By Bill Adkins
With the budget restraints in today’s fire departments, we may be called to improvise to get the biggest bang for our buck. We know fire apparatus is already expensive, so buying multiple units to accommodate the needs of the public can be somewhat unrealistic.
Taking the budget problem out of the equation, most of our members drive small cars or light trucks. Now we are asking them to drive large fire apparatus that may be 10 times heavier than anything they have ever driven before. Not to mention we are asking them to drive in emergency situations.
Now I am not saying we need to do away with the big apparatus. This article is not referring to the structural fire responses, even though some of these apparatus are capable. This article is referring to the hundreds of other situations we as firefighters respond to. From wildland fires, vehicle fires, rescue responses, and mutual aid, just to name a few, these smaller, multi-purpose response vehicles may be more accommodating.
Ultra-High-Pressure (UHP) Vehicle
When referencing fast-acting fire apparatus, we’re talking about smaller, lighter, and more versatile vehicles. One way to keep a vehicle lighter is to use less water; UHP pumps use pressures above 1,100 psi to break up the water into smaller water droplets to absorb more heat. Because of the small droplets, when paired up with foam it creates a dense foam blanket on the surface of what may be burning.
UHP is not a new technology, but it’s not well-known in the southwestern part of Ohio. We recently tested out the UHP vehicle at a car fire training. Concord and Green Townships in Fayette County, Ohio, allowed us to use their UHP truck for this training. This fire apparatus holds 150 gallons of water with a 30-gallon foam tank. When conducting the training we successfully extinguished five car fires and still had a quarter of a tank of water. I have not had that same result when using a pumper with 1,000 gallons of water.
When talking to the crew from Concord/Green Townships, I found that they use this vehicle for auto accidents, rescue incidents, car fires, wildland fires, and any other time they do not need an apparatus with a significant amount of water. This helps them to respond on incidents when they do not have someone cleared to drive the larger apparatus as well. Because of its smaller tank it allows for much more compartment space. With additional compartment space comes more options for tools needed on a magnitude of different emergency scenes.
More Than a Brush Truck
Multi-purpose brush trucks are becoming more and more popular in the rural areas. Locally there are quite a few, but two departments I work with are Byrd Township and Russellville Fire Departments in Brown County, Ohio. Each department has built a brush truck for multiple purposes. When talking to the chiefs they decided, when purchasing their brush truck, they didn’t want to use it for just brush fires, so they added compartment space to carry the necessary tools to become versatile.
The Byrd Township fire chief stated when called on mutual aid structure fires, when only manpower is needed, they take their brush truck instead of taking an engine. This cuts down on fuel cost and wear and tear on the larger, more expensive apparatus. They have also added SCBA’s for each seat on the crew cab brush truck. Their brush truck has a full complement of rescue tools for auto extrication, swift water rescue, and rope rescue. Russellville’s fire chief stated they use their brush truck for virtually everything from not only brush fires, but also, EMS first responses, rescue incidents, and to get additional members to structure fires.
No Water, No Problem
Another vehicle growing in popularity is small pickup rescue trucks. These trucks usually have caps and some type of skid unit in the back to carry a variety of equipment. These trucks are somewhat light weight, have 4X4, and crew cabs. Not only do these vehicles carry rescue equipment, but usually also EMS equipment, command staff equipment, and additional structural equipment that is not able to fit on other apparatus. Mt. Orab Fire Department uses its small rescue for additional manpower, HAZ MAT, auto extrication, EMS assistance, rope rescue, and carrying additional firefighting equipment for structural firefighting.
In short, just because you bought a smaller apparatus does not mean it can’t do big things. You can let your imagination run wild as you place equipment on your new apparatus. What do you want to put on it? Well, that depends on your community needs. One thing is for sure, when you place your multi-use, fast-acting fire apparatus in service be prepared—because you will most likely use it more than any other apparatus you have (other than the ambulance…LOL).