Cantankerous Wisdom: Outriggers, Pads, Plates and Raisins

By Bill Adams

White hairs with too much time on their hands take the most insignificant item and blow it all to hell. Myself and another seasoned citizen were at a recent trade show passing judgement on the latest and greatest in fire truck innovations (i.e. wondering why things ain’t like they used to be). We noticed that the jacking system on a new single-axled 100-foot rear-mount quint was just like a 30-year-old quint we’re familiar with. If you can open a cab door there’s enough room to set the jacks—just like the old rig. A manufacturer’s representative, also a volunteer, said his department runs a similar piece—naturally built by the same manufacturer. He relayed responding on it when his department’s safety officer went ballistic watching him pull into a scene with the door wide open and him looking at the ground. Oh well. He probably wasn’t wearing his seat belt.

It was a mistake showing the rig’s photos to the Raisin Squad at morning coffee. Their collective comments are in italics; mine are in quotes. Can’t they come up with anything new in 30 years? “If it works, why change it?” It doesn’t matter; times have changed and they should too. Then they argued over why-in-the-hell jacks are called jacks. Stupid me, I said the younger generation calls them stabilizers and outriggers. The raisins who brought their glasses scoured the firehouse looking for magazine advertisements. One computer literate geezer checked manufacturers’ Websites on his combination phone-Internet-camera thingy. Their nonscientific research found that two manufacturers call them outriggers. Four call them stabilizers. One covered all bases calling them outriggers and stabilizers as well as tormentors. One just calls them jacks. Bear in mind, the research was plucked off of Websites, brochures, and magazine advertisements. Lord knows what manufacturers call them in their published specifications. 

Photo 1, by the author, shows where one aerial manufacturer claims if you can open a cab door there’s enough room to set the jacks. Some manufacturers also use laser lights to pin-point jack locations.

The Squad had a field day. How come they don’t call’em the same thing? Is there a difference between jacks and outriggers? I thought tormentors were the guide poles on Bangor ladders. Isn’t a tormentor someone who busts your chops? They agreed that there are five styles of jacks: an H-style that extends out and down; one that drops straight down; some that angle out of the body like an A-frame ladder, some that are stored upright and fold down against the ground, and a scissors type that slides out from under the body. How come there are so many different kinds? Which one’s better? “How the hell do I know?” I didn’t think you would. 

One crotchety Raisin said, They don’t tell the truth. “What?” When they advertise jack spread, they don’t say if its measured from the center line of the jacks on each side. It ain’t in any of their brochures. They just say jack spread. “So what? What difference does it make?” A lot. Some of them jacks are wider than others. They ain’t telling you exactly how much room is needed to set the rig up. You know—from the outside of the jack pad to outside of the pad on the other side. How can you compare apples to apples? He had a point. The next morning one geezer said he looked everything up in the dictionary. He said an outrigger is a brace; a stabilizer is defined as upholding and safeguarding something; a tormentor is an oppressor ;and a jack is a playing card. He obviously forgot his meds. Some of them said they’re going to the next trade show and asking the salesmen to explain each style. They’ll love seeing that gaggle of white hairs heading their way. It could be a blessing in disguise. Salespeople should educate themselves in case an apparatus purchasing committee asks them similar questions.

Photo 2 is a Mack delivery photograph courtesy of Eckart showing the deployed jack on an early model Mack Aerialscope delivered to Atlanta, Georgia. FDNY purchased its first Aerialscope from Mack in 1964. (These Mack photos were probably just for advertising purposes as manual jack pads – or plates are not used – IF they were required.)

Like a bad case of reoccurring hemorrhoids, they started in again a week later. Why do they use jack pads when there’s already pads on the jacks? Who says what size you’re supposed to use? Can you make your own pads? “I imagine engineers calculate how much weight each one is supposed to hold.” Does it matter it the whole rig is lifted off the ground or if they just lift it up enough to take the bulge out of the tires? “I don’t know.” You should. One Raisin said he measured the pad attached to a jack and it was 10 inches by 14 inches. He said the one they manually slide underneath it was two feet square—almost four times as much. How come? Do you really have to use them? Does the manual say they have to be a certain size? “How the hell do I know? I never sold a ladder truck.” Now we know why. Will the ladder tip over if you don’t use them? Who’s liable if it does? Then one of them says, Hey, I thought they called them jack plates and not jack pads. What’s the difference between a plate and a pad? Don’t you eat off a plate and write on a pad? I went home.

Photo 3 is a Mack delivery photograph courtesy of Harvey Eckart showing a jack deployed on the tractor of the former Super Pumper System’s tender. Supposedly the monitor was a McEntyre with a 10,000 gallon-per-minute capacity. It looks like a gun barrel on a World War II era heavy cruiser.

How come when seasoned citizens jabber amongst themselves, they can come up with some obscure factoid with no significant value? Looking for some sympathy, I told my outrigger and jack pad story to an out-of-town Raisin. I got no sympathy, but he did send me two photos and told a story that the outriggers the FDNY spec’d on the original Mack aerialscopes were the same as used on the Mack Super Tender tractor. He said the tractor was sometimes detached from the trailer and, because the roof-mounted monitor could flow 10,000 gallons per minute, it had to be stabilized so it didn’t tip over. When I asked him what the heck that had to do with today’s ladder trucks, he said not much but, Now you know something 99.9 percent of the population doesn’t know—nor probably gives a damn. I’m passing it on just in case someone does. I need a nap.

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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