Tanker Roles Expanding

Alan M. Petrillo

Because many fire departments are stretched in terms of budgets and personnel, the designs of tankers (also called tenders) have followed the fire industry’s multiuse trend, becoming pumper-tankers, and sometimes even encompassing rescue elements instead of being straight water carriers. Fire vehicle manufacturers say very few tankers are built these days without some type of pump on them and, in most cases, are pretty large pumps compared with those traditionally included on tankers simply to offload water.

(1) The Lake Township (MI) Fire Department had Marion build a pumper-tanker
on a commercial chassis that carries a 2,000-gallon water tank
and a Waterous CX Sideswipe 1,250-gpm pump.
(Photo courtesy of Marion.)

Becoming a Given

Dan White, national sales manager for Classic series products at Spartan ERV, says the pumper-tanker concept is almost a given for all the tankers his company sells. “In our Classic series, a lot of departments are using tankers in pumper-tanker and rescue-tanker roles,” White points out, “and predominantly in the Southwest, Midwest, and Mountain states we’re seeing tankers configured like brush fire tankers.”

A brush fire tanker, White says, typically is a tanker carrying 2,000 gallons of water, a 500- to 750-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pump, booster reels, crosslays, a bumper turret, and having pump-and roll-capability to get off of the pavement and onto gravel roads. “We recently built one for the Golden Shores (AZ) Fire Department that’s a four-wheel drive on a single axle and has a PTO-driven pump for pump-and-roll capability, traditional water dumps, a 1,000-gpm pump, a 2,000-gallon water tank, and a good amount of compartment space,” White says. “We’re seeing this as a trend in the Southwest and Mountain states areas where such a vehicle is becoming a wildland pumper-tanker. With budgets down, fire departments are trying to maximize the capability of each piece of apparatus.”

White says that Spartan ERV also has seen a new phenomenon in tankers-the rescue-tanker. “It’s like a pumper on steroids and typically is a very large vehicle because they are trying to carry everything under the sun,” White notes. “They have a lot of compartmentation that’s built to reflect the needs of the department using it and often are carrying all the gear you’d see on a pumper, as well as rescue equipment, light towers, scene lights, and water tanks of 2,000 or 2,500 gallons.”

Steve Bloomstrand, vice president of operations at RocketFire, notes that RocketFire rarely quotes on a tanker that doesn’t have a pump. “Now, the most desirable pump is a 1,000-gpm model, which has almost become a standard,” he says. “But we’re also seeing some 1,250-gpm pumps too because the vehicles are being used as pumper-tankers where they can carry major water to the scene yet still be a backup pumper.”

Mike Harstad, aerial products manager for Rosenbauer, notes that a byproduct of the improved safety on tankers is that end users began looking at the vehicles as multifunctional tools rather than just water haulers. “They began putting bigger pumps on the tankers-1,000- to 1,500-gpm models-which made the vehicles into pumper-tankers that could be used as backup pumpers when necessary,” Harstad points out. “These vehicles also carry a lot more storage, much like you’d see on a traditional pumper, and even rescue tools.”

(2) UST Fire Apparatus built this 3,000-gallon elliptical tanker for
the Florence Township Fire Department, in Birmingham, Ohio,
on a Peterbilt chassis with a Hale 1,000-gpm pump. (Photo courtesy
of UST Fire Apparatus.)

First-Out Pieces

Chad Trinkner, director of product management for aerials, pumpers, and fire suppression at Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says that because a water hauler can be the first fire vehicle on a scene for many suburban and rural territories, more departments are adapting and merging pumpers with tankers. “We’re seeing a lot more tankers with bigger pumps on them and more pumpers with much larger water tanks,” Trinkner says. “And often, pumper-tankers are being outfitted with rescue equipment because EMS calls continue to rise and many departments have to support medic calls.”

Fire departments also want lots of compartmentation on their tankers, Trinkner notes. “We now offer compartment options on tankers that we were only dabbling with three years ago,” he says. “And look at how some of the storage options have evolved, for instance with Zico’s ladder racks and folding tank racks. In addition, many of our pumper-tankers carry a full complement of ladders on them.”

Trinkner thinks that exurbia is driving the trend for pumper-tankers. “There are a lot of elaborate houses on acre lots in the Midwest where there’s no water supply,” he says. “The tankers that respond to those kinds of houses have to carry their own water and be able to apply it effectively. That’s a trend we’re seeing from the East to West coasts.”

Pierce has introduced a product line of tankers called PIC-Pump in Compartment, Trinkner points out. “We offer up to a 1,000-gpm pump, in the driver’s side front compartment for both elliptical and wetside tankers,” he says. “The vehicle is set up to be supplied by large diameter hose (LDH) and carries two preconnected hoselines for fire attack.”

Besides the PIC tanker line, Pierce also offers its PUC pump, which is under the vehicle’s frame rails, as a PUC tanker, as well as the Dash CF tanker model.

(3) RocketFire built a pumper tanker for the Iroquois-Ford Fire
Protection District, in Thawville, Illinois, on a commercial chassis
with four-person cab. (Photo courtesy of RocketFire.)

Tanker Safety

Harstad says one of the biggest changes in tankers in recent years is in driving safety. “Tankers were the vehicles rolling over and wrecking most often,” he says, “which led to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) rules for roll stability control. Those regulations meant added attention on the part of manufacturers on the vehicle’s center of gravity, and today many chassis are ordered with electronic roll stability that controls the acceleration of the vehicle and its antilock braking system.”

Other safety features found on pumper-tankers and tankers these days, Harstad says, include electric ladder racks, electric water dump chutes, and electric folding tank racks. “Departments are thinking about safety features when considering how firefighters have to wrestle down a 3,000-gallon folding tank from a rack,” he observes.

Harstad notes that the Maverick pumper-tanker is one of Rosenbauer’s most popular models, with a 1,250-gpm pump, 1,500-gallon water tank, crosslays ,and large compartmentation space. “We’re also building a combination pumper-tanker-aerial for the Elkhorn (WI) Fire Department,” Harstad says. “It’s going to carry a 1,500-gpm Rosenbauer pump, a 2,500-gallon water tank, and a 67-foot Roadrunner boom with a rescue ladder.”

Marc Dettman, marketing director for HME Fire Trucks, says his company worked with Meritor WABCO, a leader in suspension and braking control systems, to develop an electronic stability control system for HME tankers. “The system automatically senses when there is a risk of directional instability that could lead to a loss of vehicle control and cause a rollover,” Dettman says.

He notes that the system constantly compares a vehicle’s actual movement to performance models through its integrated sensors. If the tanker shows a tendency to leave the driver’s steering path, through over or understeering, or if it exceeds a critical lateral acceleration limit, the system applies the brakes to realign the vehicle with the driver’s intended direction of travel.

(4) HME Fire Trucks built a tandem axle pumper-tanker for the
Chichester (NH) Fire Department with a 1,500-gpm side-mount
pump and a 2,000-gallon water tank on a 44,000-pound rear axle.
(Photo courtesy of HME Fire Trucks.)

Staffing Effects

Joe Lee, vice president of UST Fire Apparatus, says his company has built multiuse tankers for fire departments that have been losing personnel. “Fire departments are asking for combination units because they can’t get the number of pieces of apparatus to the scene that they need,” Lee says, “so they’re building pumper-tankers and rescue-pumpers.”

Most of the departments choose a T-style water tank, Lee says, so they can get ladders and a hosebed onto the vehicle and get it rated as a backup pumper yet still allow the vehicle to shuttle water. “We rarely make a tanker now without a pump on it,” Lee notes. “The average size is 750 to 1,000 gpm, but about 30 percent of the tankers we make carry a pump of 1,250 gpm or more.”


Shane Krueger, sales manager for Marion, says that some departments want smaller, more maneuverable tankers. “We built a pumper-tanker for the Lake Township (MI) Fire Department with a 2,000-gallon water tank on a single axle,” he says. “It has a Waterous CX Sideswipe 1,250-gpm pump enclosed in a roll-up door compartment, three preconnects stacked vertically, and a full complement of ladders. The vehicle also has three electric dumps at the rear, one in the center and one on each side.”

Krueger notes that many departments are opting for electronic dump valves on their tankers. “It’s harder to run a manual dump on the sides of the vehicle,” he says. “With electronics, the operator has the versatility to control the dump operation from the cab.”

(5) Spartan ERV built a pumper tanker carrying a 750-gpm pump,
3,000 gallons of water, 30 gallons of class A foam, and a 3,000-
gallon Fol-Da-Tank for the Spanish Peaks Bon Carbo (CO)
Fire Protection District. (Photo courtesy of Spartan ERV.)

Exploring Tank Options

Bloomstrand says the wetside tanker is the most popular model coming off his manufacturing floor, much more so than elliptical models. “While elliptical tankers were popular years ago, that’s not the case now,” Bloomstrand says. “These days we’re building a lot of tankers on a medium duty commercial chassis, with a single 30,000-pound rear axle to carry up to 2,400 gallons of water.”

Lee says that departments are moving away from the elliptical tanker design, even though it has a lower center of gravity. Only about 20 percent of UST’s tankers are ellipticals, he adds.

(6) The Foothill Fire Protection District, in Brownsville, California,
chose Pierce Manufacturing to build this dry side pump in
compartment (PIC) pumper-tanker.
(Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

Playing Bigger Roles

Lee says he thinks the future for tankers is bright because cities are expanding and covering more territory through annexation-territory that may not have hydrants. “Then they need some form of tanker, which is especially important when commercial areas and industrial parks are involved,” Lee says.

While the days of a straight tanker as a water hauler may be in the past, White says he doesn’t see tankers-in their many forms-going away any time soon. “I see them as having an expanded role, especially as municipal budgets continue to constrict,” he says. “Tankers will have a larger role, particularly in rural communities, where fire departments will do more with less and continue to buy vehicles that serve multiple functions.”

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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