By Del Williams
As a source of fire department pride, identity, and performance perhaps nothing distinguishes a station like its fire trucks. Far from assembly line vehicles, most fire apparatus are custom built with capabilities and features carefully chosen to suit the needs of the firefighters and the communities they serve. Now a wave of next generation innovations in fire truck designs are enhancing the safety and effectiveness of firefighters, particularly in rural areas with fewer water or staffing resources.
Some of these innovations have helped save structures by allowing more water to be applied to the fire and by cutting travel time to the water source. Others are enhancing safety by eliminating the need for firefighters to climb on top of the truck to deploy or return hose. Still others are maximizing the impact of a limited water supply when fighting brushfires.
Yet at a time when many “innovations” are really copied from other fire truck manufacturers, it is important to note that even small alterations in emergency equipment can have a huge impact. What often distinguishes true innovation from the copycat variety is the innovator’s intimate knowledge of what would actually benefit the firefighters themselves.
A number of these innovations, such as a 180-degree swivel dump valve on back of tanker (tender) trucks or preconnected half-lay hose stored near the bottom of the chassis instead of on top of the truck, have been designed by firehouse veterans like Dan Kreikemeier, founder of Danko Emergency Equipment, whose experiences have given them insight into seemingly small but significant changes in fire truck design.
“Innovation is about continuously brainstorming how to cut time getting to the fire and put more water on it once you’re there, while doing so more safely and easily,” says Kreikemeier.
With more 50 years of volunteer firefighting and fire equipment design experience, and as a previous president of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA), Kreikemeier has helped to develop and invent some design changes that are now industry standard.
“Today the industry not only has to prevent accidents, injury, and higher insurance rates, but also has to compensate for reduced [staffing] in volunteer fire departments,” says Kreikemeier. “Improvements in fire truck designs are needed so fires can be effectively fought with fewer people and resources.”
Safely Doing More With Less
The Benton Township (OH) Volunteer Fire Department, in Pike County, protects about 88 square miles of rural, hilly terrain, yet only has a few flush valves for city water, and is short on personnel during the day shift when most of the force has day jobs, according to Chief Shannon Elliott.
Although fire hydrants are generally used as water sources in cities, rural areas often rely on dump tanks, known as portable ponds, to fight fires. Tankers, known as tenders out West, typically transport water from the nearest water source to the dump tanks, making the round-trip as many times as necessary. But the longer it takes to supply water to the dump tank, the less water there is to battle the fire.
“That’s where our new Danko tanker with a 180-degree swivel dump valve on back is so important to us,” says Elliott. “Prior to our swivel valve, we lost too many structures because of water supply shortage using a traditional nonswiveling chute to fill dump tanks. It was taking about seven minutes for the driver to maneuver the truck back and forth until the dump chute lined up with the dump tank, which may be needed on either side of the road.”
To expedite water transport, the swivel valve on the back of tankers that Kreikemeier developed allows firefighters to pull up to a rural fire, and dump their water into a portable tank on either side or rear of the vehicle. Danko Emergency Equipment, the Snyder, NE-based company Kreikemeier founded, custom manufactures a range of firefighting vehicles including tankers, tanker-pumpers, small airport crash trucks, quick attacks, rescue trucks, brush trucks, wildland vehicles, slip-in units, and other specialty vehicles with the capabilities each department requires.
“The stainless steel swivel valve is simple to unlock, flip around and extend so we no longer have to back the truck into position to dump water,” says Elliott. “We can send one firefighter to load and dump water, instead of two. It’s cutting our dump time in half, and we’re saving more structures because we’re bringing more water on scene more reliably. With the new equipment we’re cutting six-to-seven-hour scenes down to two hours and not getting call backs on rekindles because we have the tools to handle it the first time.”
Matt Weber, Chief of the all volunteer fire department in Bruning, NE, a rural district of about 50 square miles, is also using a swivel valve on the back of a Danko tanker-pumper to good effect.
“Within the boundaries of our fire district, we could cut about 15 minutes of drive time to a water source and back using the swivel valve,” says Chief Weber. “We can also hit multiple drop tanks in one location with this style of swivel valve. That could be the difference between saving a structure and losing it, or stopping a fire before it spreads to another field.”
Weber points to another innovation on his tanker-pumper, the pre-connected half-lay hosebeds with capacities of 200 feet of 1¾-inch fire hose, that enhances his fire crew’s effectiveness. Instead of traditional crosslay hose that can be stored head-high, requiring firefighters to climb onto the truck to get or store hose, the half-lay hose that Kreikemeier developed uses a low-profile pump that enables easy hose deployment or storage about hip-high on the truck frame. Although traditional crosslay hose may require as many as three people to put it away, one person can return the half-lay hose to its pullout drawer.
“It’s a lot safer and quicker for our firefighters to stay on the ground when pulling hose from our tanker-pumper or returning it rather than having to climb on top of the vehicle,” says Weber. “The half-lay hose speeds our response time, reduces the hose needed, and is much easier to reload.”
“To increase safety, effectiveness, and do more with less, fire chiefs owe it to their crews to look into some of these innovations in fire service technology,” concludes Elliott.
For more information, visit www.danko.net.
DEL WILLIAMS is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.
By Del Williams