Designing Multidiscipline and Job-Specific Rescue Trucks


Designing and writing specifications for heavy-duty rescue squads can be very time consuming and demanding, as these rigs have a number of body requirements and components that require a lot of attention. Ensuring that the apparatus will be able to operate, properly serve the community, and last for a long time are some of the charges made by the bosses to the apparatus committee.

One of the items that will need to be addressed is what type of incidents the rescue truck will respond to and how many functions it will be required to do. Depending on your geographic area in the country and your department’s staffing model, these two are very important questions to be answered before the specification process can proceed.

In a large number of departments, these rescue trucks have to serve more than one purpose, thus forcing the apparatus committee to truly think about how the vehicle is going to be laid out and the amount of equipment that will need to be carried for each function. The two major functions are rescue/auto accidents and fireground support. Many other functions could also be added such as hazmat, technical rescue, water rescue, dive operations, and swift water. It seems today that the list could go on forever, but for this article we will just focus on the big two.


In the dual-function unit, laying out the equipment is important. In a number of departments I have worked with on equipment layouts, their wishes were usually to have one side for fire and one side of the rig for rescue/auto accidents. While in theory this is a very understandable request, it does have its issues. Some of our vehicle rescue tools and equipment can take up a lot of room, and they can be space hogs when it comes to storing them and making them easy to deploy. So, balancing the weight of this equipment is important to the life expectancy of the unit and how it is going to ride on the road and be evenly distributed for braking on the rig.

The fire side of the equipment is usually not as heavy. It does not require that many special storage concerns. Spreading the equipment out around the rig will assist in the proper weight balancing but, as always, the operational component will need to be looked at as we do not want to have to open three compartments to get the equipment we need to do the fire job.

These combined rescue trucks are the norm for most departments and provide a balanced response to most of their incidents. They also give the community a vehicle that does not just have one purpose, thus saving a little on the number of vehicles that are in a department’s fleet. They also reduce the chance that a department has all single-use apparatus that might require a large commitment of staffing plus the chance of being out on the run rig when the next call comes in.


The single-use rescue truck that is designed just for vehicle rescue, although not as prevalent as the combined unit, is still a rig that is built for a number of departments across the country. These rigs, depending on their size and complexity, will require a design phase that will have to take into consideration the space needed for anything from a small porta-power to large low-pressure air bags and extensive cribbing storage. Understanding the mounting and placement of the types of tools and equipment may require large “through compartments,” many shelves and roll-out trays, and for the floors of the compartments to withstand the weight of not only the equipment but also the weight of the equipment when bouncing up and down the road. The side sheets of the compartments may also need to be properly supported to handle the weights that may be on the shelves and trays. In designing these rigs, departments should present detailed equipment lists to the manufacturer and a plan for the equipment layout so the apparatus engineers can assist the department to make sure that the apparatus is properly designed to handle the equipment the department has chosen to carry.

With today’s issues with staffing (both career and volunteer), funding, and call volume, the value of a dual-service unit to me is getting the most bang for the department’s buck. And, these units can be nicely equipped and planned out for efficiency if the apparatus committee fully understands the needs of its response area and bulk of its work either being fire or vehicle rescue work. One of the cautions for the dual-service unit is that you can only cram so much equipment into the apparatus, so carefully plan out what you want to carry on the unit. Then be sure to leave yourself some room for expansion and future equipment purchases that may need to be placed on the rig. There is always something new and improved out there in the equipment world, and you don’t want to box yourself into having no room to place it on your rig. Another consideration is that the apparatus size must fit your response area and community. Having the biggest rescue truck on the block as a source of department bragging rights is not a good thing if the apparatus cannot navigate the streets and communities that we serve.

Only you and your department can determine if you need a job-specific truck, dual-service, or even maybe many more purpose apparatus. Ensure that you spec the rig for what you want the vehicle to operate as and ensure that the unit can handle the weight of the equipment that is carried. An apparatus of this type is very expensive and may be in service with your organization for a very long time. Take the time to plan it right for the financial responsibility associated with the purchase cost, and make sure it operationally serves the purpose for the men and women who ride the rig and for the community you serve.

RICKY RILEY is the president of Traditions Training, LLC. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as the rescue engine captain at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He also is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.

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