Apparatus Builders’ Top Picks

By Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Staff

Apparatus selection is often a balancing act between personal preferences, budgets and mission needs. Apparatus builders’ product offerings have to meet those often divergent needs.

Nevertheless, all apparatus builders offer what can be characterized as “top-of-the-line” rigs that demonstrate the company’s best effort.

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment asked a number of apparatus builders what features they feel distinguish their top line model and to provide an example of a recently delivered unit.

These builders include 4 Guys Fire Trucks, Alexis Fire Apparatus, Crimson Fire, E-ONE, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, Hackney Emergency Vehicles, KME Fire Apparatus, Pierce Manufacturing, Rosenbauer America, Smeal Fire Apparatus, and SVI Trucks.

Premium Pumpers

Founded in 1974, 4 Guys Fire Trucks quickly earned a reputation as a high-quality builder of custom stainless steel fire apparatus, manufacturing pumpers, elliptical tankers, square tankers, rescue trucks and mini-pumpers.

The Millsboro (Del.) Fire Department bought one of the latest CAFS-equipped pumpers built by 4 Guys using a Spartan Diamond cab and chassis with a Cummins ISL 425-hp engine. It has a 2,000-gpm Hale Qmax pump with a standard side-mount operator’s panel and features the Hale CAFSPro unit controlled by a FoamLogix system monitored by Class 1 instruments. It also includes a 1,000-gallon UPF Poly tank with an integral 40-gallon foam cell.

Other mounted equipment are four 750-watt quartz lights, a 8,000-watt hydraulic generator, two electric rewind reels mounted in the front bumper for hydraulic rescue tool hose and two electric cord reels. It has a back-up camera system, six-station cab intercom and automatic snow chains.

Alexis Fire Apparatus is a family-owned business founded in 1947 in Alexis, Ill. Today, Jeff Morris, son of the late founder Gene Morris, is in charge and the company produces a full line of apparatus.

One of the most innovative apparatus Alexis delivered recently is a rear-mount pumper for Elk Grove Township (Ill.) Fire Department. Built on a Spartan Advantage cab and chassis, it has a body built entirely with the European-developed Plastisol glassfibre reinforced polyester (GRP) system that recently went into production in New York.

This fire truck is one of the first with a full Plastisol body put in service in the United States. Alexis was an early subscriber to the concept of GRP-bodied apparatus and has partnered with Plastisol Composites North America, headquartered in Courtland, N.Y., and owned by Alan Saulsbury, former president of Saulsbury Fire Apparatus.

The Elk Grove pumper is powered by a Cummins ISL 350-hp engine and an Allison 3000EVS transmission. It has a Waterous S100D 1,750-gpm rear-mount pump with Elkhart electric valves and the Waterous/Pneumax 200P CAF system. Also utilized is the FoamPro Powerfill system.

The unique Plastisol body allowed the 1,100-gallon water tank to be constructed as an integral cell made like any other body compartment, saving weight and expense.

On-scene electric power is provided by an Onan 15,000-watt hydraulic generator, Fire Research Corporation lights mounted on all four sides and a rooftop Tempest Towers V-Series light tower.

Crimson Fire, a subsidiary of Spartan Motors, was formed in 2003 after Spartan purchased fire apparatus builders Luverne of South Dakota and Quality Manufacturing of Alabama. Today, the company is headquartered in Brandon, S.D., and has been building fire trucks for some of the country’s largest cities as well as rural communities. It has supplied apparatus to Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago, among others.

Crimson has made a mark in the aerial market by producing engineering innovations designed by Jim Salmi, the company’s chief operating officer and president who was formerly with Ladder Towers, Inc. and American LaFrance. Salmi has a national reputation as a top aerial engineer.

A large Crimson aerial recently delivered to Tonawanda (N.Y.) Fire Department has a 100-foot mid-mount five-section platform with a five-inch waterway, dual Elkhart Brass monitors and two 4,500-psi breathing air bottles.

This aerial is built as a quint on a Spartan Gladiator cab and chassis with a Hale 8FG 2,000-gpm pump, stainless steel plumbing and a Cummins ISM 500-hp engine. It also has an FRC INControl pressure governor, a 300-gallon tank, a Harrison 10,000-watt generator and Whelen LED lighting package.


E-ONE was established in 1974 as a builder of mini-pumpers and brush trucks in Ocala, Fla. Its key advantage came from the rust resistant aluminum bodies that stood up to humidity and salt air.

Over the last 34 years E-ONE grew to the nation’s second largest fire truck maker producing about 1,000 units annually in the early 1990s. It was acquired by new owners in 2008 and today turns out more than 600 trucks a year, but the company has some 23,000 units in service around the world.

E-ONE has been credited with many firsts, but none more significant than its aluminum aerial ladders. And its latest product is the new HP 100, a 100-foot rear-mount aerial platform with the most high tech features the company has ever built, according to Joe Hodges, E-ONE’s aerial and products manager.

E-ONE’s HP 100-foot rear-mount platform dramatically reengineered last year has been married to E-ONE’s latest Quest cab and chassis introduced in 2007, and it is selling well.

“We designed the product based on a lot of customer feedback,” Hodges said. “We wanted a new 100-foot platform so we took a trip around the country and did a lot of field research.”

The company then ran the ideas through computer design software before building a prototype for testing. That resulted in a new aerial truss configuration that E-ONE calls its Toughtruss. The design produced a platform with 1,300-pound dry tip load or a 500-pound tip capacity when flowing 1,250-gpm from a single monitor or 1,500-gpm from dual monitors.

The new HP100 sports a sophisticated array of electronic controls that keep the platform turning rate constant regardless of extension length, Hodges said. It also has an electronically-controlled creep mode and a soft ramp up and slow down feature to prevent tip jerking. “We have several powerful microprocessors controlling the aerial,” Hodges said.

E-ONE wanted to keep its unique underslung jacking system to preserve compartment space and provide a relatively narrow jack stance. Only an extra 11 inches was needed on each side to increase safety when the new platform is set up on a slope with as much as a 14 percent grade. Total jack spread is now 15 feet 6 inches, and laser pointing beams are used to help firefighters center the jack pads correctly.

The aerial’s torque box was also strengthened, and the ground ladder capacity was increased to 182 feet, well in excess of NFPA requirements for a quint. There is room for a 300-gallon tank and any pump up to 2,000 gpm.

The Quest cab passed the most stringent crash tests and incorporates rollover protection systems from LifeGuard and safety seats from Bostrom. E-ONE selected Ridewell Corp.’s Dynalastic independent front suspension system for a well-controlled ride and firm handling, Hodges said.

Ferrara Fire Apparatus is one of the largest independent apparatus builders in the nation. Its namesake founder, Chris Ferrara, president and CEO, participated in building his first fire truck in 1977, then went into the fire equipment business, refurbishing and selling used apparatus in Baton Rouge, La. After a couple of expansions, the company was building a full line of apparatus, and in 1994 it moved into a new 150,000-square-foot plant in Holden, La.

Ferrara is now the fourth largest apparatus maker in the country. It recently completed a Ferrara Igniter XD CAFS pumper for the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation facility in Grand Coulee, Washington.

Ferrara Igniter

With a Cummins ISM 500-hp engine and an Allison 4000EVS transmission, this Igniter XD features an extreme duty all-aluminum cab and is equipped with a Hale Qmax 2,250-gpm pump, a Hale CAFSPro 210 compressed air foam system with a 1,000-gpm manifold, a Feecon around-the-pump foam proportioning system and an 800-gallon water tank containing a 50-gallon Class A foam cell and a 150-gallon Class B foam cell.

In addition the truck has Robinson LED compartment lights, a Command Light tower and an auto tank fill, a dual tank EZ Fill system and a fill thief, all made by Hale. It also has a David Clark intercom system.

Hackney Emergency Vehicles, headquartered in Washington, N.C., has been in the rescue and emergency vehicle market since 1987, spinning off from a beverage delivery body building business.

The company builds emergency support vehicles for rescue, hazmat response, technical rescue and urban search and rescue.

Hackney Rescue/p>

Hackney recently delivered a 39-foot heavy rescue to the St. Rose (La.) Volunteer Fire Department. This truck has a 23-foot body with 13 side compartments and a recessed roof compartment as well.

It’s built on a Spartan Diamond LFD cab and chassis with seating for eight occupants under a 20-inch raised roof and is powered by a Cummins 400-hp engine.

Equipment includes a Hurst OctoFlow pto-driven hydraulic rescue tool system with six individually controlled ports and two Hurst preconnected reels with rescue tools.

Other equipment includes 10,000-pound certified winch receivers on all four sides of the apparatus and a 9,000-pound Warn portable winch.

This heavy rescue also has two 9,000-watt Will-Burt NightScan light towers, a 35,000-watt pto generator, a rear LED traffic advisor and a backup camera system.

KME Fire Apparatus is a locally owned division of Kovatch Mobile Equipment (KME), and this year the third generation of the Kovatch family joined the leadership at its facility in Nesquehoning, Pa.

KME was a manufacturer of airport refueling tanker trucks when it bought Car-Mar Fire Apparatus, a nearby builder of fire apparatus tankers in 1983. Two years later it acquired the fire apparatus line of the former Hendrickson Manufacturing Co. of Illinois that was sold off when new investors formed HME of Wyoming, Mich., with the intention of concentration on truck chassis only. (HME now produces apparatus under the Ahrens-Fox brand name.)

In the 1980s KME was building pumpers and purchasing aerials from LTI in Pennsylvania, but in 1992 it acquired the Grumman Emergency Products line, which included that company’s aerial apparatus designs and manufacturing resources.

Today KME manufactures its own cabs and chassis as well as aerials. Its top-of-the-line chassis is called the Predator. A KME pumper tanker, built on a Predator cab and chassis, was recently delivered to the Cardinal Joint Fire District in Canfield, Ohio.

The apparatus is powered by a Cummins 450-hp engine and features KME’s T.O.P. rollover protection system, David Clark intercom system and a Safety Vision backup camera.

It has a 1,500-gpm Hale Qmax pump and a 2,500-gallon water tank with a 30-gallon foam cell and mounts a TFT Hurricane radio-controlled 1,250-gpm monitor.

This pumper-tanker has an all stainless steel body and is set up to serve as an attack unit or an EMS provider vehicle depending upon the situation.

Other features and equipment include a Federal Signal Q2 siren and a Powercall 6-Adam 200-watt siren, a Zico tank storage rack and a Zico side-mount ladder rack as well as Whelen scene lights.

Pierce Manufacturing, the largest apparatus maker in the United States, is headquartered in Appleton, Wis.

The company was founded in 1913 as a specialty truck body builder for Ford Model T applications. In 1940, the company built its first fire apparatus, starting it on the path to its top position today.

The Pierce Ultimate Configuration (PUC) introduced a year ago is designed around a large tilt cab which moves out of the way to expose a proprietary Pierce pump mounted above the frame rails for easy servicing.

There is no traditionally-framed pump house as such. When the cab is tilted up there is full access to the pump for maintenance, and the design allows for either a shorter wheelbase or additional compartment space.

The pump has a unique drive train system that permits pump-and-roll as it is operated off a special pto unit and not in the conventional split-shaft fashion. The pump itself was designed by Pierce and is built by W. S. Darley.

“We’re seeing that fire departments need more compartment space, less wheelbase and enhanced safety systems,” said Mike Moore, Pierce’s director of strategic business development of the PUC.

“We have been very pleased with its reception in the marketplace,” he said, noting that sales have doubled the company’s expectations. “It’s appealing to a broad market spectrum, from the volunteer departments to the career departments.”

Chassis Choices

Part of that appeal, Moore said, is that the PUC apparatus style is available on the top-end Pierce Quantum and Velocity cabs and chassis as well as the budget-conscious Pierce custom Contender line. “We will continue to roll the design across the product line, Moore said, noting that Pierce is offering a “top-side-mount” option which puts the operator up high where he can see all around the truck, as well as a more traditional side-mount pump panel.

With the PUC product, pumpers can have crosslays that are at least two feet lower than traditional pumpers and a 1.5-foot shorter wheelbase. “There are usually always trade-offs, but with the PUC you can truly have it all,” Moore said.

Rosenbauer America marks its 10 anniversary this year making apparatus in the United States with a European flair. The company is an amalgamation of Central States, a builder located in Lyons, S.D., General Safety, located in Wyoming, Minn., and RK Aerials, located in Fremont, Neb., and Metz Aerials in conjunction with its Austrian-based Rosenbauer parent.

Over the past 10 years, the management of Rosenbauer America has built the business into one of the largest apparatus makers in the country.

A new product, called the T-Rex, will help the company reach even greater heights. It’s a 102-foot articulating platform aerial reminiscent of the Snorkel product.

Tim McDonald, Rosenbauer America’s national aerial sales manager, said the first T-Rex in North America was recently sold to the Cochrane Fire Department in Alberta, Canada. It’s an Americanized version what they’ve been selling in Europe for years, McDonald said, noting that it’s a Metz-based aerial product which is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant.

102-Foot Reach

“The T-Rex is unique in that it can get into or around places that other aerials can’t,” McDonald said. It can reach up to 102 feet as well as 15 feet below grade because of its articulation capabilities. Also, the aerial can be deployed on steep grades, up to 11 degrees side-to-side, and a front to rear slope of 7 degrees while supporting a full payload and waterway capacity.

“The T-Rex can get into areas that would never be accessible with a regular aerial,” he said. Even on buildings with parapets, McDonald said firefighters would be able to walk straight on and off the platform to the roof because the articulation would allow the aerial to reach up and over the façade.

The aerial has a tip load of 1,250-pounds at full capacity and a 625-pound load while flowing up to 1,500-gpm.

The apparatus is also equipped with electronics that will prevent operators from hitting objects, as it will stop when it comes within 24 inches of striking something. Electronic controls also means that inexperienced operators need not worry about jerky movement. The start up and stopping of aerial movements is governed and smoothed out with Soft Touch controls that begin the movement slowly and then start ramping up to full speed and slow gradually when the control is released.

Jacking is automatic too, McDonald said, adding that nesting the aerial is also automated.

The T-Rex has a traditional aerial body to make it more acceptable and useable in the North American market, which is accustomed to lots of compartments, he said. It can also be equipped with compressed air foam systems, pumps and tanks, depending on the customer’s preferences.

“This is a product that’s really for anybody that’s looking at an aerial,” McDonald said, noting that departments that had Snorkels in the fleet will really appreciate the versatility of the T-Rex. And, it has a large basket, measuring 87 inches wide, 36 inches deep.

McDonald said the T-Rex is on the upper end of the price scale when towns think about purchasing aerials, but considering large aerials can cost more than $800,000, a leap to about $1 million would not be hard to justify to get the extra features of a T-Rex.

“We believe this can be used everywhere from Chicago [where Snorkels took root], to rural America,” McDonald said. “It can be used all across the country.”

Smeal Fire Apparatus, headquartered in Snyder, Neb., is another family-owned, multi-generational business. It was started by the late Donald Smeal in 1955 as a farm implement repair company that evolved into the fire truck business in 1963 when Smeal was asked by his local fire department to fix a leaky tank.

Pump & Roll

The tank could not be repaired, so Smeal built a new truck. Today, the company offers a full line of apparatus including an extensive line of aerials. Recently, Smeal filled a 16-unit order for Riverside (Calif.) County Fire Department. The pumpers are all built on Spartan cabs and chassis with Cummins 400-hp engines and Allison 3000EVS transmissions.

These pumpers have two fire pumps, the primary 2000-gpm Waterous midship mount and an auxiliary separate-engined pump delivery up to 275 gpm for pump-and-roll use. The small pump is powered by a three cylinder Briggs & Stratton diesel.

Other features of the pumpers include 500-gallon UPF tanks with 25-gallon foam cells, FoamPro 2002 foam systems, Whelen LED traffic advisors, FRC 1,500-watt Optimum lights and 500-pound rated Accuride trays for generators and extrication tools.

According to Smeal, the contract for the apparatus is for five years, and it could include several more apparatus as add-ons.

At the foot of the Rocky Mountains, in Loveland, Colo., SVI Trucks, a division of Super Vac Inc., has been building some of the finest rescue apparatus available for more than 35 years.

SVI is a family-owned business that moved into the building and marketing of custom-built apparatus in 1971 after developing a successful fire and industrial ventilation business, which continues today. SVI makes a variety of high-quality walk-in and non-walk-in bodied rescue vehicles using steel, stainless steel and aluminum built on commercial or custom chassis.

A shining example of the work SVI does was recently delivered to the South San Francisco (Calif.) Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team.

It’s built on a Spartan Gladiator cab and chassis with a Detroit Diesel Series 60 490-hp engine and an Allison 4000EVS transmission.

The 22-foot long body is made of 3/16-inch formed aluminum and has street and curb-side awnings with electric retractors.

For scene lighting it has four FRC 750-watt lights and a cab-mounted Command Light light tower. The lights and electrical equipment are supplied by a pto 40,000-watt generator. The unit also has a Whelen scene lighting package with six LED lights.

The rescue truck is also equipped with a Bauer Compressors breathing air supply system with four 6,000-psi cylinders, a Bauer compressor, and a Bauer two-position fill station. A Boss Industries industrial air compressor capable of producing 160 cfm at 110 psi is driven by a pto.

Other equipment includes a David Clark intercom system, Federal Signal Rumbler speakers and flashlight and radio-mounting throughout the cab as well as a custom center console and a map box.

This is just a sampling of some of the fine apparatus available to firefighters today. It will take dedicated people to discern the needs of particular fire departments, but when the specifications have been developed, there’s no doubt there are builders in the marketplace that will manufacture just what’s needed and desired.

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