Fire Departments Purchasing More Practical Apparatus

(1) E-ONE built this paramedic rescue-pumper for the Aurora (CO) Fire Department. The vehicle has a Hale QMAX 1,500-gpm pump, a 530-gallon water tank, a SmartPower eight-kW generator, and full height rescue-style compartments on both sides.
(1) E-ONE built this paramedic rescue-pumper for the Aurora (CO) Fire Department. The vehicle has a Hale QMAX 1,500-gpm pump, a 530-gallon water tank, a SmartPower eight-kW generator, and full height rescue-style compartments on both sides. (Photo courtesy of E-ONE.)
(2) Fire Protection District No. 1 of West Feliciana Parish, in St. Francisville, Louisiana, turned to Ferrara Fire Apparatus to build this MVP rescue-pumper.
(2) Fire Protection District No. 1 of West Feliciana Parish, in St. Francisville, Louisiana, turned to Ferrara Fire Apparatus to build this MVP rescue-pumper. (Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)
(3) Pierce Manufacturing built a Pierce Arrow XT pumper with a 1,750-gpm pump, 500-gallon water tank, Husky 12 foam system, internal ladder storage, roll-up compartment doors, and LED lights for the Bellevue (WA) Fire Department.
(3) Pierce Manufacturing built a Pierce Arrow XT pumper with a 1,750-gpm pump, 500-gallon water tank, Husky 12 foam system, internal ladder storage, roll-up compartment doors, and LED lights for the Bellevue (WA) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)
(4) Rosenbauer built this 68-foot RoadRunner aerial ladder quint with a Darley PSM 1,500-gpm pump and 400-gallon water tank on a Spartan MetroStar chassis with a Cummins 400-hp ISL diesel engine and Allison 3000 EVP transmission for the Colorado Springs (CO) Fire Department.
(4) Rosenbauer built this 68-foot RoadRunner aerial ladder quint with a Darley PSM 1,500-gpm pump and 400-gallon water tank on a Spartan MetroStar chassis with a Cummins 400-hp ISL diesel engine and Allison 3000 EVP transmission for the Colorado Springs (CO) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

Fire departments are purchasing apparatus that reflect more practical needs, according to fire apparatus manufacturers, likely a result of shrinking budgets because of the down economy. Yet according to some manufacturers’ experiences, fire apparatus built for special purposes still are being purchased but not in the numbers seen in past years.

Although the number of new pieces of fire apparatus bought in the United States is down dramatically from past years, some apparatus makers have seen changes in the kinds of vehicles being ordered.

Fewer Bells and Whistles

Mike Moore, vice president of business development for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says he doesn’t see many vehicles carrying a “tremendous amount of parade items on them–excessive numbers of lights, extra chrome and trim, stainless steel and lots of diamond plate, or other bells and whistles.” Instead, he notes, “We’re seeing trucks outfitted specifically for the communities where they’ll be used. Some departments may move from one chassis model to another or downsize from a big block engine to a medium block to save money. That’s becoming more prevalent.”

Moore points out that Pierce has a robust stock program with a great deal of variety in it yet still builds custom elements into those vehicles. “A fire department might ask us to do something different on a vehicle because that’s how they want to use the truck, approach a fire in their territory, or carry certain pieces of equipment,” Moore says. “It’s a practical approach to the use of the truck.”

Hold the Extras

John Greible, senior regional sales manager for Crimson Fire, says he’s also seen more practical apparatus coming off Crimson’s line. “With budgets getting tighter, many departments are leaving off a lot of the extras on their apparatus,” he says. “They are making sure that what’s on the truck is going to be used rather than carrying equipment on it in case they might need it at some time.”

Greible notes that in more rural areas, especially in the Northeast, a lot of attention is being paid to practicality. “Many departments aren’t putting anything fancy on the trucks at all,” he says. “Some even question whether to use aluminum rims where their taxpayers might consider them extravagant, even though the cost of aluminum rims is nearly the same price as painted wheels. It’s a matter of perception.”

Greible says he believes many fire departments don’t have the money to purchase new aerial apparatus, which he sees as becoming a concern to some municipalities. “With a brand new aerial running from $800,000 to $1 million, many departments are buying used aerials while others are looking at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to help with the cost,” he says.

Greible thinks both pumpers and aerials are becoming more practical, and that departments are solidly behind the trend toward multipurpose vehicles such as rescue-pumpers, pumper-tankers, and wildland-urban interface units. “Buying a multipurpose vehicle means the department is spending its money more wisely,” Greible observes.

Customization Over Options

Joe Hedges, product manager for aerials and chassis at E-ONE, says his department looks at all the quotes that come in, as well as the special requests on apparatus, and while E-ONE still sees a lot of vehicle customization, the rigs are not loaded up as much as trucks used to be. “We recently built an aerial ladder with no tank and no pump that topped $1 million, but it had all kinds of other equipment on it in abundance, including a totally custom-built body, special configuration of compartments and ground ladders, and all the latest features,” he says.

On the other hand, Hedges notes, many departments are buying program trucks because they have limited time and/or money to spend. “The middle ground is still very popular, but departments are paring back on the higher dollar volume items,” he observes.

In the Southeast, Hedges says fire departments are still asking for extras but not as frequently as in the past. “They seem to be putting together realistic and practical units to meet their needs,” he notes. “Bells and whistles are not in the forefront of the discussion as they used to be.”

Consolidation of equipment is very much in fashion, Hedges adds. “Our E-Max is popular there because it’s a combination of a pumper and rescue, which meets the need of many departments where they have to replace an aging pumper and rescue. This vehicle does both jobs and they don’t need to staff two vehicles.”

In the Northeast, E-ONE is still seeing many full-featured vehicles go out the door. However, Hedges says, departments are paring back by installing smaller foam systems, eliminating flowmeters on every discharge, foregoing a CAFS, and cutting back on graphics.

“We used to see 10-person cabs in the Northeast, but the trend is now toward medium-sized cabs of about 68 inches for six persons,” he says. “But, departments are looking for ways to add value to their vehicles. Some are going with pressure governors instead of manual relief valves, because the pressure governors add value to the apparatus, and maybe scaling back on their generators. There are not so many 15- or 20-kW generators when 10-kW will do the job.”

Other value items, Hedges maintains, include aluminum wheels and LED scene lights, which draw low amps and offer less frequent bulb replacement.

In the Western states, Hedges says he sees a lot of departments combining a Type 1 pumper with an urban interface truck. “What’s born is an Interface Type 1 that’s really compact so it can do off road work but still run as a municipal pumper. It’s a short-wheelbase pumper with maneuverability but still has a lot of compartmentation.”

Going Green Can Be Economical

Scott Oyen, vice president of sales for Rosenbauer, says he’s seen more departments leaning toward more economical vehicles, which has made Rosenbauer’s GreenStar engine technology popular. A GreenStar vehicle uses a battery or diesel auxiliary power unit (APU) that eliminates main chassis engine idling when the vehicle does not need to pump water. “You don’t have issues with the diesel particulate filter (DPF) when you’re pumping water, but when the main engine is idling, the engine temperature is lower and it’s not burning off fuel that forms soot,” Oyen says. “So, essentially unburned fuel is going to be plugging up the DPF. With the APU, we attack the root of the problem, which is the main engine idling itself.”

Oyen notes that Rosenbauer has seen more interest from fire departments in aerials this past year, although “they’re not dressing them up as much as they used to.”

On pumpers, most departments are keeping higher horsepower engines, Oyen points out. “That’s a major expense they’re not willing to give up, although some major components, such as CAFS, are being eliminated in some cases. Major options may be trimmed back, but the basic horsepower and chassis of the apparatus are the same.”

Useful Doesn’t Mean Stripped Down

Philip Gerace, director of sales and marketing for KME, says with today’s stressed budgets on cities, counties, and individuals supporting volunteer fire departments, one response has been to buy generic apparatus that meets a department’s needs. Gerace also has seen departments moving from big block diesel engines to medium blocks to save money and also dropping less critical equipment from their rigs.

“We’ve also seen departments combine vehicles, like a rescue and a pumper, so they end up with a more expensive single truck but one that’s less expensive than purchasing two vehicles,” he says. “There are a lot of responsible fire departments out there spending their dollars as best they can.”

Gerace points out that it’s difficult to judge a piece of apparatus based on its looks alone. “Having a lot of equipment on a vehicle that performs multifunctions isn’t necessarily a trophy vehicle,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be stripped down to the minimum to be a useful tool.”

Besides practicality, Gerace has noticed another trend with apparatus. “What we are seeing is a trend toward many new products bringing additional safety and ease of use to the fire service,” he says.

Two to One Trend

Paul Christiansen, marketing director for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says his firm also has seen the movement toward replacing two vehicles with a single piece of apparatus. “Combining two older vehicles, like a pumper and a rescue, into one vehicle means it’s more option-laden because you’re putting two into one,” he says. “We’ve also noticed that certain departments, which in past years would have maxed out the equipment on their vehicles, are now looking at purchasing mid-range apparatus.” Christiansen says many departments use program trucks as a starting point and then add to them, starting with a standard model as a base and adding custom extras that fit their needs.

“There’s also a movement toward smaller cabs and engines that have less horsepower,” he notes. “A lot of departments are choosing mid-range engines, especially because now you can get up to 450 horsepower (hp) on a mid-range engine that will mate with an Allison 3000 transmission. And, you can still get a 2,000-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump with that.”

How Long for Practicality?

As to whether the trend toward practicality will continue, Hedges thinks many fire departments are taking a short-term view of purchasing apparatus. “They’re buying exactly what they need for now and will use it for three or four years and then consider what they need down the road,” he says. “They’ll evaluate their next purchase at that point, depending on how their funds are.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer 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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