Charlotte (NC) Fire Department Repurposes Fire Apparatus Into Hazmat Unit

By Alan M. Petrillo

What do you do when you have an old pumper that’s past its prime, but need a hazmat vehicle? One way to handle the situation is to do what the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department did—repurpose a fire apparatus into a hazmat unit.

Hackney Charlotte Fire Department Hazmat Truck
Hackney took a Charlotte (NC) Fire Department
pumper and repurposed the vehicle into this
hazmat unit. (Photos courtesy of Hackney.)

Buddy Caldwell, a captain with the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department, says the department needed to put a second hazmat unit into service before the city hosted the Democratic National Convention in September 2012. “We had a Quality pumper built on a Spartan chassis with a 1,500-gpm pump and a 500-gallon water tank,” Caldwell says. “It had been in reserve service, but it was time to retire it, even though it still had a good chassis, frame and cab.”

Hackney Charlotte Fire Department Hazmat Truck
Charlotte (NC) Fire Department had Hackney build in
two slide-out drawers, one on each side of the
repurposed hazmat unit, to accommodate long tools
and equipment that are regularly used in hazmat

Caldwell points out that Charlotte runs its vehicles pretty hard, with a pumper typically responding to about 3,500 calls a year. “We look at a pumper having 10 years of front-line service and two years in reserve,” he says. The department runs 42 front-line pumpers and nine reserves, as well as 15 front-line ladders with five in reserve. Although the department had never repurposed a pumper before, it determined that it was the best course of action to get a hazmat unit built in a short time frame.

Hackney Charlotte Fire Department Hazmat Truck
The Charlotte (NC) Fire Department’s new hamat
response unit began life as a 1997 Quality pumper on
a Spartan chassis before being repurposed by Hackney.

Neal Dixon, southeast regional sales manager for Hackney, says that Charlotte contacted Hackney about repurposing the pumper and after conversations about how much it would cost and how it could be accomplished, gave the job to Hackney. “We received the order on May 23 and had to deliver the finished hazmat unit by September 1, 2012,” Dixon says. Hackney beat the deadline by a few days, delivering the repurposed vehicle on August 28.

Hackney Charlotte Fire Department Hazmat Truck
The top of Charlotte’s repurposed vehicle is loaded
with coffin cabinets that are accessed by a central
walkway and a Zico ladder at the rear of the rig.

“When Charlotte brought the pumper in, we had to remove the pump and module, body, and tank assembly to get the vehicle down to a bare chassis and frame,” Dixon notes. “We inspected the frame and chassis to make sure there was no damage, and it was fine—in very good condition.”

Hackney Charlotte Fire Department Hazmat Truck
Hackney had to either replace or refurbish the entire
interior of the former pumper’s cab. Pictured is the
finished cab on the repurposed vehicle.

Dixon says everything on the interior of the cab, which was still attached to the frame rail, needed to be either replaced or refurbished. “We installed new seating, interior headliners, mold, and trim; replaced one windshield; and overlaid the floor with diamond aluminum tread plate,” he says. “They already had a similar hazmat unit and wanted to pattern the cab’s interior after it, including a command cabinet in the rear of the cab with vertical storage cabinets for reference materials.”

Hackney removed the original 12-volt electrical system and replaced it with a Weldon V-MUX multiplex system, Dixon notes. The walk-around body of the hazmat unit is all exterior storage, Dixon points out, and is equipped with 24-inch-deep roof storage compartments accessed by a Zico ladder at the rear of the vehicle.

The new hazmat unit carries a Harrison 20-kW hydraulic generator, a Van Air 85-dfm rotary screw air compressor and a Command Light tower with four 1,500-watt Fire Research Corporation (FRC) Optima heads. The unit has Whelen LED scene and warning lighting, two FRC Spectre LED brow lights, and two FRC Optima tripod lights with 750-watt heads.

“The vehicle has two unique slide-out drawers, one on each side ahead of the rear wheels, that are 96 inches long by 38 inches deep and 12 inches high,” Dixon says, “designed for long specialty tools used in hazmat response. We were able to keep the slide-outs down low for easy access.”

Dixon says the total cost of repurposing the pumper into a hazmat vehicle was $298,000. “Charlotte has pretty much a new vehicle,” he notes, “and by going this route the fire department saved around $175,000.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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