Although there is no agreed-on standard for what constitutes a clean cab on fire apparatus at this time, many apparatus manufacturers are promoting different versions of what they envision a clean cab might entail, each one being customized to their customers’ specific needs.
A number of apparatus makers shared details on how fire departments around the country are handling the clean cab initiatives.
REV Fire Group
Mike Virnig, vice president of sales at REV Fire Group, says that to REV and its six fire brands—E-ONE, KME, Ferrara Fire Apparatus, Spartan ER, Smeal, and Ladder Tower—”The clean cab initiative is fundamentally creating an environment inside the cab that doesn’t allow particulates and carcinogens to live in, both responding to the call and returning from it. There are almost no plastics left in the cabs anymore because we are putting all metal interiors in all our brands. Ninety percent of the cabs we are building are the severe duty model.”
Virnig points out that metal interiors are easier to clean and disinfect, plus they don’t absorb contaminants. “We also are putting different coatings and barriers that don’t have any pores in them on the interior over the metal as an added layer of protection,” he says.
The next level that REV Fire Group goes to in providing a clean cab is customization, according to Virnig. “We are keeping turnout gear, boots and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) out of the cab,” he points out. “We build extra-long cabs that have a 10-inch-wide compartment behind the crew cab that is completely separate and only accessible from the outside. This compartment has a slide-out tray that’s either one-way or two-way that carries a tool board to mount SCBA and firefighter turnout gear. We have a push-pull air system in the compartment, with a fan on one side pushing air in and another fan on the other side pulling air out, to circulate the air in the compartment and remove off-gassed particulates and carcinogens.”
The key to the system is not putting contaminants back in the cab, Virnig adds. “We also have installed stacked tool boards in body compartments for SCBA mounting, with one on the hinged compartment door and another on the back wall,” he says. “We also are adding warm water ports to the pump panel so firefighters can hose off with warm water in a decontamination tent, remove their gear and clothes to be bagged, and change into other clothes.”
Virnig says that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are the most popular add-on that fire departments choose for their apparatus cabs. “The HEPA filters can bolt to any wall or even the engine tunnel and have a changeable filter with a light on it that indicates when it’s getting full,” he says.
REV Fire Group also has a partnership with United Safety & Survivability Corp. to produce an active air filtration system that uses ultraviolet (UV) light and photohydroionization technology to neutralize airborne pollutants such as bacteria, mold, and viruses, including COVID-19, Virnig says. The unit is a stand-alone device that can be mounted in an apparatus cab and runs off 12-volt wiring. The system also can be retrofitted into existing apparatus, Virnig says. The unit is 16 × 5× 5½ inches and weighs about five pounds, Virnig notes, and has the ability to cover up to 1,200 square feet of space. “It’s not limited to only the REV Fire Group,” he adds. “We offer it to any OEM and will make it available to the fire industry through us.”
1 REV Fire Group offers an Active Air Purification unit for use in apparatus cabs as part of its clean cab initiatives. (Photo 1 courtesy of REV Fire Group.)
John Slawson, chief executive officer for Rosenbauer America, says that Rosenbauer has developed the CleanAir™ recirculation air scrubber system in conjunction with the Particle Calibration Laboratory at the University of Minnesota to reduce exposures to carcinogenic toxins in fire apparatus. The system works in two stages, Slawson points out, with stage one capturing large particulates like soot from fires in an electrostatic MERV-15 filter. MERV filters provide better air flow, require less replacement, and do not clog as frequently compared with HEPA type filters, he says. Stage two handles off-gassing, a primary concern for crews coming into the apparatus contaminated by volatile organic compounds. Activated charcoal and potassium permanganate in the system have shown to be the most effective on gaseous contaminants, Slawson adds.
2 Rosenbauer developed the CleanAir™ recirculation air scrubber system in conjunction with the University of Minnesota as part of its efforts to provide clean cab technology on fire apparatus. (Photo 2 courtesy of Rosenbauer.)
David Scharphorn, chief executive officer of Rosenbauer Motors Inc., points out that the CleanAir system can be incorporated into apparatus compartments as well as the interiors of cabs. “The system uses a paper filter similar to your home heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system,” Scharphorn notes. “There’s an air intake on top of the MERV-15 filter that passes through it and then out over the charcoal filter,” he says. “It’s a stand-alone unit, so it can be mounted in a lot of different locations, and you don’t have to be running the vehicle’s HVAC system to use the CleanAir system.”
Scharphorn observes that the issue of taking turnout gear and SCBA completely out of the cab “is a split decision right now because it’s simply not right for every department. For a totally clean cab, a department has to get a design where turnouts and SCBA are stored in compartments and contaminated gear is bagged and stored separately. Each department has to determine what its needs are and what problem it is trying to solve.”
Justin Howell, southeast region sales territory manager for Sutphen Corp., says that Sutphen only has one chassis, so it tailors to the needs of the department and meets its requirements for seating and cab design. “Our clean cab initiative is based on option choices,” Howell says. “We removed Durawear material on the headliners and replaced it with washable fiberglass reinforced panels, which is a washable, cleanable surface that carcinogens cannot leak through. We also use seats by H.O. Bostrom and United Safety that are either covered in vinyl or have a removable cover that can be disinfected.”
3 Sutphen Corp. has offered a number of options for getting turnout gear and SCBA out of apparatus cabs, such as this slide-out tray in a separate sealed compartment behind the crew cab. (Photos 3-4 courtesy of Sutphen Corp.)
4 The Beverly Hills (MI) Fire Department had Sutphen construct a compartment over the right side rear wheel to carry four SCBA instead of carrying them in the crew cab.
Howell says that Sutphen offers a 73-inch-long cab that has a clean cab fully enclosed slide out under the seat riser along the back wall with only exterior access. “There’s one compartment on each side of the cab, and each one will accommodate two SCBA packs on top and bunker gear on the bottom. When firefighters initially go on a call, the gear in the compartment is clean. After the call, the gear is bagged and doesn’t come back into those compartments.”
Howell notes that Sutphen also has updated its HVAC air filtration, now using a MERV-8 filter on the system. “We are working with a manufacturer on a separate HEPA filter system for the cab, and it’s likely to be available in early 2021,” he says. Howell adds that Sutphen has a feature on its apparatus that it calls auto rollup on windows. “When the driver engages the pump, it initiates auto roll-up on door windows, because if there’s a change in wind direction and windows are open, smoke and carcinogens can get into the cab and contaminate it, but this system prevents that from happening.”
Pierce Manufacturing Inc.
Angela Malueg, senior cab product specialist for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says that a lot of the initiatives surrounding clean cabs are customer-driven. “They have the idea of what they want to do, and we take it from there and implement it,” Malueg says. “One of the biggest things that fire departments are doing is choosing seat coverings in vinyl or other easy-to-clean materials. We’ve been installing the H.O. Bostrom seats with the ZipClean covers and the seats with the vinyl covers from United Safety.”
5 Pierce Manufacturing built this 24-inch-wide sealed compartment behind the crew cab with a slide-out tool board that holds two sets of turnout gear and two SCBA. (Photo 5 courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)
Pierce also has been building 84-inch-long extended cabs that have a separate 24-inch-wide sealed compartment at the back to carry turnout gear and SCBA. “We are installing slide-out trays and tool boards in that rear compartment so departments can hang gear and SCBA,” she says. “Usually it’s a two-sided board so that it can handle the equipment for four firefighters. We also have installed a lot of exterior access-only cabinets in the main cab in place of rear-facing seat positions that are sealed off from the rest of the cab and carry turnout gear and SCBA on a slide-out tray.”
W.S. Darley & Company
Peter Darley, executive vice president and chief operating officer of W.S. Darley & Company, says that because there are no standards on the clean cab concept yet, it’s difficult for departments to choose a path to follow. “The biggest thing is preventing bringing contaminants from the fire scene back into the cab,” Darley points out. “We can set up an apparatus so that personal protective equipment and SCBA are in dedicated compartments outside of the cab and also provide a compartment where they can store bagged contaminated turnout gear and equipment. But that almost always takes up extra space on the apparatus.” Darley adds that many of his company’s customers are avoiding fabric or cloth-type seats because they want easily cleaned surfaces. “And, we have promoted our polypropylene apparatus body for years as easy to clean,” he adds. “It’s nonpermeable; nothing sticks to it.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and 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.