Aerial Platforms Do a Little Bit of Everything

The 3-1 Life Bracket on a Pierce Manufacturing platform can be used to secure a roof ladder to get down over a parapet or a Stokes basket for rescue work
(1) The 3-1 Life Bracket on a Pierce Manufacturing platform can be used to secure a roof ladder to get down over a parapet or a Stokes basket for rescue work. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)
Pierce Manufacturing built this hose box on its steel platform to hold a hose
(2) Pierce Manufacturing built this hose box on its steel platform to hold either 2½- or 1¾-inch hose. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)
A parapet ladder is attached to the front of a Sutphen aerial platform
(3) A parapet ladder is attached to the front of a Sutphen aerial platform. (Photo courtesy of Sutphen Corp.)
Ferrara Fire Apparatus built this aerial platform apparatus for the Ferndale (MI) Fire Department
(4) Ferrara Fire Apparatus built this aerial platform apparatus for the Ferndale (MI) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)

Aerial platforms have come a long way since the first bucket was attached to the end of an aerial ladder. These days aerial apparatus manufacturers will consider putting nearly anything a fire department needs on a platform, as long as it’s within the realm of safety and realistic design. Recent years have seen platform configurations change to make them more maneuverable and easier to get into tight spaces. Likewise, modifications have been made to better reflect the type of work firefighters are performing when enclosed in a bucket.

It’s not unusual to see dual monitors, hoseline connections, scene lighting, breathing air, rappelling hooks, Stokes trays, cameras, ladders for parapets, 45-degree mitered corners, wide gates for rescue, and remote controls as part and parcel of the equipment on the platform at the top of the aerial.

Wireless Control and More

Tim Smits, senior manager of national sales and product support for Pierce Manufacturing, says wireless operation and cameras are examples of the types of aerial platform equipment gaining popularity. “The big thing these days is wireless control of the platform, which is especially useful in hazmat incidents or when the operator doesn’t want to subject firefighters on the platform to the hazards of heavy smoke,” he says. “As far as cameras go, we’ve been installing both surveillance and thermal imaging cameras in an extender tube to go up about ten feet above the platform when deployed from either the turntable or the basket,” he notes. “The cameras can be controlled wirelessly, too, and also can be mounted on a fixed point on the front of the basket if the fire department doesn’t want the extender tube.”

Paul Christiansen, marketing director/aerial sales manager of Ferrara Fire Apparatus, notes his company’s platforms “are particularly well-suited for rescues, with large interior working areas.” Ferrara’s rear-mount platforms have 21 square feet of interior space and the mid-mounts offer 20 square feet. “Both platforms have outward opening bifold doors that allow someone in a rescue chair to fit through the opening,” Christiansen points out. A plunger and socket hold the door open if needed, and there are handrails around the entire platform.

Ferrara’s platforms have a 10-inch-wide deck in the front and the corners are cut at a 45-degree angle to allow for good maneuverability. “An operator is able to put the platform up against a building and have a step area for firefighters to step out on,” Christiansen says.

Bryan Smeal, regional sales director for Smeal Fire Apparatus, says his company’s platforms also are designed with angled corners to allow the bucket more flexibility when approaching a building and are surrounded by a heavy rubber bumper. The Smeal platforms also use dual-hinged, bifold gates.

Smeal makes its rear-mount and mid-mount platforms in similar configurations, although the mid-mount platform is a little narrower, Smeal notes, “to keep the swing of the bucket hanging off the back of the truck inside the arc of the front wheel turning radius.” However, he adds, the narrower platform doesn’t affect the kinds of equipment Smeal puts on it.

Rosenbauer also uses 45-degree corners on its platforms, according to Donley Frederickson, national sales manager, and installs two single-fold, swing-in doors. Rosenbauer platforms carry an eight-inch-wide step around the outside of the bucket to allow better egress into and out of the platform when used in rescue mode.

Some fire departments are using aerials to light incident scenes. “One of the requests we’re getting from fire departments is for different lighting on the platform,” Frederickson says. “They’re asking for everything from standard 12-volt lights to 750-watt 110-volt lighting. We’re seeing a lot of 110-volt lighting under the platform where departments are using the bucket as a light tower in addition to its water flow and rescue capabilities.” Scene lighting from platforms apparently is a trend whose time has come, Frederickson believes. “I have yet to hear a fire department say it had too much light on a scene,” he says.

Frederickson says Rosenbauer also has installed hose manifolds on its platforms, most recently a Task Force Tips-developed four-discharge manifold. “The TFT manifold has four 2½-inch discharge locations and is only limited by the water supply that you can get up to the platform,” Frederickson observes. “Before this manifold, you’d see a pair of 2½-inch discharges up there, but this manifold gives you greater flexibility.”

Solid Construction

Tony Mastrobattista, aerial sales manager, North Region, for Crimson Fire says Crimson builds its platforms out of welded steel, instead of aluminum, because it believes steel is more durable and can be subjected to magnetic particle testing of its welds, which can’t be done with aluminum. “Steel also has a much higher resistance to high temperatures and fireground environmental conditions than aluminum does,” he says. “As far as materials go, if there were an affordable way to make a platform out of titanium, we would do it because it would be the best, but it could not be economically competitive because titanium is about ten times the cost of steel.”

Mastrobattista points out Crimson platforms are welded into four subassemblies that are bolted together to facilitate field repair in the event of damage. “We call it a modular construction and our experience is that platforms often hit trees when maneuvering, damaging hand rails,” he says. “An all-welded platform would have to replace more of the platform than one of modular construction.”

Besides Crimson Fire, American LaFrance/LTI also builds a modular platform.

Joe Hedges, product manager of aerials and chassis for E-ONE, says his company’s platforms offer many features as a result of customer input, like angled corner gates and front steps to make it easier to position the platform up against a building instead of trying to place a large square bucket in a snug position. “The bucket is designed to get into and out of easily and safely, especially with the perimeter walkway,” Hedges points out.

Firefighting and Rescue

E-ONE also offers single and dual monitors on its platforms, as do many other platform manufacturers. “A feature of our dual monitors is the overlapping patterns that you can get, allowing the operator to attack a target on the left, right, or center or to cover two targets at the same time,” Hedges says. E-ONE offers several different locations on the platform for 2½-inch discharge valves and installs hose boxes that can carry from 10 feet of 1¾-inch hose to 50 feet of 2½-inch hose.

“Breathing air is pretty common on platforms these days,” Hedges points out. “We offer 216- to 6,000-pound-per-square-inch (psi) bottles, from two to four outlets, breathing air hose, and storage for masks,” he says.

The E-ONE HP 100 platform can put a Stokes holder in one of three locations: front to rear on either the left or right side of the platform or bridging across the rear hand rails, leaving the bucket space open for firefighters. The HP 100 platform also provides for high-angle rescue through a pair of rappelling eyes at the tip of the platform’s base, each rated to hold 2,000 pounds. Hedges says there also are anchor points at the turntable for change-of-direction rope work and integral lifting eyes under the bucket’s rear side as anchor points.

Most of the other aerial manufacturers also offer some type of rappelling arm or anchor point. Likewise, nearly all aerial makers offer some type of roof ladder bracket on their platforms.

On the E-ONE platform, for example, the roof ladder can be attached to a bracket assembly that is pinned onto the front of the bucket. “A firefighter would rotate the monitor to the side to set the ladder bracket, attach the roof ladder to the bracket, put the pins in the bracket, and step out onto the parapet,” Hedges says. “Typically, they attach a 10- to 14-foot roof ladder.”

Firefighter Ingenuity

Hedges says that E-ONE’s platforms also can be manually pitched down 20 to 30 degrees, a function that allows the platform to be kept level when needed. “But, we’ve found firefighters tying themselves onto a platform pitched down to a roof and using a vent saw to ventilate the roof,” he says. “The operator moves the platform in the direction needed to allow the firefighter to complete the vent hole.” He notes such firefighter activity wasn’t the reason for the pitch design of the platform but shows how creative firefighters can get in using apparatus.

David Rider, sales manager for Sutphen Corp., says his firm has been building only mid-mount platforms since 1960, using a mechanically fastened box boom for a stronger platform. “The platform itself has a yoke on the end, where it’s suspended between the two pieces of the yoke at the end of the boom,” Rider says. “That allows us to hang the bucket so it’s suspended above center, and no matter what position it is in, it will always hang down, similar to how a Ferris wheel basket hangs.”

Rider says Sutphen also provides two monitors on its platforms, one on each side of the bucket, as well as breathing air, mask storage, hose roll storage, and room for pike poles and an attic ladder. “We recently had an unusual request from a fire company in Pennsylvania,” he notes, “where we installed a small winch on the platform so the firefighters could winch up tools from the ground. In another instance, we installed a special windlass for the Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada) Fire Department where there was a lift-out floor section to allow a rescuer to be lowered down into the Niagara Falls gorge.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is 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.

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