By Bill Adams
I don’t like them. I believe they are an inefficient, overrated, and underperforming excuse for a real ladder truck and I wouldn’t buy one. In my 50 years in the volunteer fire service, I had the opportunity to work off of a city service ladder truck, a straight 75-foot midship aerial, a 1,000-gpm 85-foot midship quint, a 1,250-gpm 85-foot midship quint, and a 1,500-gpm 110-foot rear-mount quint. Disclaimer: It hurts to admit that I was on the purchasing committee for the rear mount, and I did vote for the thing. But, we kept a lot of ground ladders on it.
The crew of Providence (RI) Fire Department’s Ladder Company No. 5 influenced this kid during weekly visits to their quarters in the 1950s. They told endless stories of how “ladder companies always opened the doors” for the engine companies and the roof crew did a good job when they ventilated well enough that the engine crew could advance a line inside without using “Scotts.” They claimed Providence didn’t hold second fiddle to Boston’s excellent reputation for throwing ladders. You wouldn’t believe 5’s shared quarters with two engine companies!
The first department I belonged to ran the 75-foot aerial out of Station 1 and the city service out of the wing house. If you rode them, your job was to open up, to ventilate, and to throw ground ladders until you ran out or you were told to stop. Ground ladders were wooden truss, and no ladder truck was complete unless it carried a 45-foot or a 50-foot bangor. The disadvantage to those rigs was riding on their sides in inclement weather. You froze in the winter, got wet when it rained, and had to pick bugs from between your teeth during the summer. It was like riding a motorcycle without a helmet or goggles.
After moving, I was subjected to quints in two different departments. I didn’t like them then and still don’t. Quint aficionados shouldn’t get their bunkers in a twist. I’m not talking about departments that have a total quint concept or those that have multiple ladder companies. I’m referring to smaller departments that have replaced their only ladder truck with a quint—for whatever reason, although I really can’t think of a good one.
My big problem is some powers-to-be will sacrifice just about anything to buy a quint. How can a fire department browbeat taxpayers for decades justifying 100-foot aerial ladder purchases and then turn around and say a 75-foot aerial will work well enough—just because they want to buy a quint? Regardless of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Insurance Services Office (ISO) requirements, let’s say a department has real-life experiences with and finds it operationally justifiable to carry four extensions, two wall, and two roof ladders on its ladder truck. When it comes time to buy a quint, why does it all of a sudden believe one or two extensions and a single roof ladder will suffice? Is it possible it was “over laddering” building fires for years? I doubt it.
One department had an older straight aerial ladder with ground ladders mounted on both sides as well as sliding in the rear. It worked very well for the department. On a new full-sized quint, it was willing to forego ground ladders on the sides so it could have extra compartments to carry more stuff. What stuff is more important on a ladder truck than ladders? And, it could only fit half the ladders it wanted to slide in the rear. Oh, that’s right—it needed the space for a hosebed and a booster tank. Foolish me.
A big bone of contention of mine is when a department runs a quint first due. Most of the time, a quint is sailing out the front door with about half the water the first due engine used to carry. And, it probably carries less supply line, less handline hose, and fewer preconnects. It’s harder to maneuver than a pumper and might cost twice as much. Forget about not carrying enough ladders—that scenario doesn’t reek of efficiency for an engine company. “But, we got a new fire truck! And, it’s probably bigger than our neighbors’.”
Many response districts have streets, alleys, condominium parking lots, and areas where wheeling a ladder truck may require slower maneuvering and possibly making “K” turns. Visualize having to back up a quint when trying to make a turn while laying a five-inch supply line? It’s not easy. Carry a good carpet cutter’s razor knife. It works great when cutting LDH out from between the duals.
The other thing I dislike about running a quint first-due is the possible improper placement of the rig where the aerial device can’t be used. What has precedence in the mind of the driver or the officer in the front seat? Is it establishing a water supply, positioning the rig for an effective attack-line stretch, or the finding the ideal position to fly the stick? I hope the best place to spot the aerial isn’t in the rear of the structure. Quick but ineffective size-ups are seldom subject to renegotiation. You might want to forget dropping a skid-load or a portable monitor and reverse laying to a plug. Having a photo in a national magazine of your $1 million quint sitting on a plug two blocks from a fire may be embarrassing.
In my opinion, purchasing a quint because of inadequate staffing jeopardizes the safety of the crew. Regardless of being in a career or a volunteer department, it takes the same amount of time to throw ladders, stretch an attack line, open a roof, pop a door, make a hydrant, run the pump, fly the aerial, and whatever else engine crews and ladder crews have to accomplish on the fireground. There are physical limitations on what the human body can endure. Don’t abuse the crew by purchasing a piece of equipment that makes their job harder.
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.