BY ED LILLICH
When Miami Township (OH) Fire & EMS began the process of replacing a utility vehicle that had been converted to a rescue truck, it was tasked by then new Chief Steve Kelly to design not only a new rescue truck but also a new technical rescue program.
The program was to cover four primary disciplines: rope rescue, swift water rescue, ice rescue, and lost person search. Kelly had evaluated the existing rescue program and decided to enhance the capabilities in these four disciplines. “These disciplines align themselves well with cross training of employees and use of ropes and water/ice rescue equipment,” he says.
Although the department had water rescue and rope rescue equipment on all responding apparatus, much of the existing equipment needed to be upgraded or replaced because of its age or outdated function. “It was time for some upgrades,” says Lieutenant Jeff Childers. As a member of Ohio Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team TF-1 and the Hamilton County (OH) USAR Team, Childers began evaluating what Miami Township could accomplish on its own prior to mutual aid arrival, the Hamilton County USAR team, or Ohio USAR TF-1. Each of the four programs needed to align with mutual-aid partners and any USAR response. “As an emergency grows, the ability to transition from Miami Township operations to the operations of the incoming assisting agencies needs to be a smooth, seamless transfer as an emergency grows in size and complexity,” says Assistant Chief Dan Mack.
To revamp the rescue programs and create a new vehicle that would support it, a committee was created. Rescue disciplines were divided to share the workload. Childers would handle lost person search. A firefighter paramedic, I would handle swift water rescue. Firefighter Paramedic Don Gates would handle ice rescue, and Firefighter Paramedic Jeremy Shiflett would handle rope rescue. Each committee member researched current and future equipment and training needs as well as what it would require to reach technician certification in each of the four disciplines. An equipment list was developed with current and future needs in mind to assist in the design of the new apparatus.
In anticipation of the need to replace the aging rescue truck, Firefighter Paramedic Bill Doss and I had already begun researching rescue apparatus while attending the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International in Indianapolis for several years. We had already established a short list of apparatus manufacturers known for high-quality apparatus experienced in using the Ford F-550 chassis.
As the design began, the issue of deploying a boat was discussed. Miami Township is bordered on two sides by two rivers. The East Fork of the Little Miami River is a tail water of East Fork Lake. This river is controlled by a dam and is part of the Ohio River flood control system operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The second river is the Little Miami River. This river is a state and U.S. scenic and protected waterway. This declaration limits boat ramps making access to the river a challenge. Miami Township covers more than 13 miles of rivers and more than 150 ponds, lakes, and waterways within the township borders including Horner’s Run, a popular local whitewater creek. With no boat ramps within the district and limited shoreline access, something needed to be done.
Mack, also a member of the Hamilton County USAR Team, pointed out that the neighboring Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department (LSFD) has a crane on its large heavy rescue truck and that they train on deploying their boats with the use of a crane. A field trip was planned to watch a team from LSFD train on this operation. A lot of questions were asked, and the thought of adding a crane to Miami Township’s new apparatus began to evolve. I attended the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. The purpose was to evaluate utility trucks and, more specifically, work crane installation on these trucks. This industry uses these cranes every day out in the field working on equipment in all types of environments and weather conditions. Miami Township was looking for a crane that could withstand daily use. The thinking was that if it can hold up to daily use in field conditions, it will surely hold up for occasional operations. Every known manufacturer of work trucks and truck cranes was present at the show. All were examined closely, but one stood out in the crowd.
Maintainer, of Sheldon, Iowa, has been building work trucks since 1976. It builds work, railway right-of-way, and lube trucks. It is also well known for building its own line of high-quality truck cranes. It also happens to be the parent company of Maintainer Custom Bodies (MCB) of Rock Rapids, Iowa. MCB has also been in business since 1976.
MCB was felt to be one of the best fire apparatus builders building on the F-550 chassis from earlier research. The ability to have a single-source builder of both the rescue apparatus and the crane would allow Miami Township to have an integrated design that incorporated the crane into the rescue body much like the design of an aerial apparatus. A torque box design was incorporated into the apparatus design. The crane clearly was not an afterthought or add on. The crane control compartment located directly under the crane base is fortified with additional material that transfers the torque to the body, the frame, and the outrigger system. Several other builders were contacted in a request for proposal, but no other builder incorporated the full design of the crane into the rescue body like MCB. Most other companies simply added a crane as an option.
DESIGNING THE TRUCK
A truck committee was formed to refine the vehicle design. The committee included Kelly, Mack, Division Chief (Ret.) Harold Thiele, Captain Dean Miracle, and Captain/Safety Officer Brian Gulat, as well as several line firefighters. Although several apparatus builders were approached to possibly build the apparatus, MCB was chosen for its ability to provide a single-source rescue truck and service crane in a single apparatus. MCB is a member of the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) joint purchasing group. MCB’s association with HGAC allowed Miami Township to purchase the vehicle without having to go through a lengthy and complicated bid process. Although this legal avenue was used to finalize the purchase, Miami Township nevertheless invited other manufacturers to submit proposals and pricing. But, when the requests for proposal were collected, MCB’s pricing was lower than any other company submitting an estimate.
MCB clearly wanted to build the apparatus, and it was to be a first to combine both Maintainer and Maintainer Custom Bodies. Additionally, the apparatus was built with FDIC International in mind, and it became MCB’s feature truck on display. Many FDIC International attendees may recall the rescue truck with the crane up and a 14-foot inflatable boat in the air.
The apparatus was built on a two-door Ford F-550 4×4 gasoline chassis. Gasoline was chosen during the evaluation process when it was learned that many diesel engines that are not driven on a daily basis develop fuel and engine problems from lack of use. This was found while asking several local fire departments about their experiences with low-mile diesel apparatus such as rescue, brush, and utility vehicles. The same answer came from all chassis manufacturers. As this vehicle would be a specialty apparatus and would not respond on routine daily calls, the gasoline engine was believed to be the best option. Although the truck does not have the low-end torque of a diesel, the apparatus has no problem responding with its 6.8L three-valve SOHC EFI V10 engine and its TorqShift® six-speed SelectShift® automatic transmission.
The 15-foot rescue body is constructed of all aluminum with a mix of roll-up and hinged doors with the type of door chosen based on what was to be stored inside. The first two compartments have roll-up doors and are transverse. A custom two-tier adjustable shelf system was designed for each of these roll-out shelves. Each shelf can extend 75 percent out on each side for convenience, and the system has a capacity of 1,000 pounds. These two compartments house the bulk of the water rescue equipment and support supplies like pop-up tents, toolboxes, portable scene lighting, and rehab supplies.
The compartments located over the wheel wells have roll-up doors and an adjustable shelf in each compartment. The driver’s side houses ice rescue equipment, which is also carried on all front-line apparatus during the winter months. The over-the-wheel compartment on the officer’s side carries the lost-person search equipment, USAR search and marking kits, night vision cameras, two tablet-based thermal imagers, rain gear, bonnie hats, and other personal care items such as sun block and insect repellant for rescuers. The wheel wells also hold three self-contained breathing apparatus cylinders to assist with inflating the boat and fire hose for use in water rescues.
The driver’s side rear compartment uses a hinged door and houses a 30-horsepower Evinrude outboard boat motor mounted on a Zico oxygen tank system. This modification allows the boat motor to be slid out on a tray, then lowered using an electric motor to an acceptable level so that it can be lifted off by the crew. The boat motor also has a commercially available lift strap and can be lifted with the truck-mounted crane.
The rear compartment has a custom two-tier adjustable roll-out shelf that extends 90 percent and houses the bulk of the rope rescue equipment, with the remaining officer’s side rear hinged door holding the bulk of the crane functions, lifting straps, chains and accessories, off road wheel chocks, and a portable display screen for the crane-mounted camera.
Most compartments are outfitted with Hansen roll-up doors and LED strip lighting. The entire rescue body has an MCB Pressurized Storage System. This system pumps clean air inside of the compartments from two fans mounted on the roof of the rescue body. This system provides positive pressure to increase pressure within the compartments to reduce the amount of dust and debris entering them. The system works when the truck is running and stops when a compartment door is opened. The two rear side compartments with hinged doors are not outfitted with this system to reduce the possibility of gasoline vapors being transmitted to the rescue gear.
Most notably, the top of the apparatus body incorporates a design element similar to a hosebed on a pumper. This section of roof carries a 14-foot inflatable boat. The boat is carried with the bow to the rear. This design allows for a 10,000-pound Warn portable winch to be stored behind the boat, and the boat is then in the correct orientation to receive the outboard boat motor when it is removed from the roof.
Two 2,000-pound-capacity two-inch receivers for high tie-off points are integrated into the body design. Four additional two-inch receiver tie-off points are located under the apparatus, with two on each side of the rescue body. An additional lower tie-off point is at the rear trailer hitch. All of the lower tie-off points are rated at 9,000 pounds and are designed to accept the portable Warn winch, which is stored behind the boat on the roof. An additional two-inch receiver is located on the front of the apparatus to allow the department’s RescueOne Connector Boat to be pushed into the water if needed. This allows the bulk of the vehicle’s weight to be away from the water line to reduce the risk of getting stuck. This also doubles as a tie-off point and is located directly under the 16,500-pound Warn winch mounted on the front push bar. Both winches use Spydura rope instead of the normal wire rope.
A Maintainer EH4520 electric-over-hydraulic crane was installed on the officer’s side rear of the truck facing forward. The crane has a single-line capacity of 3,000 pounds with 105 feet of 5⁄16-inch wire cable. The crane can lift up to 4,500 pounds in the double-cable configuration. The crane has a maximum reach of 20 feet and can elevate to 78 degrees and operate 13 degrees below grade (base of crane). The crane is only 10 feet long when stored and fits the vehicle well. The crane and outrigger system adds approximately 1,600 pounds to the vehicle’s overall weight. A hydraulic pump is powered by the vehicle’s 12-volt electrical system to operate the crane.
A wireless handheld controller allows the operator to step away from the vehicle to have greater visibility during crane operations. The crane also has a tethered wired controller as a backup as well as toggle switch controls mounted at the base of the crane in case of tethered or wireless controller failure. The crane has safety features such as warning lights and an audible alarm, and the handheld controller vibrates in the operator’s hands when approaching the crane’s lifting capacity.
The crane’s primary function is to deploy the 14-foot inflatable boat from a bridge to the water. The crane can also lift and deploy the department’s RescueOne Connector Boat. This eliminates the need to destroy the vegetation in the watershed in a protected waterway and prevents the boat from needing to be launched at a boat ramp several miles away from the typical rescue locations. Launching this way also reduces the risk of strains or injuries, which can occur when personnel have to carry a boat down a slippery river bank to launch for a rescue mission. The launching from the closest bridge greatly reduces the time that a stranded victim is exposed to the elements.
The crane is outfitted with a Will-Burt Scout 40,000-candle-power light head. The light head is powered by the vehicle’s 12-volt electrical system with no generator or inverter needed. The light head is like any other Will-Burt light tower. With the Scout added on the end of the crane, it turns like any other light but can reach into an area and “up light.” If the underside of a bridge has been struck at night, and the underside needs to be inspected, no one needs to enter a dangerous area to add lighting for the inspection.
The light head features a color wireless camera. The movement of the camera is controlled by the light head. The live video is transmitted to a wireless handheld screen that has recording capability. The ability for scene commanders to have access to a remote camera increases their field of vision, enhances scene safety, and has many additional possible uses.
The addition of the Maintainer EH4520 crane, Will-Burt light head, and wireless camera is comparable to the purchase price of a light tower alone. The crane and its features increase the vehicle’s capability to accomplish many rescue functions. Although the department calls for assistance for trench/cave-in rescues, it’s believed that the ability to pull up within 20 feet of a trench with a gasoline vehicle that does not vibrate like a diesel, then boom out and use the crane to lift soil and debris from the trench, all while providing 40,000 lumens of light and a color video of the rescue, would be very valuable.
The truck is equipped with a rear camera and two side-view cameras to assist during lane changes and during backing up. The side-view cameras have proven to be very helpful when backing trailers.
The vehicle is equipped with Whelen emergency and scene lighting with ground lighting provided by several TecNiq LED lights. The fold-down ladder on the rear is designed so that when placed in the down position, the emergency lighting behind the ladder turns off to prevent night blindness. Ample illumination is provided in the boat storage/roof area also by TecNiq LED lights.
“Working with MCB has been great,” says Mack. “MCB is a small enough company that when the prepaint inspection was performed, the truck committee had the chance to talk to and shake the hand of every person involved in the design and construction of the apparatus. The ability to have that personal connection allows for greater communication. The sense of pride could be seen in their faces and heard in their voices as they built this truck. They knew that this truck would be on display at FDIC International and would be seen by thousands of firefighters, and they had a great sense of pride in the apparatus.”
Kelly says, “The experience working with a small manufacturer and the dealer has been great. The apparatus is well designed and equipped so it packs a lot of punch in a small package.” According to Kelly, the department, like most, would love to have a large fully equipped and staffed rescue truck to handle whatever is thrown at it, but the reality is that as a suburban department, it needs to be able to ask mutual-aid partners for assistance sometimes. With this new apparatus and training program, the department has increased the safety of our citizens and our staff, and partners can turn to Miami Township when they need help. He adds, “We are hoping that the idea catches on and that other local departments decide to specialize in a few rescue disciplines to spread the expense of equipping and training staff to respond to these low-frequency/high-risk situations.”
ED LILLICH is a 34-year veteran of the fire service, serving the past 26 years with Miami Township (OH) Fire & EMS. He is a firefighter paramedic and serves as a member of the department’s technical rescue team. He is a member of the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals and is involved in swift water and ice rescue training.