FA Viewpoints

Everyone has his or her own list of wants or needs they think should be included in the design of their department’s next rig. This month, we asked Editorial Advisory Board members Bill Adams (left) and Ricky Riley (right): Looking ahead to 2020, what do you want to see in the fire apparatus rolling off the line?

What I Want to See in 2020 Fire Apparatus

Asking what I want to see in 2020 apparatus is another loaded question by our editor that induces multiple responses, which, if not answered in a politically correct manner, can incur the wrath of multiple readers—depending on their vocation. Apparatus manufacturers, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) supporters, safety gurus, career firefighters, volunteer firefighters, and the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) all have their own opinions and will defend them vigorously. I am no longer an active firefighter or employed in the apparatus industry. As a “seasoned citizen,” what I want to see on new apparatus should take a back seat to what the crew riding the load wants. But, we’ll give it a try.


A want can be subjective, meaning it is prejudiced and slanted such as, “I want no discharges or inlets on a pump operator’s panel.” A want can also be ambiguous and imprecise such as, “I want all inlets and discharges located in a safe position.” Wanting something should not be confused with needing something. As an example, you might want a two-tone paint job, but it may not be necessary. You may need a large booster tank size because there are no hydrants. I personally don’t need or want anything on a fire truck, but I will impart what I would like to see.


I personally would like to see 2020 apparatus coming off the line be smaller in size, less complicated to operate, easy to maintain, designed to be more job-specific, and less regulated in how they should be built and what they should carry.

Why? Many career departments are downsizing, and volunteerism is declining. Actual fires are down, and emergency medical responses are increasing. Fire apparatus should be capable of handling today’s responses and be designed for tomorrow’s—not yesterday’s. The late Chief (Ret.) Alan Brunacini of Phoenix was spot on saying something akin to today’s fire service is delivering pizzas with cement trucks. Although the economy may be good today, it can change in a heartbeat. What the fire service < em>wants on a fire truck should be coordinated with what the AHJ is willing to pay for. The end users, the apparatus manufacturers, NFPA supporters, safety gurus, and firefighters ought to consider the cost of their wants.


Although the dangers of firefighting are the same for both career and volunteer entities, their individual wants are assessed through different prisms. For the most part, career firefighters have the benefit of experience on their side by nature of the degree of exposure. Because firefighting is their occupation, there is an inherent desire for job protection. Their livelihood is contingent on a safe working environment—in as much as possible. That includes the fire truck; however, there is always the matter of cost that must be addressed with the AHJ.

Some on the volunteer side are apt to justify features (wants) on an apparatus purchase as a form of remuneration for donating their time and effort. Yes, some volunteerism has a price. One fire chief commented, “If I have 30 people get out of bed or leave their places of work for a fire alarm, and they want to ride on a red and white fire truck, then I’ll buy them a red and white truck.” Volunteers also must justify their wants to the AHJ, which is responsible for securing monies for a fire truck.


Traditionalism occasionally plays a role in the wants of both career and volunteer firefighters. Not all traditionalism is necessarily good. Years ago, the last three rescue trucks purchased by one department always carried spare packs of cigarettes—unfiltered Camels, Pall Malls, Chesterfields, and Lucky Strikes. It no longer does. Having a bell on a fire truck, a two-tone paint job, or $1,000 worth of gold leaf corner scrolls is also tradition. However, when the cost becomes prohibitive, it may be advisable to keep traditionalism in the firehouse kitchen or meeting room and not on the fire apparatus.

One dictionary defines esprit de corps as “a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group.” It works well for the military and, in my opinion, both the career and the volunteer fire service are quasi military institutions. Maybe the cost of the bell, paint, and gold leaf isn’t such a bad idea if it is proven to enhance the goodwill, morale, and quality of work of the firefighters.


Determining what the fire service wants in a fire truck and what the AHJ wants—and, more importantly, what the AHJ is willing to fund—is a topic within itself. The schism between the firefighters using the apparatus and the people signing the check can be very real, not always addressed, and sometimes not even acknowledged.

The firefighter who rides the load may not understand or even care about the total cost of ownership when expressing his opinions on a new rig purchase. A shorthanded crew straining to deploy and stretch a 2½-inch preconnect cares little about a cost benefit analysis of where to locate the preconnect on the rig. Proponents of the environmentally safe crew cabs never talk about their cost. Advocates, whether they be the manufacturers or safety gurus that recommend all sorts of improvements and changes to NFPA 1901, < em>Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, seldom reveal the cost to the end users. Some probably don’t even know or care.

Without getting into any specifics and costs, I still would like to see the 2020 apparatus coming off the line be smaller in size, less complicated to operate, easy to maintain, designed to be more job-specific, and less regulated in how they should be built and what they should carry. However, those specifics and costs and their advantages and disadvantages are topics that will be addressed later—probably in another forum.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

Looking Ahead to 2020

What a question to end the year—it certainly could be the easiest question to answer and also the hardest. The everyday discussion in the fire service relating to apparatus can vary depending on what department you are with, what coast you are from, and what your fire service beliefs are. And, these beliefs have a strong voice in today’s fire service because they can be heard and read in seconds.

It is even harder to believe in the right things in the fire service because of the beating any one person can take, once again in a matter of seconds. Everyone’s beliefs change from the young, single, fearless firefighter to the married firefighter, the father/mother firefighter, the grandfather/grandmother firefighter, and by just getting older and having life experiences in the fire service.


How I would like the apparatus rolling off the line in 2020 and the future takes into account a lot of these beliefs, a lot of those experiences and how important firefighters’ lives are, and the protection of our citizens’ lives and property.

  1. The same type of collision avoidance that I have in my everyday car needs to be in our fire apparatus. Incorporating that extra layer of safety to warn apparatus drivers about the dangers that are exponentially more prevalent than when I was a driver is an important tool, as the apparatus driver today is navigating streets among some of the most distracted drivers ever.
  2. We operate on very high-speed roadways and highways, and we have become complacent in those environments because we operate on them every day or every shift as firefighters. I would be interested in a way to alert firefighters on the scene that their apparatus is about to be struck. Is it possible with the close proximity that we operate on these roadways? I am not sure, but I hope someone is looking at this deadly problem and at least trying.
  3. Heads up displays on fire apparatus will assist firefighters to never take their eyes off the road responding. This is crucial to the safety of all personnel on the rig. Distractions at dash level or a screen at dash level could easily be that second away from awareness on the road when we lose reaction time to something happening in front of our apparatus.
  4. How do we keep firefighters in seats with seat belts on during responses? I would be a hypocrite to say that I wore my seat belt all the time—heck, even half the time as a young firefighter. Once again, I know the problem has been worked on, but I believe it needs more work. I in no way, shape, or form want to take away the prompt immediate response to incidents, nor do I want to not enable firefighters to prepare for the incident while responding. But, it is something that we need to look into. And by looking into it, it has to be researched with the firefighters who ride in the back of the apparatus or the right front seat—not designed by people who don’t ride rigs every day or by someone who doesn’t ride rigs anymore.
  5. How do we get rid of the diesel exhaust fluid systems on fire apparatus? These systems probably cause more downtime for fire apparatus than any mechanical or electrical breakdown on any apparatus. Fire trucks not in service are not good for anyone. We know the fire service is not a majority end user of large diesel motors, so we do not have a loud voice with the entities that control these systems. But, I just wanted to throw it out there for my wishes for 2020.
  6. We all know that electronics and computers on our rigs are here to stay. But rather than keep advancing the technology, I would like to see it become more dependable and less prone to failures because of weather elements and component failure. Look underneath any apparatus today, and the amount of wire and connectors is crazy. So, how do we make these wires more durable under the rigs plus the connectors that hold them together? These simple connectors that are crimped and put under a truck with exposure to all the elements also can put a truck out of service very quickly with just one corroded connector or bad crimp from a manufacturer.
  7. Rigs should ergonomically work for the firefighters who ride them every day. Though this is not really something we can compel the manufacturer to do, it is something we can demand from the person or committee designing our rigs. This requires once again that we listen and empower the firefighters going on the calls who are actually going to use the end product.
  8. Fire trucks should fully explain what is wrong with them. A warning light and stoplights are great, but every truck should be able to tell the crew in plain English what is wrong with the rig. It should not require a special computer or special software to tell them that. The truck should display what the issue is. A number of these warnings can be easily resolved in the field without taking a rig to a dealer or an OEM, but an operator not immediately knowing what is exactly wrong can require out of service times for the apparatus and crew.
  9. Manufacturers should put an emphasis on training for the firefighters who are riding and driving the rigs that they sell. In my opinion, training for drivers, pump operators, and aerial chauffers is very different from what I received as a young firefighter many years ago. And, I am sure that veteran firefighters then thought that the training was not detailed enough for me to get behind the wheel of a piece of heavy apparatus, pump the attack lines, or operate the aerial. I believe that we teach today’s drivers and operators end results rather than all that goes into achieving end results. An example would be pumping an attack line. We teach them the formula for figuring out where to get the pressure and flow correct at the end of the nozzle. And, that is easily achievable with simple math and by pushing the button on the throttle or pressure governor. But, are we teaching them everything that goes on behind that panel and underneath the truck? How does it get in pump gear? How do the rpm get to the pump? How does the pressure governor actually work? The list could go on and on. So with the learning habits of today’s firefighters, this would require understanding how they learn and what will keep them learning. The apparatus we are operating off of each and every day are very complex machines regardless of how simple we try to make them. I feel it is our responsibility to ensure that we provide firefighters with all the chances to be fully educated on them rather than an antiquated process that I believe we currently have for our rigs.
  10. Last but not least, I hope that all manufacturers keep looking for the next big thing. Even though I think we have some of the best built apparatus across the country using great engineering and technology, finding ways to do the job of firefighting better using our apparatus is something I think we can never just rest on. We always need to be finding ways to better design and manufacture our rigs to better serve our firefighters and protect our citizens.

Thanks for reading our Viewpoints this year, and we look forward to a great 2020 with Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.

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

No posts to display