Fine-Tuning Rescue-Pumper Design

Rescue-pumpers have become fixtures in plenty of fire stations across the country, in many cases replacing two vehicles (a pumper and rescue) that at one time sat side by side in adjacent fire station bays.

As the use of rescue-pumpers continues to grow, manufacturers are making tweaks to their designs in response to requests for modifications from fire departments putting the apparatus to real-world use.

Tough to Define

Wayde Kirvida, factory sales engineer for CustomFIRE, believes that it’s hard to pin down a precise definition of a rescue-pumper. “You take 20 firefighters and you’ll get 20 different descriptions of a rescue-pumper,” Kirvida says. “A lot of departments see the vehicle as mission-specific, where it runs out to a car wreck or a collapse call carrying equipment that doesn’t exist on a structural firefighting pumper. So, its primary function might be as a pumper, but one that also can handle many rescue calls as well.”

1 CustomFIRE built a rescue-pumper for the Morningside (MD) Fire Department where it special designed the compartments for specific equipment uses, as shown on the driver’s side of the body. (Photo courtesy of CustomFIRE.)

Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, says that rescue-pumpers appear to be the way of the future for fire departments. “It is the truck of favor at this point because the two types of vehicles go together so well,” Messmer says. “My department, the Edgewood (KY) Fire Department, has run a rescue-pumper since the mid-1980s when its biggest feature was a front bumper extension with two hydraulic reels, two hydraulic rescue tools, and 200 feet of handline.”

Messmer says that when Summit builds a rescue-pumper for a fire department, “we sit down with them and draw an imaginary line down the middle of the truck and decide which side is rescue and which is fire suppression. Then you determine the placement of the equipment on each side, and if something doesn’t fit well on the vehicle, you have to consider the last time you used that piece of equipment and whether it’s necessary to carry it.”

To do a proper rescue-pumper, Messmer says, a department might have to give up something on each side of the vehicle. “You might have to carry a smaller fan than you would have liked, or give up some size in your water tank, or eliminate some other equipment you normally would carry on a traditional rescue,” he adds. “But, times have changed, and the types of runs we go to have also.”

2 Front bumpers continue to be a popular place to locate hydraulic rescue tools, as shown by this rescue-pumper built by Summit Fire Apparatus for the Crescent Springs-Villa Hills (KY) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus.)


Shane Krueger, national sales manager for Marion Body Works, believes that rescue-pumpers have evolved for two main reasons: limited budgets and lack of personnel. “Many departments replace a second engine and a rescue with a single rescue-pumper as a way to justify a vehicle to the purchasing authority,” Krueger says. “There’s also the ability of the fire service to get enough personnel to respond to calls that creates a need for a vehicle to do more things.”

But, combining pumper and rescue functions in a single vehicle often means a larger vehicle, Krueger says. “Departments want full-depth compartments throughout their rescue-pumpers and don’t want to sacrifice water either, so they want 750-gallon to 1,000-gallon water tanks,” he notes. “Those things, along with a full complement of firefighting and rescue tools, tend to lend themselves to a larger vehicle. The height of the truck can be elevated, but then we have to develop ergonomic ladders to make access easier and offer wider bodies for better egress.”

3 Marion Body Works built this rescue-pumper for Rocky Run Fire Company in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania. Note the low-height crosslays, accomplished by having the pump-forward design under the cab. (Photo courtesy of Marion Body Works.)

To get more equipment on a rescue-pumper, Krueger says the vehicle’s design has to be well thought out. “You can do a water tank design that allows cascade bottles under the tank or through-tank storage of ladders and other equipment so we use every inch of space,” he points out. “We’ll also put the pump forward where the plumbing points of access are in front of the vehicle to free up another compartment in front where the pump compartment typically is.”

Equipment Storage and Truck Size

Ryan Slane, pumper tanker product manager for KME, says that wheelbase and overall length are big concerns for many fire departments. “We can’t get higher or longer with the rescue-pumpers in such cases, so we have to find ways to trim the fat, and right now the pump house is where we are trimming,” Slane says. “We’ll also tuck a booster reel under the pump house on the officer’s side like we did for Good Intent Fire Company in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.”

Slane says the Good Intent rescue-pumper is on a KME PRO™ chassis with a reduced-width pump house offering a six-inch suction tucked underneath the driver’s side and a six-inch intake on the officer’s side for the main water supply. The vehicle has two speedlays below the cab and all electric valves, so there’s no worry about making room for linkages and rods. The vehicle carries four rear discharges and has 29-inch-deep full height and depth compartments, two 26-inch-wide coffin compartments on top, a rolling hosebed cover, dual access ladders at the rear, and a transition platform at the end of the hosebed to make access easier.

Chad Trinkner, senior director of business management for Pierce Manufacturing, says that storage space on rescue-pumpers is one of the main concerns of fire departments. “They want as much storage as possible, so we use every square inch of the truck for compartmentation,” he says. “A lot of departments want more air bottle storage, so we expanded triangular storage around the wheel wells to carry single, double, or triple air bottles, depending on the department’s needs.”

4 KME built this PRO™ rescue-pumper for the Good Intent Fire Company, in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, that has a reduced pump house configuration, allowing for additional body compartmentation. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

“Electric cord and hydraulic hose reels can be stored recessed in the top of a compartment behind a false wall,” Trinkner says, with the cord or hose paying out through a slot. “It’s not obtrusive to any other equipment in the compartment,” he notes. “Also, some departments are carrying four- and five-drawer tool chest units in a compartment.”

Trinkner notes that Pierce has seen a trend away from large generators on rescue-pumpers, likely because of the increased use of LED lighting. “They are able get the same number of lights and same output with LEDs on the rig without having a generator,” he says. “Then they use the extra space for other equipment.”

David Rider, director of global product management for Smeal Fire Apparatus, says fire departments are asking for larger bodies on rescue-pumpers so they can carry more equipment. “They want larger cabs where we put storage above the forward and rear-facing seats, primarily for emergency medical services (EMS) equipment but also for gas meters, rechargeable tools, and manuals,” Rider points out. “They also want as many body compartments as possible, as well as access to the top of the body for more storage. We’re putting on more pull-type rear ladders instead of steps and often are asked to put a landing at the top of the ladder.”

5 The Surprise (AZ) Fire Department went to SVI Trucks for a rescue-pumper with a 1,500-gpm pump, a 500-gallon water tank, and a 20-gallon foam tank that it uses for fire suppression, rescue, and emergency medical services runs. (Photo courtesy of SVI Trucks.)

Rider notes that Smeal’s CORE Multi-Mission Pumper is becoming popular because of its large compartmentation and cab but shorter wheelbase. “The pump module rests between the frame rails, and the speedlays are in removable trays about 40 inches off the ground,” he says. “Often the hydraulic, air, and electric cord reels are carried in the coffin compartments on top, with rollers on the bottom of the coffin and another set of horizontal or vertical capture rollers inside the top of the compartment to feed out the hose or cord.”

Ronny Allen, marketing director for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says his company’s MVP pumper is its hottest rescue-pumper model right now. “It has a large storage capacity so a department can get enough equipment on it to handle both fire suppression and rescue,” Allen says. “The vehicle has full depth and height compartments all around and can have up to six coffin compartments on top.”

Allen says Ferrara has built rescue-pumpers that carry a variety of equipment, from swift water rescue equipment and cascade systems to hazmat equipment and gear for other types of rescues. “On the fire suppression side, the crosslays are at frame rail level, nice and low,” he points out. “The ladders are stored in the body at about chest level, and most of the equipment needed for a first attack is chest level or lower.”

6 This MVP rescue-pumper built by Ferrara Fire Apparatus features six coffin compartments, a remote controlled deck gun, and a walk-on hosebed cover on top of the rig. (Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)

Rich Holzman, director of North American sales for Spartan ER, says his company has seen a continued drive on the part of fire departments for maximizing compartment space. “They want to take advantage of every square inch of a rescue-pumper, so we sit down with them before building to understand what they need and maximize the layout of the vehicle for them,” Holzman says. “Our goal is to take advantage of the space, so we might move the pump to a different location, mount reels high up in the body in coffin compartments, and designate certain compartments for specific equipment.”

Holzman says the split vehicle design of one side fire suppression and the other side rescue has become a popular configuration. “But, a lot of departments continue to carry hydraulic rescue tools in rear compartments on both sides in order to have maximum coverage,” he says. “And, there are many others who like to have their hydraulic tools in the front bumper where they can get them closer to the scene. We also are seeing battery hydraulic rescue tools replace reel hydraulic tools on rescue-pumpers, which frees up compartment space that would be used for the hydraulic reels.”

Foam Usage

Fire departments are using more foam than ever before, Rider believes. “Almost every rescue-pumper today has foam on it, and the foam tanks are getting bigger too,” he says.

Bob Sorensen, vice president of sales for SVI Trucks, agrees about the increase in foam use. “No two vehicles are alike, but most of them have some type of foam system on them, whether it be Class A or B foam or a compressed air foam system (CAFS),” he says. “The typical rescue-pumper, which is the type most often built by SVI, typically has a 100-inch-wide body with high 24-inch-deep compartments all around the vehicle,” Sorensen points out. “The ladders they carry are either up on top in a rack or through the tank at the back of the truck.”

7 Midwest Fire built this 3,000-gallon dual-rear-axle rescue-pumper-tanker for the St. Thomas (ND) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Fire.)

Sorensen says SVI recently delivered a rescue-pumper to the Surprise (AZ) Fire Department with a 1,500-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump, a 500-gallon water tank, and a 20-gallon Class A foam tank. “The water tank was L-shaped, which allowed us to drop the hosebed lower so firefighters had better access when pulling hose off the tailboard,” he says. “Many rescue-pumpers have a complement of hydraulic rescue tools in the front bumper, which opens up a compartment in the back for other equipment.”

A Third Function

Rick Suche, president of Fort Garry Fire Trucks, echoes the move toward longer bodies on rescue-pumpers. “Some departments are adding an element to their rescue-pumpers and making them a rescue-pumper-tanker,” Suche says. “It’s not unusual for a vehicle like that to have a 1,200-gallon water tank and enclosed space for ladders and hard suction. That’s in addition to full depth and height compartments all around-all on a single rear axle.”

8 The Courtenay Fire Department in British Columbia, Canada, had Fort Garry Fire Trucks build this rescue-pumper that encloses all equipment including the ladders and the hosebed, which is topped by a walk-on cover. (Photo courtesy of Fort Garry Fire Trucks.)

Brett Jensen, vice president and general manager of Midwest Fire, also has seen an increase in rescue-pumper-tankers. “The industry has changed in the past five years or so, where money is tight and fire departments want to only buy one vehicle,” Jensen says. “So, we’re building these triple-threat vehicles with up to 2,000-gallon water tanks with full-depth lower compartments and narrower uppers. If the vehicle has a smaller water tank, we can put in full depth and height compartments all around.”

Ultimately, it’s the fire department getting the biggest bang for its buck, Jensen says. “They are putting on light towers for scene lighting and extended front bumpers carrying discharges, rescue tools, monitors, and live hosewells,” he notes. “Most of the departments buying these vehicles want them on a commercial chassis.”

9 Spartan ER built this rescue pumper for the Holly Springs (NC) Fire Department with covered full-height and full-depth compartments all around and an extended front bumper carrying a hydraulic rescue tool, hydraulic hose reel, and 1¾-inch handline. (Photo courtesy of First Choice Fire & Safety.)

In the final analysis, a rescue-pumper ends up being exactly what the purchasing fire department needs to fulfill its mission, Trinkner believes. “Fire departments are getting very creative in what they want in a rescue-pumper,” he points out. “That means more partitions in the vehicle, placing equipment more ergonomically, and making sure every compartment has a dedicated mission.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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