Rugged S&S Ultra XT Uses Proven Czech Off-Road Engineering

S&S Wildland Ultra XT
The S&S Wildland Ultra XT built for the Port Orange (Fla.) Department of Fire and Rescue has pump-and-roll capabilities with six-wheel independent drive and seating for six. (Port Orange Fire and Rescue Photo)

When the Port Orange (Fla.) Department of Fire and Rescue accepted delivery of a S&S Wildland Ultra XT this spring, it came with years of proven European engineering and off-road endurance capability.

Port Orange Division Chief Ken Burgman said Chief Tom Weber had seen the big, rugged vehicle a few years ago in the Los Angeles area. “The chief thought this truck might be a good fit for our department because it would allow us to do wildland and structural protection within the urban-wildland interface areas we have,” said Burgman. “It’s a vehicle that carries enough water for our needs and is still strong enough to get us through the wooded areas we travel thanks to its all-wheel-drive capability.”

The Wildland Ultra XT replaced two aging trucks – a 1982 Brigadier Pierce Tanker and a 25-year-old converted military 6×6 – at a cost of $401,676.

Four-Door Cab

 Burgman and two others on the truck committee went to S&S Fire Apparatus in Fairmount, Ind., to review the capabilities of the Ultra XT. “We found there was very little customizing that was required to meet our needs,” he said.

They had their choice of a two-door or four-door cab and selected the latter because they wanted to be able to put a full complement of people onboard. “The six-wheel independent drive has seating for six and lets us send a full team into wildland situations,” Burgman said.

Unusual Conditions

The Wildland Ultra XT has proven its ability to handle unusual conditions. “We deal with a lot of what’s called sugar sand,” he said. “It’s really fine and soft, up to six inches deep and it makes driving very difficult because of low traction. There were many areas where we could not get through with our old trucks, and this one gets through with no problems whatsoever. And it drove through the sugar sand with 2,000 gallons of water onboard.”

Among the advantages of the new vehicle, he said, is its pump and roll capabilities and a remote turret mounted on the front. “We carry 50 gallons of pre-tanked foam and another 50 gallons onboard in addition to 2,000 gallons of water,” he said. “I can see it responding not only to wildland fires but also to structure fires, auto crashes, airplane crashes and marina calls.”

Port Orange is the first municipal department east of the Mississippi to have a Wildland Ultra XT, according to Burgman, and the vehicle is probably not well known to many other fire departments.

Perry Shatley, sales representative for S&S Fire Apparatus, said the Wildland Ultra XT’s chassis is built by a company in the Czech Republic called Tatra, the third oldest vehicle manufacturer in the world.

“This chassis system is considered an heirloom chassis system,” he said. “This is the same truck chassis you’ve seen in Russian and Chinese military parades carrying missiles.”

He said many people who see the truck for the first time are struck by the price tag. “They say, ‘That’s a lot of money for a wildland truck,'” he said. “But it can be configured to meet all risks. For example, in Florida following a hurricane this vehicle is capable of operating in that environment where other municipal trucks would not be able to get around and might be damaged while trying.”

He stressed that the Ultra XT is not a highway truck that has been converted to off-road. “It operates in the most extreme environments in the world,” he said. “It even won the Dakar [off-road endurance race] seven times.”

S&S Fire buys the cab and chassis from Tatra and has exclusive import rights in the U.S., according to Shatley. “We Americanize it, build our body systems and install all required systems,” he said. “It also meets all EPA emissions requirements.”

Doug Kelley, the president of S&S Fire Apparatus, said Tatra’s U.S. presence goes back ten years. Officials at the federal Bureau of Land Management researched 4×4 and all-wheel-drive wildland apparatus from around the world, he said, and were most impressed with Tatra’s all-wheel drive chassis. “The reason most Americans haven’t heard of Tatra,” he said, “is that all during the cold war, it was on the other side.”

In 2001 a controlling interest in Tatra was acquired by a publicly-traded American company, SDC International, and Tatra entered into a joint venture called the American Truck Company. Once Tatra did that, according to Kelley, BLM officials said they wanted one.

Central Backbone Chassis

“BLM worked with us to build the bodies,” he said. “We came out with the first one in 2003, and since that time we’ve built 24 more. They’ve gone to BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and several municipal departments.”

Tatra is known around the world for its “central backbone” chassis design with an all-wheel drive suspension that can be configured as 4×4, 6×6, 8×8, 10×10 and even 12×12. The company says the modularity of the design lends itself to a diverse range of vehicle configurations including cargo carriers, load handling systems, weapon platforms, tankers, fire fighting vehicles and aerial work platforms in a payload range from 5 to 40 tons.

One impressive feature, Kelley said, is Tatra’s independent suspension. “Each wheel can articulate up or down 13 degrees, operating with an air suspension system,” he said. “The result is very little frame twisting as this vehicle is moving.”

Upside-Down Triangle

Although Tatra makes a broad range of vehicles, Kelley said its fire service products are exclusively built for S&S. The Port Orange Wildland Ultra XT has dual rear axles.

“What we import is the raw chassis. It’s a true floating suspension unlike any commercial U.S. vehicle,” he said. “The heart of the Tatra is the running gear, the suspension, axles, transfer case and enclosed driveline. The backbone looks like an upside-down triangle. At the bottom is the enclosed driveline, a heavy steel tube. Above that are two frame rails. Between these three elements are crossrails. In addition, each axle housing is bolted to the frame. If a larger vehicle is needed, additional axle elements can simply be bolted on.”

S&S Fire Apparatus has been in business for 25 years and has 80 employees. “Our original claim to fame was building elliptical tankers back before Pierce or E-ONE built theirs,” said Kelley.

In the mid 1990s, he said S&S began building a relationship with BLM, which became S&S Fire’s biggest customer for wildland apparatus. “The Tatra is our biggest version,” he said, “but we also build on Freightliners and Navistars.”

The Tatra is designed for high-mobility applications, including natural disasters. “There are times such as earthquakes or hurricanes when mobility becomes difficult regardless of whether it is rural, suburban or urban,” Kelley said. “Limited access due to debris or damaged surfaces gives the Tatra an advantage over other kinds of vehicles.”

As for maintenance, he said, “We’re using American components for those aspects you’re pretty sure you’ll have trouble with, such as the engine and transmission. That means parts support and technical support is readily available.” In addition, he said Tatra has a warranty center in Fort Wayne, Ind., with a stockpile of parts.

“If they have to get parts from overseas, they can be either shipped direct to the department or to the warranty center,” Kelley said. “The fact that S&S has 25 Tatras in the field tells you something about our ability to support them.”

Upon delivery, S&S sent their head engineer and others to train nine people selected to become trainers in Port Orange. “This is the first vehicle we’ve had with pump-and-roll capability,” Burgman said. “Getting used to feathering the throttle and the interaction between the engine and pump was new to our guys.”

Port Orange firefighter Dominick Leone recalled his first training and his surprise at the size and the capabilities of the Ultra XT. “You can fit six people in a tanker that also has the ability to pump 2,000 gallons at 500 gallons per minute,” he said. “At first, you think I could use that on a brush fire. Then you think there are a lot of things I could use it for because I have a lot of water and a lot of foam.”

Because of its size, he said he had doubts about how it would handle in the sand. “I did everything I could to get it stuck somewhere,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. Not even the sugar sand could stop it. It went across it like a boat over water. It just floated right through it.”

The Wildland Ultra XT has a Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) that inflates and deflates tire pressure from the cab. The CTIS push button panel has four tire pressure presets – road, off-road, sand, and emergency. Leone said the system makes note of the recommended top speed in each setting to prevent knocking a tire off the rim due to too much speed with deflated tire pressure. In addition, he said a warning tone comes on if the driver exceeds the top speed allowed at each setting. It also warns if tire pressure is too low for road speeds, he said, and issues an alert if a tire gets punctured.

As for speed and handling, he said, “Pickup with 2,000 gallons of water is what you’d expect, but it rides so smoothly you forget how fast you’re going… Cornering is not a problem; it has a good turning radius.”

Compared to the department’s old converted military truck, he said, “The Tatra is like driving a Cadillac.”

Many Traction Options

When extra traction is required, the Tatra technology offers many options. “Differentials can be locked independently,” Leone said. “The middle axle locks with the push of a button so you can have the front and rear unlocked while the middle is locked. If you’re really stuck and you need all six wheels to spin, you hold another button down and all three axles lock.”

The independent drive allows axles to drop as much as 16 inches and still give traction, keeping the truck level when going through holes and over downed debris.

Leone said the Ultra XT’s most impressive attribute is how simple it is to operate. “The only learning task was how to operate the additional systems, such as learning how to adjust tire inflation depending on how much water you have onboard and the terrain,” he said. “Even that panel is simply three buttons for full, half full or empty. So, the truck knows how to make the necessary adjustments, and all you have to do is use the buttons to give the truck the necessary information.”

Pump And Roll

The Wildland Ultra XT is Port Orange’s first truck with pump-and-roll capability. “We can do it all from inside the cab,” Leone said. “Selecting the pump-and-roll option switch changes the function of the cruise control mechanism from cruise control to pump-and-roll. It then pressurizes the turret. Feathering the accelerator pedal gets the truck in motion. Under pump-and-roll, the resume speed button brings up the turret pressure. Hitting the brakes, in pump-and-roll mode, stops the vehicle’s movement, but pumping to the turret continues.”

The rate of flow is controlled by both feathering the accelerator pedal and pushing the resume button, he said, and lateral movement of the turret is controlled either by a joy stick or selecting the auto-oscillating button on the panel.

In pump and roll mode, the turret is not the only discharge available. “There are two 2.5-inch discharges on each side and one 1.5-inch on the rear,” Leone said. “We also have one reel per side with 150 feet of .75-inch hose. In pump-and-roll mode, you can have any combination of these discharges. The pump-and-roll took a little practice but it came quickly.”

Perry Shatley (846-638-7081) was the S&S Fire Apparatus sales representative.

For more information call S&S at 800-451-7180 or go to www.ssfire.com.

Dimensions

  • 29-foot overall length
  • 189.6-inch wheelbase
  • 129.75-inch height
  • 117-inch width
  • 15.35-inch ground clearance

Weight Capacities

  • Gross vehicle weight rating, 57,230 pounds
  • Front axle rating, 17,637 pounds
  • Tandem rear axles, 39,682 pounds
  • Towing capacity, 55,115 pounds

Chassis

  • Tatra rigid, full-length 10.5-inch diameter backbone tube bolted to axle final drive housings and cross beams, which encases the drive shafts, ring/pinion assemblies and differential locks
  • High strength steel welded frame with closed section profile for body mounting
  • Cummins ISM 410-hp EPA 07 six-cylinder electronic diesel engine
  • Twin Disc TD-61-1177 fully automatic 6-speed transmission

Suspension

  • Front: two independent, driving, swinging half axles integrated into backbone tube; torsion bar suspension with heavy-duty hydraulic telescoping shocks & anti-sway bar
  • Rear: four independent, driving, swinging half axles integrated into backbone tube and incorporating a combination airbag over steel coil suspension providing adjustable ride height control; heavy-duty hydraulic telescoping shock absorbers and center axle anti-sway bar

Cab

  • Four-door crew cab with seating for six; four fixed forward-facing crew seats

Pumping Features

  • Waterous CLVK 500-gpm, PTO-driven pump
  • 2000 gallon polypropylene water tank with integrated 50 gallon foam cell
  • FoamPro 2001 foam injection system, Class A foam

Other features

  • WABCO Anti-lock brake system
  • Central Tire Inflation System, controlled at dash with preset functions
  • Curb-to-curb turning radius, 34 feet 10 inches
  • Two Hannay aluminum super booster reels
  • Akron FireFox Turret, Low Flow 30-to-125-gpm adjustable nozzle, electric nozzle, joystick for electric valve with oscillation and stow
  • Side slope indicator

Cost: $401,676

 

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