Purchasing Apparatus for the Future

Alan M. Petrillo

What does 2014 hold for fire apparatus purchasers and manufacturers? Opinions are mixed among fire apparatus makers, but there is general agreement that fire departments are being more selective in the types of vehicles they are specifying as well as pickier about the enhancements they are putting on their rigs.

Spartan ERV has seen a growth in pent-up demand as more money becomes available in budgets, according to Rich Holzman, Spartan ERV’s national account sales manager. “There’s a trend toward buying a custom chassis vehicle compared to a commercial chassis,” Holzman says. “It’s about two to one, custom to commercial.”

Mitch Willoughby, national sales and marketing director for HME Inc., says that apparatus purchases “boil down to the customer’s needs, which are shaped by the current economy, technology, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.”

Rosenbauer is developing a computerized pump panel with a three-dimensional screen
(1) Rosenbauer is developing a computerized pump panel with a three-dimensional screen and expects to have a wireless option for it in the near future. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

All-Hazard Apparatus

“Fire departments are making their vehicles do more than they did ten years ago,” says Chad Trinkner, Pierce Manufacturing’s director of product management for aerials, pumpers, and fire suppression. “They didn’t plan then on having medical and extrication equipment on them but now are maximizing the capabilities of the vehicle for the mission of the department.”

In the past, Trinkner points out, each truck usually had a mission-pumper, aerial, rescue, tanker-that was a part of the overall mission of the fire department. “These days, the fire department’s mission drives the specifications of the vehicle and what’s being purchased,” he notes. “Hosebeds are getting lower, pumpers are being combined with rescues and emergency medical services (EMS) response units, and tankers are carrying more hose.”

Willoughby thinks the trend of multiuse vehicles will continue for a while, but he sees room for producing specialized vehicles at economical cost. “We introduced the Silverfox, a loaded custom pumper that’s cost-effective,” he says, “as well as redesigned our MiniEVO to handle a 1,500-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump. There are some departments that have a need to get a smaller vehicle down tight streets.”

Jeff Morris, president of Alexis Fire Equipment Company, thinks there’s a split among the types of departments buying apparatus. “We keep seeing the haves and have nots,” he says. “There are departments with all kinds of money in their budgets and fire departments with nothing.” So, Morris predicts the industry will see an increase of both base model vehicles as well as more elaborate ones.

AerialLogic AL-11, a graphical display
(2) Smeal Fire Apparatus developed AerialLogic AL-11, a graphical display for its aerials that gives information on all aerial ladder and engine functions. (Photo courtesy of Smeal Fire Apparatus.)

“We’re building more pumpers with extrication equipment built into them,” Morris says, “where departments are trying to make a single piece of apparatus go farther and longer. We’re also seeing departments forego a piece of equipment, such as an aerial, if a neighboring department has one that they can call on mutual aid. In that case, the department might go for a rescue truck instead.”

Mark Meaders, CEO of UST Fire Apparatus, says UST also has seen the trend continuing for multiuse vehicles. “Several dynamics continue to go on where shrinking budgets and manpower make a need for the vehicle to fulfill multiple roles,” Meaders says. “Ten years ago, a department would purchase a tanker with a small 500-gpm pump and also a traditional pumper, but now they are putting them together in a single unit. The same thing has happened with pumpers and rescues being combined into true multiuse vehicles.”

Returning to Roots

Ken Creese, director of sales and marketing for Sutphen Corp., thinks the kinds of vehicles being purchased are based on the past. “Because of the downturn in the economy, fire departments had to rethink the kinds of vehicles they need, compared to the types of apparatus they want,” Creese says. “We’ve been seeing more of a push toward more simplistic machines, where the cost has been lowered but not the quality.”

Some departments are willing to purchase a vehicle that Sutphen has made to preengineered specifications instead of completely customizing the rig, Creese points out. “If we were building a custom vehicle, we would ask where the department wants its generator located,” he says. “But with a preengineered vehicle, we already know where it will be mounted from engineering, and more fire departments are willing to accept that.”

This custom chassis Spartan ERV rescue truck was built for the Pleasant Valley (SC) Fire Department.
(3) Spartan ERV has found there’s a trend of about two to one, custom to commercial chassis fire vehicles. This custom chassis Spartan ERV rescue truck was built for the Pleasant Valley (SC) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Spartan ERV.)

Creese says that he’s been seeing unusual requirements dissipating a bit. “Departments are viewing the vehicles as tools,” he observes. “In the past, the tools could handle everything, but now they are looking to get about 90 percent of everything. The vehicles are more simplistic and have fewer gadgets on them.”


Phil Gerace, director of sales and marketing for KME, says his company has noticed a concern among departments for the overall envelope of the apparatus. “Fire departments are looking to combine several functions into a single vehicle yet keep the vehicle size from increasing unduly,” Gerace says. “For pumpers, this has created an increased interest in minimizing pump house size, thereby increasing an interest in electronic controls.”

Gerace points out that today’s technology is progressing so rapidly “that not only are there electronic pump controls but also simple, one-location controls to control other components as well as deck guns, light towers, generators, scene lights, and more.”

Donley Frederickson, national sales manager for Rosenbauer, echoes Gerace’s comments about electronics on vehicles. “The more we get younger firefighters into the system, the more electronics we’re seeing used on vehicles,” Frederickson says. “Departments are asking for electronic joysticks for their aerials and they like the control screens in the cabs where they can push a button and get instant information.”

Frederickson says Rosenbauer is developing a computerized electronic pump panel that uses all electronic valves, pressure relief valves, governor, and throttle. “It has a three-dimensional screen that shows which valve is operating while you are doing it,” he points out. “We will have a wireless option for it by 2015, and you also may be able to operate it through an iPad type of control.”

electronic pump panel on a BP industrial foam pumper
(4) Electronics are playing a big role in fire apparatus, as this electronic pump panel on a BP industrial foam pumper built by Summit Fire Apparatus shows. (Photo courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus.)

Shane Krueger, national sales manager for Marion Body Works, believes electronics have improved apparatus ease of use. “We have the ability to access switching and pump panel components from either the pump panel or the cab, which has created interest out there,” Krueger says. “We’re seeing more screen technology being built into vehicles and also more electronic pressure governors and even some GPS units. Backup cameras have become close to standard on vehicles now.”

Krueger notes that service monitoring systems on vehicles are underappreciated technological improvements. “The systems allow the vehicle to report back to the firehouse about any fault codes from the field,” he says. “The fire chief or other designated person is able to access a lot of information, from the record of hours in use of the vehicle, how long it pumped, if service or repairs are needed, and even the speeds the vehicle was driven at.”

Joel Konecky, regional sales director for Smeal Fire Apparatus, agrees that electronics are playing a greater role in fire vehicles. “We’ve been doing multiplex systems for several years with great success and have upgraded our electrical systems to meet the demands of multiplex wiring,” he says. “Instead of rocker switches, firefighters want to see information on a screen, so we put in touch screens to control lights and sirens. And we developed AerialLogic AL11, a graphic display for our aerials that gives information on all aerial ladder and engine functions.”


Holzman says Spartan ERV has seen a great acceptance by fire departments of its Advanced Protection System inside apparatus cabs. “Ninety-five percent of the departments keep the system in place when they buy one of our vehicles,” he says. “And, there’s a continued trend for more space inside apparatus because of the multifunction aspect of many vehicles, like those that are capable of fire suppression, rescue, advanced life support EMS, and hazardous materials work.”

Konecky says that safety is always at the forefront of apparatus manufacture both inside cabs and in the apparatus design. “We do some unique safety things,” Konecky says, “like an ergonomic hose load for pumpers that is designed to keep firefighters off the top of the apparatus. We’ve installed many more of those this year.”

the Comm Fox
(5) HME Inc. built the Comm Fox, a version of its Silver Fox pumper on a commercial chassis, to meet a growing demand from fire departments. (Photo courtesy of HME Inc.)

Trinkner concurs that safety continues to be a big trend in the manufacture of fire apparatus not only with protection inside the apparatus cab but also in the design of its components. “Design teams are looking at the components firefighters grab or use regularly to determine if they are designed to be as safe as possible,” Trinkner says. “We also are designing standard maintenance check items for easier access so you can check the engine oil level without having to tilt the cab and making fuel, oil, and antifreeze levels more accessible from the ground so you don’t have to get up on the apparatus to examine them. Vehicles have to last longer than in the past, so departments are more aware now of how to keep a vehicle in service longer.”

LED Lighting

Trinkner says the emergence of LED lights on fire apparatus means fewer generators are being put on vehicles because LEDs draw much less power than other types of lighting. “With the generator gone from a compartment or the top of the vehicle, we can free up that space for other equipment,” Trinkner points out. “It allows more optimization of the storage area on the vehicle.”

The only issue with LED lights that Trinkner has encountered is their brightness. “They are so bright that you have to adapt to them on a night shift call,” he says. “If you open an LED-lighted compartment at night, your eyes have to readjust to the darkness once you move away from the vehicle. But for the most part, everyone loves LEDs and their capabilities.”

Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, says, “Everybody wants LED lights; no one talks about anything else, and I don’t blame them because LEDs have proven to be good all-around for everyone. They put less of a load on the electrical system and complement multiplexing.”

Messmer notes that when vehicles run halogen lights, there are heat issues and larger loads on the electrical system. “That drives the cost of the electrical system up,” he adds. “And while LED lighting doesn’t offset the cost of halogens, incandescents, and multiplexing, it’s close. But because emergency services, public safety, and public works people have embraced LEDs, the costs are coming down.”

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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