Heavy Rescue Designs Reflect the Times

 Pierce heavy duty rescue vehicle
This Pierce heavy duty rescue vehicle features a 20,000-pound front mounted winch and a 10-ton crane with a 43-foot reach for response at accident scenes. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing.)
Horton Emergency Vehicles for Pleasant Township, Ohio
This truck, manufactured by Horton Emergency Vehicles for Pleasant Township, Ohio, shows some of the available storage solutions. (Photo courtesy of Martin Malley.)
E-ONE built this dual-axle heavy rescue for the Newark (NJ) Fire Department on a Cyclone II four-door chassis. [Photo courtesy of E-ONE and Newark (NJ) Fire Department.]
Rear lift-up stairs
Rear lift-up stairs, like the ones shown here, are a standard feature on almost all heavy rescue vehicles manufactured by Rescue 1. (Photo courtesy of Rescue 1.)
multipurpose rescue
This truck is an example of a multipurpose rescue. It serves as North Arlington, New Jersey’s vehicle extrication, confined space, hazmat, air/light, dive, and command vehicle. (Photo courtesy of KME.)
Alexis Fire Equipment
This truck, manufactured by Alexis Fire Equipment, exemplifies some of the unique designs tailored to the needs of each specific customer. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Fire Equipment.)

Heavy rescue vehicles, like all apparatus, continue to evolve to meet the needs of today’s fire service. The driving forces behind other apparatus trends are the same for rescue trucks. Manufacturers are helping departments design these vehicles to meet a plethora of demands. Although they are not “multipurpose” in the same way a rescue-pumper is, these vehicles are built so departments are prepared for a variety of rescue scenarios.

Current Trends

There is a variety of criteria for departments to consider when designing a heavy rescue truck. Current trends have manufacturers building trucks for almost any type of incident. “The current trends in heavy rescue vehicle design and construction have been toward large vehicles with multiple capabilities, including many tandem-axle units that are designed and equipped to respond to a wide variety of incident types, including fireground support, rescue, and hazmat,” says Bill Proft, senior chief engineer and market manager, rescue products at Pierce Manufacturing. He adds that many rescue vehicles now have some incident command space and equipment and fully dedicated incident command centers, and some convert crew cabs into small command centers. He says, “Also increasingly popular are combination vehicles offering both nonwalk-in space for tool and equipment storage as well as a walk-in area for rehab, command operations, or additional crew members.”

Bob Sorensen, vice president, sales, SVI Trucks, cites several design trends. “Ergonomics in accessing and mounting equipment has been big during the last five years,” he says. “If a complete inventory is available at preconstruction, we are able to lay out equipment and decide if it is best to store it on the shelf, slide-out tray, slide-out/drop-down tray, or tool boards.” He also says that locating rescue tools and reels in the front bumper is another trend: “This allows crews to operate off the front of the truck and sometimes protects them better from passing traffic.”

Ferrara’s Kevin Arnold, rescue products manager, says that the trend today is to include as many rescue systems to cover as many situations on one truck as possible.

Mike Marquis, vice president, sales, Rescue 1, says, “There’s an upswing in proposals for tandem axle rescue designs given the need to have one vehicle with multiple missions including fire support, air and lighting, auto extrication, rehab, command, and water rescue.”

E-ONE’s Job Moxley, rescue product specialist, adds, “Budget constraints are driving departments to configure heavy rescues with more equipment.They’re adding pumps and water and trying to make an all-purpose vehicle.”

According to Steve Cole, manager, rescue division, Horton Emergency Vehicles, various equipment mounting techniques are an increasing trend. “Slide-out tool boards have become increasingly popular. Preconnected multitool hydraulic rescue tool systems in the rescue body, as well as out on the extended front bumper, have also been an increasing phenomenon,” he says. He adds that in some cases, stored-pressure foam systems have been added to some heavy rescues.

Walk Around, In, or Through?

When a department designs a heavy rescue around the various rescue disciplines, locating all the equipment is a major consideration. No matter how well a department configures the compartments, eventually it will run out of space. Often, this opens up the debate over whether to design the unit as a walk-in, walk-through, or walk-around truck.

Jeff Morris, president, Alexis Fire Equipment, says that his company has seen a shift to walk-around rescue units. “Another trend in this area that is gaining popularity is integrating a crew area at the front of the body, combining the popular features of both walk-in and walk-around type rescues in one unit,” he says.

“The rescue market has swung back around to mainly the traditional walk-around design in the past two years,” says Andrew Yenser, rescue truck product manager, KME. “As our history has shown, the rescue market is very cyclical from walk-around, to walk-in, to rescues with pumps.” He cites storage as a factor. “Walk-around rescues provide equipment storage space that would typically be lost with walkway space,” he says.

Cole concurs. “Our experience has been that walk-around style rescues are becoming increasingly popular for their substantially greater equipment storage capability,” he says. “The walk-around design also offers the customer more of a blank slate when it comes to different compartmentation design opportunities.”

Proft asserts that bodies that combine walk-in and nonwalk-in designs “are gaining in popularity since they provide plenty of equipment storage space along with interior room for many different purposes.”

Yet another consideration is the push by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to keep crew members away from the equipment that trucks carry, according to Marquis. “Some of the popularity [of walk-around rescues] is due to the NFPA trying to keep the crew separate from equipment carried onboard,” he says. “We do see small pockets and states where walk-in and crew walk-in designs are preferred over walk-around layouts.” He adds, “A high percentage of our sales are walk-around rescue bodies with upper storage mounted to a custom chassis. This does not mean that walk-in rescues will fade away; it’s just what we’re seeing today.”

Driving Forces

Budgetary constraints are the impetus for many of the trends listed above. “With the economy as it is today,” says Marquis, “towns are being forced to consolidate the number of vehicles a fire department operates. The needs for these specialized vehicles are still there, but departments are being forced to combine these needs into one larger vehicle.”

Arnold adds, “Fire departments can only get approval for one truck these days, and they are looking for the biggest bang for their buck.”

New responsibilities for fire and rescue crews also affect what these trucks are responding to. “Tighter budgets are increasingly necessitating that departments have greater capabilities and accomplish more with fewer personnel,” says Proft. “Those requirements, in turn, dictate that muticapability vehicles generally be larger. Combination vehicles, especially those with slide-out rooms in the walk-in area, provide the best of walk-in and nonwalk-in capabilities in one complete unit.”

Yenser adds, “I believe the walk-around trend is partly attributed to timing but also to the increased responsibilities forced on rescue crews.”

Additionally, Morris says that “more efficient and usable compartment space is needed to transport the vast amount of necessary equipment utilized in today’s fire service industry.”

Finally, Cole states that many of the current trends find their genesis in the fact that fire departments are being asked to respond to all emergencies—not just fires. “Having adequate storage space for all types of emergency equipment, as well as room for growth, is increasingly important,” he says. “More and more departments want to be able to quickly find and easily deploy equipment on scene that is ready to use and not spend time retrieving parts of a system to assemble before use. Stored-pressure foam systems offer a heavy rescue some initial firefighting capability if it arrives on scene first.”

Response Trends

When departments first started buying “rescue trucks,” many were being designed around responses to vehicle accidents where specialized tools and skills were necessary to complete extrications. According to Yenser, most heavy rescue trucks are still designed around the most common response—vehicle rescue. “However,” he says, “most departments are allocating space for technical rescue, hazmat, rehab, and command.” He reasons that the responsibilities of all rescue crews have expanded to the point that these vehicles must carry equipment to evaluate and mitigate any incident. “This has pushed departments to design every truck as a multipurpose vehicle,” he adds.

Cole considers most heavy rescues built today as multiemergency response vehicles. “They generally will have the capability for incident command, firefighting support, air and light, vehicle extrication, technical rescue, water rescue, and even personnel rehab.”

Moxley adds that these vehicles are asked to do a little bit of everything. “Departments want to be able to have as much equipment as possible, and these trucks are taking the place of multiple units,” he says.

Unique Implementations

Since these units, like many others in the fire service, are responding to a wider array of incidents, departments understandably make unique requests—above and beyond the demand to house all the equipment.

In terms of equipment, Proft lists complete breathing air systems (including compressors); slide-out rooms for additional space; PTO-driven hydraulic tool pumps; additional 12-volt lighting; camera systems; and audio, video, and network systems. But, Pierce has designed around other unique requirements.

“We have manufactured a couple of rescue units with straight-boom and articulating cranes for stabilization, rescue, and recovery operations,” he says. “In addition, we have manufactured mobile command centers outfitted with high-end amenities including hardwood floors, leather seating, and fabric-covered walls.”

PTO-operated hydraulic rescue systems were cited by several as innovations spec’d out in today’s rescues. “There have been advancements in how we can operate rescue tool systems,” says Sorensen. “So, we can use the PTO opening on the transmission or even the backside of the PTO generator to provide power for rescue tools instead of standalone gas or electric power units,” he says.

In terms of unique installations, Sorensen cites several examples. “We have added roof-mounted cranes to allow lifting of a boat from the roof into water as well as a pull-out overhead winch that allows one person to remove equipment up to 500 pounds from the truck,” he says.

Popular choices for heavy rescues, according to Cole, include installing portable winch receivers and anchor points for confined-space or rope rescue, fixed-line voltage lighting systems as well as large light towers, PTO-driven hydraulic rescue tool systems, oil dry delivery systems, cascade or bulk air storage systems with fragmentation-protected air cylinder fill stations, utility air systems, refrigerators, and personnel rehab equipment.

Additionally, Horton offers a crew module designed into the front portion of the rescue body that can be mounted on a regular cab, heavy-duty commercial chassis. “The crew module can be varied in length to address a host of different requirements from additional personnel transport to a communications/command center, to a rehab area, to basic medical transport,” says Cole.

Morris lists additional equipment including integrated hydraulics for extrication tools, customized trench rescue equipment storage, and a small pump and water tank. He states that the equipment specified on rescue trucks depends on their projected use.

A request from a Colorado fire department led to a standard install on all Rescue 1 rescue trucks. According to Marquis, the department’s chief requested some type of high-angle anchor point to which ropes and other rigging could be secured to help prevent chaffing against the sharp edges of broken guard rails. “Today as a standard feature, we build all rescue bodies with four high-angle anchor points,” he says.

Another example cited by Marquis as a unique feature came about by providing safe roof access. “The customer requested a stairway be built into the rear of the rescue unit with storage compartments between the steps. To create a stairway that was easy to climb, our engineering team designed the lower section of the stairway to lift up instead of compartments between each step riser. Compartments between each step would result in a tall step riser, making the stairs hard to climb,” he says. A few years later, Marquis says, another customer wanted to store trench panels vertically under the upper walkway and be accessible from the rear of the rescue under the stairways. “Today almost every rescue unit we manufacture has the full lift-up staircase,” he adds.

Continued Evolution

Budgets and personnel numbers continue to contract while the fire service’s responsibilities expand. Although the trend for heavy rescue vehicles, as well as other fire apparatus, is to create multipurpose vehicles, there still cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. “No two units are alike,” says Morris. “Every department has specific needs that must be addressed depending on their response area and funding.”

Marquis adds, “Changes to the layouts are driven by the end users and the special requirements of each community they protect. Unlike other apparatus, a rescue vehicle must be custom-designed individually to best serve the needs of each fire department. Each community has its own individual needs and requirements, which is the main reason no two rescue units are built and outfitted the same.”

Department creativity will also play a significant role in this evolution. “As budgets continue to tighten and government funding is cut back, departments will need to become creative in truck design to house all of their equipment,” says Yenser. “The constantly expanding demands placed on rescue personnel will force builders to be more creative in designing equipment access systems.”

As these trucks evolve, Proft stresses the importance of getting maintenance personnel involved during the specification process, again because of budgetary issues. He asserts, “In departments that have a relatively large vehicle fleet, in particular, tighter budgets are also dictating that maintenance personnel play a greater role in specifications and inspections of the trucks. Ease of maintenance and service must be designed into the vehicle to achieve proper maintenance and reduce out-of-service time.”

Finally, considering the amount of equipment necessary to mitigate incidents, departments should make sure that what they specify can actually be built. They need to know what they have, how much it weighs, and how big it is. “Most departments are being asked to do more things with one truck, so we are seeing larger, multi-purpose trucks being built,” says Sorensen. “It is very important that fire departments catalog, measure, and weigh their inventories, then work closely with manufacturers on equipment layout and weight distribution to ensure they specifiy a truck that is buildable.”

CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.

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