Apparatus Purchasing: Can’t Afford a Real Ladder Truck, Part 4

American LaFrance quint
Photo via Fire Engineering
Part 3 concluded with sending the apparatus manufacturer (OEM) the preliminary pumper-ladder (PL) specifications with sketches showing how the dealer thinks it should look.

Dave Perkins, northeast region director for E-ONE, a REV Group brand, and I combine the role of dealer, OEM, and apparatus purchasing committee (APC) in illustrating the collaboration required when designing customized apparatus for prospective customers. Purchasers should realize how time consuming the process is, especially when following the APC’s directive: “This is what we want and how we’d like it laid out. Tell us if you can do it or if you have a better way of doing it.” Our PL is not proprietary to Perkins’s employer or to any we have previously worked for.

Apparatus Purchasing: Can’t Afford a Real Ladder Truck, Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Apparatus Purchasing Archive


Some believe changing the paint scheme and light bar and adding different graphics to a previously designed rig is customization. That pales to requiring a nonstandard hosebed, having unique compartmentation, and altering the booster tank’s configuration and physical location. Weight calculations and detailed mechanical engineering will be required. Engineering cooperation with component part manufacturers is likely. There’s in-house coordination between plumbing, electrical, and metal fabricators. Ideas and concepts can be vigorously debated before agreeing to solutions. Interactions are numerous, occasionally contentious, and mostly unbeknownst to the customer.

Extraordinary time and expense can be expended—costs only recoverable with a sale. Preliminary drawings might undergo numerous revisions before there’s an acceptable design. There are even numerous revisions to final prints. A competent design and engineering staff working closely with a knowledgeable dealer will develop solutions and, if required, alternatives and options the dealer must discreetly present to the purchaser without jeopardizing the sale.

OEMs are apprehensive about “giving the store away” to competitors. Sales presentation drawings, rather than detailed engineering blueprints, are often provided until a contract is signed. That’s life; live with it.


Prospective customers are not necessarily informed—nor should they be—of the reasoning behind every OEM design decision. Why? Some are small; some are proprietary; and, unfortunately, some APC members can be argumentative, antagonistic, and even combative. Dealers grimace when one points at a blueprint demanding “put it there” with no clue or care about the ramifications. It’s aggravating when explanations are not accepted. It’s infuriating when APCs argue merely for the sake of arguing. APCs can alienate dealers as easily as dealers can APCs. Consider exploratory design meetings with prospective vendors as free “educational seminars.” Don’t waste the opportunity.


Dealers cringe when OEMs say what was told to a prospective customer can’t be done—regardless of the reason. Informed our PL design was inadequate for the equipment desired, Perkins and I located every piece of equipment required on both a pumper and a ladder truck—just to prove our PL theory. (Caution: Doing so is not the responsibility of manufacturers or dealers. Don’t ask them; you’ll not like the answer.)

All the options were explored. The simplest and easiest yet least obvious was right in front of us: Some people favor keeping a pumper’s body height lower than the cab’s height. Aesthetics do not increase efficiency. Functional utilization of available space does. By raising the PL body height to the APC’s maximum overall height, more than 100 cubic feet of “space” was made available.

The APC’s major requirements were met. Some smaller ones were not. Variations, justifiable or not, from “how we really wanted it” may cause firefighters to hate a rig for as long as they own it. Some “hiccups” to the PL design follow with our combined resolutions. Included are suggestions to make the rig better.

A major glitch was finding separated storage in walkaway brackets on each body side for three self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with adjacent spare cylinders. Vendors must be extremely careful in laying out equipment that inadvertently alters fire department procedures such as how firefighters don SCBA.

  1. The OEM suggested adding exterior compartments over the front wheel wells, each to hold an SCBA and spare cylinder. That eliminated the two rear-facing crew cab seats. I suggested three fold-down seats on the cab’s rear wall. Perkins said, “Most custom cabs have a minimum of six seats, which is what the APC specified. They don’t pack up en route, and there’s adequate room for four abreast in a 100-inch-wide cab.” I agree: “This is a fire truck—not a tour bus.”
  2. Right hand side (RHS) low compartments negated vertical pull-out boards to mount SCBA. Our left hand side (LHS) equipment layout did likewise. We’ll propose four SCBA lying flat in two separate LHS compartments, enabling firefighters to don them like a coat or “over their heads.” In two of the LHS compartments, three Ziamatic ACSR-6 bottle holders bolted in the center sandwiched between two adjustable shelves leave sufficient room on each side for an SCBA to lie flat. They are less expensive than custom built modules and flexible if modifications are required later. Use the third bottle holder to store face pieces.
  3. Show the APC where we located all the equipment. Explain how and why we proposed what we did and let the APC determine how and where to carry them.

I suggested a pumphouse the same height as the body, allowing increased storage above it. The OEM said, “Make it an integral part of the body. No discharges or inlets penetrate side panels, and there are no crosslays. Rear and bumper discharges are partially piped with flexible hose.” Perkins said, “Enclosing the LHS pump panel behind a roll-up door keeps the operator’s panel clean in inclement weather.”

Perkins suggested a rear pull-out, drop-down ladder similar to those used to access ladder truck turntables, adding, “It’s safer to climb than individual steps and easier to stand on when working.”

The combination ladder couldn’t be located accessible from ground level. I suggested making the area above the rear RHS slide-in ladder compartment an integral part of the main hosebed. Moving the LDH storage one tier to the right enables hanging the ladder in the walkway while maintaining its required 16-inch width.

Enclosed storage isn’t available for a full-sized Stokes basket. I recommended storing a two-piece Stokes in the LHS pumphouse where crosslays usually go. Perkins said, “A split Stokes can’t be used for hoisting a victim. The OEM said, “Their specifications didn’t specify either one. Give them the option to carry a single-piece exposed on top of the body or a two-piece in the pumphouse.”

The manual cord reel is too tall to fit on the RHS. Perkins said, “Look for another reel manufacturer.” The OEM suggested, “Purchase a non-live reel; they’re smaller.” I said, “They can carry a couple of 50-foot lengths coiled up on a shelf, or if there’s room, add a 50-foot length to each electric rewind reel.”

The 15-pound CO2 extinguisher will be mounted on the LHS running board. I said: “If they’re adamant about carrying CO2, and the running board location isn’t acceptable, suggest they purchase two 10-pounders.”

The rear suction piping precludes SCBA cylinder and extinguisher storage in the RHS wheel well. We’ll make them as deep as possible to store small items like road flares, spare gloves, and barricade tape.

Adding underbody compartments with drop-down doors ahead of and behind the rear wheel wells adds needed storage space. They could hold tarps, rope bags, ladder belts, “high-rise” packs, collapsible traffic cones, or even short lengths of LDH. Perkins said, “Check the angles of approach and departure between the axles.”

Finding helmet storage next to each SCBA was difficult. Some helmets require 18×13×9 inches—just more than a cubic foot. The front wheel well compartments can accommodate a couple. In-cab storage in those seldom-used National Fire Protection Association-compliant holders might be the only solution for the other four. Or, the APC can choose what equipment it wants to eliminate or relocate in the body to store them.

Finding room near each SCBA for a flashlight and portable radio with chargers was another concern. Perkins said, “Some firefighters pocket or attach them before packing up.” The OEM said, “There’re too many variables; let the APC decide.” I agreed: “Besides, there’s no signed contract.”


APCs have the final responsibility for all equipment layouts—they write the purchasing specifications. There is no doubt all the equipment we wanted will fit on the PL. We’re not sure each location will meet every APC written requirement as well as its unwritten but sometimes equally important whims, wants, and wishes.

Again, because vendors know their designs and equipment layouts may be given to competitors, they might withhold some data until awarded a contract. Don’t like it? Hire a consultant and pay for the work many dealers willingly perform at no charge to help in securing a sale.

OEM and dealer equipment mounting can be very expensive. Detailed preplanning during the design phase of any rig may gain financial benefits as well as fireground efficiency. Some purchasers look through the narrow prism of only their world when purchasing. Dealers and OEMs have “equipment layout experience” with multitudes of fire departments. Use them—don’t abuse them.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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