Are Today’s Apparatus Innovations Evolutions of Past Technology?

Young pumper
(1) The front end of this Young pumper appears to reflect any rig from the late 1980s. The warning lights and directional lights spaced away from each other and the headlights should appease today’s lighting safety advocates. Will that be a “new” NFPA requirement in the 2000s? (Photos by Bob Milnes.)
fire pump
(2) Removing the front cowl trim panel gives full access to the fire pump.
Additional access was via a floor-mounted hinged cover in the cab
(3) Additional access was via a floor-mounted hinged cover in the cab.
pump operator's pane
(4) This pump operator’s panel is located in the walkway behind the cab on the driver’s side. The large door aft of the walkway gives access to the back of the panel, the motor, and piping and valves on the left side of the apparatus.
hydraulically controlled valves
(5) The use of hydraulically controlled valves allowed for customization of the operator’s panel layout. The location of manually operated valves on “standard” pump panels is usually dictated by the location of the valve behind the panel.
raised roof on a custom chassis
(6) Young introduced the first raised roof on a custom chassis. Bus-style crew cab doors, compliant at the time of manufacture, were activated by the chassis parking brake, which was not popular with some firefighters who attempted to override safety interlocks. The pump operator’s panel on this pumper was actually mounted on the access door to the motor.

History tends to repeat itself–Pearl Harbor and 9/11, for example. The fire service and fire apparatus innovations, in particular, are not immune from replicating the past. Many design and so-called technological breakthroughs in today’s market are evolutions of past technology. Some innovations reintroduced to the fire service are advertised as ultimate answers, the panaceas to all the woes, pitfalls, and design flaws of the past 100 years. Granted, there have been bona fide advances in apparatus design as well as innovations in manufacturing, especially in the high-tech, electronic, and mechanical fields. However, others can be interpreted as reinventing the wheel. Repackaging an existing design, concept, or theory and successfully marketing the same is a plus for any manufacturer–a welcome addition to its bottom line. It has been done before. I intend no malice or criticism of any advance in fire apparatus design regardless of whether the idea was conceived a half century ago or just last night. Making a firefighter’s job easier and safer is the ultimate goal. Hats off to all manufacturers who do so. This article recognizes some of those innovations and a former manufacturer who “reintroduced” them three decades ago.

A Design Pioneer

The former Young Fire Apparatus Company, of Lancaster, New York, whose beginnings are traced to the 1930s, was a pioneer in apparatus design. Many in the apparatus industry said Dick Young, the former owner, was decades ahead of his time. He had a string of “innovations” that began in the late 1960s and ran for two decades until the company’s demise because of labor problems. In a 2007 interview, Young stated, “I did not invent anything. I took existing and affordable technology already on the market and adapted it to my fire trucks.” Whether you call it recycling, refining, or repackaging, some of Young’s innovative designs are being reintroduced today, albeit with improvements. The most recent have been alternative locations for the fire pump and the pump operator’s panel. Midship-mounted pumps have been the norm on custom pumpers and most commercial rigs. Traditional front-mounted pumps, common on early commercial-chassis pumpers, are seldom used today except when provided on commercial chassis, usually for job-specific or rural applications. Rear-mounted pumps, the industry standard in Europe, have seen limited acceptance in the domestic market.

Alternative Pump Locations

Recently, one of the major players introduced a fire pump mounted beneath its custom cab. Other manufacturers quickly followed the concept with what I call the alphabet trucks–all featuring alternative pump locations. Some acronyms for them are MVP, PUC, EMAX, RPM, and PRO. It is likely more will be forthcoming. The design makes sense. The concept works as well now as it did in the past. Western States Fire Apparatus, a West Coast company, originally introduced the “under-the-cab” concept on a custom chassis, which was principally marketed regionally in the Pacific Northwest. Western States used a Barton American model IC-125 1,250-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump that was crankshaft-driven off the front of the motor.

Young’s first pumper with an alternative pump location was built in 1976. In 1982, he introduced the Crusader II line of custom pumpers featuring a 1,250-gpm crankshaft-driven pedestal pump mounted under the cab immediately behind the front cowl (photos 1 and 2). He said the design made a lot of sense. “You could shorten the wheelbase or add more water without lengthening the wheelbase,” he said. His statement sounds similar to today’s manufacturers promoting shorter wheelbases, more compartment space, and easier access to the fire pump (photo 3). The alphabet trucks offer either pedestal or standard midship pumps. Locations vary from beneath the cab to between the frame rails to above the frame rails. This article does not favor either pump style, drive train, or location. Let the salespeople slug that one out. Regardless of the varied locations and advantages promoted by various manufacturers, the common benefit is that the extraordinarily large pump house is no longer necessary. That space can be used for the plethora of other items the fire service wants to carry. I predict it will be the design of the future.

Move the Motor

One manufacturer recently introduced a custom chassis with the motor moved rearward and downward in the crew cab–a welcome improvement for the driver and officer and sure to be copied by other manufacturers. Although innovative, it is not the first time a motor has been “relocated.” Young’s Crusader II design incorporated a custom cab and chassis with the engine located behind the cab, known as a midengine design. It featured a pedestal-style pump and remote pump operator’s panels. Supporting Young’s statement of using existing technology, one of his chassis supplier’s 1969 price list advertised itself as a “manufacturer of quality built chassis and specialized equipment” and showed pricing for engine-forward, rear-engine, and midengine chassis. During the past three decades, manufacturers of custom cabs and chassis, as well as manufacturers of complete apparatus, have offered rear-engine and midengine options. Neither have set the market on fire.

Pump Drive Trains

Buyers, beware. Purchasers should objectively analyze the methods of powering pumps located in alternative locations. Manufacturers’ advertising deserves equal scrutiny. Front crankshaft drives have an established track record. It’s hard to denigrate proven technology. When Young was asked if there were any problems with his front crankshaft design, he replied, “Well, yes, there was. With a front crankshaft drive, there is a momentary torque spike from around 630 foot pounds to 1,300 foot pounds when engaging the pump. So, we put a shock-absorbing coupler in the driveshaft and never had a problem after.” In the past, the performance of a transmission-mounted power-take-off (PTO) was questionable when powering large-capacity pumps. Some transmission-mounted PTOs were not rated “heavy duty” or advertised for “continuous duty.” Whether it was a torque issue, a horsepower requirement, or a liability concern, many apparatus manufacturers shied away from the concept. However, newer generations of transmission-powered PTOs may be adequate. Ask your favorite vendor.

Purchasers should carefully evaluate manufacturers’ claims and criticisms with an open mind. One manufacturer may promote the industry standard “time-proven” split-shaft-operated fire pump while another may belittle it as “old-fashioned” technology. One recent introduction features a pump powered by a PTO mounted on the rear of the engine. Some competitors immediately disparaged its “continuously moving parts.” What the competitors did not say was that that particular technology, while new to the fire service, has a proven track record in the construction industry. Regardless of the method proposed for powering a pump, have the salesperson substantiate it beyond a reasonable doubt to your purchasing committee. Purchasers can also seek the expertise and advice of fire pump manufacturers and manufacturers of component parts such as the motor, transmission, and PTO–knowledgeable resources seldom used. Concurrently, if a salesperson belittles a competitor’s method or product, ask for justification. Get it in writing. As the fire apparatus recession continues, competition for orders will become fierce, and sales tactics may become aggressive. Posturing, bad-mouthing, and unfair criticism of a competitor’s product or design should end abruptly when the bellyacher is asked for his signature on written substantiation.

Pump Operator’s Panel

Pump panels are traditionally adjacent to the pump house, either top-mounted or side-mounted, to facilitate mechanically operated valve linkage. Going back to the Crusader II series, Young further elaborated, “Using the pump under the cab with the midengine allowed us to offer new features to our customers–one being different pump panel locations.” Sound familiar?

When asked if he used push-pull rods, electronic, or cable-operated valves on his remote panels, he replied, “Well, we used a hydraulically operated cylinder to control each valve. It was domestically available right off the shelf. It was a double-acting cylinder with a six-inch throw. A single one-gallon oil reservoir operated all the valves; I believe it ran about 480 pounds per square inch (psi). You could put the reservoir anyplace and just run tubing to the valves. Doing so, you could locate the pump panel wherever you wanted.” And, he did (photos 4 and 5). Young went on to say it was an important design feature because regardless of the valve location, any size valve could be opened or closed with minimal effort and the speed could be regulated–no matter what size valve. Today, electronic controls are predominant when valves are remote from the operator’s panel. Will hydraulic valves be reintroduced? Regardless of the type of controls, the alternative pump panel location is a viable option.

With alternative pump locations, the use of pedestal pumps and in-house custom-built discharge and suction manifolds are becoming popular, if not necessary. When using a pedestal pump, Young stated, “Because we built the pump suction and discharge manifolds out of four-inch tubing, we could easily put a four-inch discharge and suction inlet on all four sides of a truck.” That specifiable feature, along with hydraulically operated valve controls, gave his competition fits.

Other Firsts

It is worthy to note Young had other industry firsts. In 1984, Young manufactured a raised roof on a four-door custom chassis (photo 6). He stated: “It was the first in the industry–made of fiberglass and reinforced with three-inch square stainless steel tubing for rollover protection.” He noted Hammerly, a former Pennsylvania apparatus builder, introduced the first fiberglass fire apparatus bodies. He followed suit with a modular composite body. He elaborated, “We introduced our version of fiberglass bodies in 1986. They were molded fiberglass compartments and wheel well modules that were bolted together and reinforced with three-inch square steel tubing. The upper side sheets forming the hosebed sides were galvanneal steel because the hosebed capacity was the major area for customization. We used the steel in the upper section because it was easier and less costly to modify. It would have been too expensive make new molds for every hosebed variation.”


In an October 20, 2011, letter, Dick Young made a profound statement and prophecy. He stated, “Today, the fire truck industry is loaded with people trapped in a business that will be squeezed for years to come. Competition will have two sides. One will be price. The other will be innovation.” I concur. Whether an innovation is new or recycled is immaterial as long as firefighter safety and ease of operation are the end results.

Author’s note: Research for this article was via interview and correspondence with Dick Young and former Young dealers, and in particular from the 1932-1991 Young Fire Equipment Photo Archive edited by L.E. Dulbia and T.W. Shand.

BILL ADAMS is a former fire apparatus salesman, a past chief, and an active member of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has more than 45 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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