their five-section 135-foot ladder. The “Boston 110” used the top four sections of the 135-foot unit.

Today, the designs have been optimized and updated to meet the changing market demands for increased tip loads. With over 2,000 units produced, there is no question that E-ONE is the most experienced builder of welded aluminum aerial devices. The first aerial they produced is still in service in St. Augustine, Fla.

E-ONE’s 95-foot midmount platform has some unique features. It incorporates an automatic jack leveling system, which operates on one switch, and two extending midship underslung jacks that only require a 15-foot-6-inch spread. Because they are under the frame, they do not interfere with aerial operations at low elevations. An additional two front and two rear straight down jacks are used for leveling.

Because E-ONE manufactures its own chassis, the company could incorporate an integral torque box in place of conventional chassis rails for its heavy-duty models. This reduces weight, lowers the center of gravity, and minimizes chassis flex while eliminating the need for a torque box on top of the frame rails.

The company’s current line consists of 75-; 100-, 110- and a 135-foot straight aerials with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tip load ratings from 250 to 750 pounds. Flow rates for the platforms are up to 1,500 gpm at full elevation with reasonable fire ground inlet pressures – not 350 psi or higher.

The next company is Pierce Manufacturing. Humphrey and Dudley Pierce opened the business in 1913. Initially, it built industrial truck bodies. In the 50s and 60s, it entered the fire apparatus market and became the body builder of choice for the new line of Snorkels, produced by Snorkel Fire Equipment. In the 70s, Pierce offered aerials made by LTI and later, Smeal. In 1979, it built its first custom cab and chassis, Pierce Arrow, a model the company carried until 2002.

After a short relationship with a Pennsylvania aerial builder, Pierce started offering its own ladders in the late 80s. Kewanee Fabrications, the same company that welded the Snorkel booms for many years, produced the ladder sections and transferred them to Appleton for finishing. Pierce’s parent, Oshkosh Truck, purchased Kewanee Fabrication in 1999.

Pierce Acquisition

Pierce purchased the NovaQuintech line of aerial devices in 1997, which included a 100-foot articulating aerial platform. A mid-mount aerial platform was introduced in 2000 to reduce overall travel height and so they could fit in some of the old Northeastern firehouses.

Up to 2004, Pierce made steel aerials exclusively and all of its sales information was directed at explaining why steel was the best material.

Then, in 2004, the company introduced its version of a 75-foot aluminum ladder. They claimed that as aluminum was lighter, single-axle quints could carry 500 gallons of water and 115 feet of ground ladders would not be overloaded. Pierce customers have accepted the aluminum ladders and they have recently expanded that line to include a 100-foot version.

Today, Pierce has over 900,000 square feet of manufacturing space in the Appleton, Wis., area.

Excellent Record

Aluminum ladders and platforms have an excellent in-service record. To my knowledge, none of the three builders featured in this column have had a failure of their aluminum aerials caused by a manufacturing defect.

Yes, some have fallen over when the material under the jacks gave way or the top section was placed in the middle of a fire, but hey, that is operator error not a manufacturing defect.

That, my friends, is a safety record second to none!

In the next couple of months, I will cover the history and features of the remaining aerial device manufacturers.

Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is editorial director of Fire Apparatus and has been involved with the fire service for more than 40 years as a firefighter and industry consultant. He is a member of the NFPA 1901 Fire Apparatus Standards committee, an organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium and a long-time member of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association.

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