Cantankerous Wisdom: I Love Quints

Cantankerous Wisdom: I Love Quints

By Bill Adams

There are two sides to every story. Evidently, I told the wrong side in “I Hate Quints.” My e-mail address is changed, the phone’s disconnected, and I’m not answering the door. Perhaps the following will appease those irate quint aficionados. 

Quints can be an efficient use of resources—taxpayers’ money and staffing. It has been an efficient, underrated piece of fire apparatus that has easily exceeded the expectations of many who’ve purchased one. Consolidation of single job-specific apparatus is nothing new. Prior to motorization, manufacturers combined the horse-drawn hose wagon and the chemical wagon into a single unit. Bob Myers,, is a fire alarm operator for the Brockton (MA) Fire Department. He says Brockton ran motorized hose wagons with small water pumps and tanks that they called combinations. They were phased out when the last two-piece engine company was disbanded in the mid 1990s. Shortly after motorization, manufacturers combined the pumper (formerly the steamer) with the new combination hose and chemical wagon and added a water tank, calling it a triple combination pumper. Adding extra ground ladders to a triple resulted in the quad. Adding an aerial device to the quad resulted in the quint. It was a logical evolution. Quints are not new. The photo above is by Mahlon Irish, the owner of a unique 1935 American LaFrance quint originally delivered to Hornell, New York. It has a 600-gallon-per-minute rotary gear pump, 100-gallon booster tank and a 50-foot two-section wooden aerial by Peter Pirsch. The aerial is manually raised, rotated, and extended and is equipped with a separate battery and motor that will also raise it.

Many volunteer, combination, and career departments today have barns full of apparatus but not enough firefighters to adequately staff them. That is not a criticism—it is a fact of life. It’s a crap shoot if you put all your available staffing resources on a single job-specific rig and then have another call necessitating a different type of apparatus. Responding lights and sirens back to the station to switch rigs does not reek of efficiency.

Chief Harry Bowker says his volunteer fire department in the Village of Manchester, New York, has operated an aerial ladder for twenty years. Declining staffing, especially during weekdays, has caused the department to evaluate running a straight stick. He elaborates, “What if you only have enough of a crew to staff one rig—especially during the daytime? Yeah, I know my neighbors have a ladder truck, but if I need an aerial ladder, I need it now—not 10 minutes from now. And, who has enough people to throw ground ladders? Besides, the newer quint designs today can carry 500 gallons of water, 1,000 feet of LDH, and more preconnects than we have people to put them into service.” 

Another way to look at it is that a quint is a large tool box of firefighting capability that’s coming down the street. It can lay a line. It can ladder a building. Need ground ladders? No problem—it carries some. Require a fire pump? It’s got one. Want to make an initial attack? It can because it carries water. Quints can carry more preconnects than the minimum mandated by NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, for pumpers. Need a generator? Sure thing. Everything needed is there in one package. Next question?

In my 50 years in the volunteer fire service, I had the opportunity to work off of three quints in two different departments. Each was better laid out than the preceding. The last department runs the quint second due as a ladder truck. If the first-due engine has mechanical problems, or Lord forbid goes the wrong way, or misses a plug on the way in, the quint can recover. When operating an elevated master stream, it is convenient and safe to have it supplied by the quint’s own pump. In most cases, the pump operator is in eye contact with the aerial operator. You control your own destiny. If you have to shut down in an emergency, you don’t have to worry about getting free airtime to radio a supplying pumper down the street and around the corner.

Several neighboring volunteer and combination departments run quints first due—some from a main station and some from substations housing a single vehicle. None have expressed problems, and some are replacing aging quints with newer models. 

There are hidden nonfirematic advantages to operating a quint. Most immediate is the cost savings in purchasing one apparatus in lieu of two or three. Add in the yearly savings in insurance coverage, fuel and oil costs, and general maintenance as well as annual required DOT inspections and ISO test certifications. Looking long term, replacement fire stations will require fewer apparatus bays with lower yearly heating and lighting costs and a lower initial building cost.

Imagine if your department is a career, volunteer, or combination entity and you can only staff a single rig. What do you want to respond with—a rig that can perform one function only or one that carries a little bit of everything and can adequately, albeit minimally, handle 99.99 percent of the responses? 

Quint design has come a long way. Don’t forget that similar to a pumper, a quint can be custom designed with features specific to your own response district. Work with the people who sign the check and at the same time purchase a rig that’s safe and easy for the troops to use. It can be done. A quint is a tool just like a nozzle, K-12 saw, or deluge set. If used properly, it can be an asset. Please do not send anymore hate mail.

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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