Editor’s Note: There is more to compartmentation on a new rig than picking compartment sizes and picturing where equipment will go. Often, once you mount the equipment, you discover you don’t have as much space as you thought. Editorial Advisory Board members Bill Adams and Ricky Riley draw on their experiences specing rigs and offer their thoughts on using compartment space wisely.



In designing your apparatus, there are many choices that must be made. These include many large components such as engine, transmission, pump type, and size, etc. Depending on your department’s operational needs, a few of these choices can affect the body size and type you will be getting on the rig. Even choices of low hosebeds, discharges, and intakes coming off the rear can influence body styles.

These body styles have the compartments attached to them, and they require your time and attention. This attention starts with the department’s determination of what equipment it needs to carry to accomplish its job in its community and response area. And then, how will it be carried and accessed during these incidents? During the specification process and the engineering conference is the time to determine what compartment style will be needed on the apparatus.


In early designs of apparatus I was associated with, designing compartments was not an option or was frowned on by manufacturers. And, the cost associated with a special design was usually astronomical and hard to swallow for the tools or equipment that it was being made for. In recent years, the design of body compartments on apparatus in my part of the world has been increasingly custom based on the department’s needs for storing and removing equipment. The cost of some of these compartment designs has come down by the majority of the manufacturers. But, make no mistake—it still costs money to have these body compartments made nonstandard and then customized for the department’s equipment layout.

Some of the decisions on compartments will need to focus on the weight of what will be carried in them. Depending on the type of apparatus you are buying, such as a ladder truck or heavy rescue, these compartments may need to have the floors or the structure holding the compartments beefed up or reinforced. The weight of some of the equipment can cause it to bounce on the floors or shelves. This bouncing without the reinforcement could cause damage to the compartments.

Also consider how the components of the apparatus, such as water tanks, piping, frame rails, and other components, might intrude in your compartment area. A clean, square compartment is rare because of the way the bodies are mounted around these things and manufacturers making use of available space. At the engineering conference, ask questions about what is being mounted in each compartment that might impact the usable space of the compartment. This includes shelving track; supports for back wall stiffening; and items such as battery conditioners, plugs, and electrical panels. All these take up space in your compartment and can make getting your equipment in sometimes difficult, although computer drawings and accurate equipment dimensions can help ensure items will fit. But, I would caution that until it is in the compartment and mounted, and the department ensures its easy removal, these well-laid-out plans have been known to not be as accurate as originally thought. Leave yourself a little bit of wiggle room when planning the equipment layout in the compartments.


There are a number of companies that provide a wide array of manufactured mounts for tools and equipment, but the mounts have to be bolted or screwed into place. When dealing with your compartments, have a grated aluminum floor and Peg-Board® or a track installed to allow mounting surfaces for your equipment. All of these are easily field-replaceable after years of service or if a compartment has a change in the type of equipment it needs to carry during the lifetime of the rig. By putting these types of items in the compartments, it will reduce the number of holes that we put into our compartment floors and walls.

There are many manufacturers, dealers, and businesses that can provide custom-fabricated mounts, shelving, dividers, and trays for your department’s equipment. This can be a very expensive way of mounting the equipment in compartments but usually a very clean looking and operationally efficient option. This fabrication usually will make maximum use of your compartment.

Shelving and roll-out trays are an important consideration for compartments. These options will assist with properly spacing out equipment in the compartment and enable heavy, awkward equipment to be slid out for easy removal. The associated tracks that come with these trays can eat up valuable compartment room. So, they should be properly planned out and placed to provide maximum efficiency for the equipment and to conserve precious space.


When dealing with compartments, the type of door also has an impact on compartment space and storage. The roll-up door is a very popular option in today’s apparatus for many great reasons, but the roll-up door does eat up a lot of space at the top of the compartment. On smaller compartments, the rolled-up door at the top will definitely impact storage space. On the pro side of the roll-up door, it does provide for a very clean opening for the compartment and does not impinge on the clear door opening like pan doors.

The pan doors, because of their construction, do impede on compartment storage when closed. When the doors are open, they do not provide the clear door opening like a roll-up door. This diminished clear door opening affects how trays, shelves, and equipment have to be mounted in the compartment to allow for removal. This will leave some unused space on the outside edges of these compartments.

Compartments cannot be taken lightly in the overall design of your apparatus. Take the time to envision where all the equipment is going to be placed and how it will come out of the compartment. Challenge your manufacturer to build what is right for your department and what is right for the firefighters in the field. Look for any dead space on your rig to increase compartment room or provide for storage of your equipment. The apparatus is usually going to be with the department for many years, and equipment types and sizes could easily change as each year goes by and the new have-to-have tool or equipment is introduced to you. So, always leave yourself a little bit of room for future expansion. When planning your compartments, go to the Internet. There are plenty of Web sites, social media pages, and companies that display the way they have their compartments laid out. Use any idea out there to make your rig better and to maximize your compartment space.

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 is a firefighter at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.

Bill Adams’s Viewpoint: How Well Do Fire Departments Use Their Compartment Space?

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