By Alan M. Petrillo
Technical rescue vehicles run the gamut from medium to heavy rescue trucks to trailers of all sizes, in both walk-in and walk-around styles.
With such vehicles, manufacturers say the kinds of technical rescues they are building for departments most often revolve around the types of specialized technical rescue equipment they are carrying and the missions for which the vehicles are likely to be used.
Mike Mildner, rescue sales specialist for E-ONE, says that often a technical rescue truck might have more than a half dozen disciplines reflected in the equipment it carries. “We are building a heavy rescue for the Buffalo (NY) Fire Department that will handle all types of rescues citywide,” Mildner says, “including collapse, trench rescue, confined space, and others. Our experience has been that every rescue we build incorporates some form of technical rescue in it, which might be dive gear, cold water suits, and swift water rescue equipment if the department is near the water, or sometimes the vehicle is the rapid intervention team truck.”
Bob Sorensen, vice president of sales for SVI Trucks, says SVI recently built a new technical rescue urban search and rescue (USAR) truck for the Santa Monica (CA) Fire Department. “We built their USAR truck in 2001 on a dual-rear-axle chassis based on the amount of equipment they wanted to carry,” Sorensen says. “They took the old truck out of service and drove it out to Colorado to sit with our guys and map out where the equipment would go on the new one. We had to reconfigure some trays and shelves because they wanted the truck configured to deal with mass casualty situations.”
Mike Marquis, vice president of national sales for Rescue 1, says his company built a technical rescue truck for the Agawam (MA) Fire Department that is focused on water rescue. “It carries a boat on top of the rescue and is used for swift water rescue and rescues in rivers and the bay,” Marquis says. “The boat motor is secured in a compartment, and the others hold life vests, throw ropes, and other specialized water rescue gear.”
Trapper Meadors, sales engineer for Precision Fire Apparatus, says Precision has built technical rescues that combine several rescue disciplines on a custom chassis, most often with walk-around bodies. “Most of them have been single rear axle units with walkways on top of the body to access coffin compartments for storage,” Meadors says. “We built one with a command area in the crew cab, but most of them are big cab trucks set up for crews of up to eight firefighters.”
Joe Messmer, president of Summit Fire Apparatus, thinks that the economy and staffing issues have had an effect on the purchasing and building of large technical rescue trucks. “You’re seeing more agencies that operate regionally having the need for technical or specialty rescues,” Sorensen points out. “At the fire department level, we are seeing more traditional rescues having specialized technical rescue elements built into them.”
Kevin Arnold, rescue products manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says the technical rescue type that’s become most popular for his company is its Multi Vocational Pumper (MVP). “It has a pump and tank but still can be a full-blown rescue that can carry hydraulic tools, confined space equipment, dive gear, and hazmat equipment,” Arnold says. “We can’t do a walk-in body but have put a command center in the crew cab area of the MVP. And, all the compartments are full height and full depth, meaning they will handle large cribbing, cutters, rams, and fans.”
Shane Braun, rescue products manager for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says customers have become much more focused on the equipment layout in their technical rescue trucks. “They are giving a lot of consideration to the packing of their equipment for how they will use it,” Braun points out, “so we then build the vehicle around how the personnel will use it.”
Braun notes Pierce has built “a fair amount of pretty large technical rescues, units between 35 feet and 37 feet overall length. These are tandem-rear-axle trucks with a lot of carrying capacity, extra compartments, and additional anchor points around the truck.” He notes that many technical rescues are equipped with winches and high tie-off points for rope rescue work and that many are carrying air compressors with multiple air tool outlets.
Long and Short
Trailers are common among technical rescues, Sorensen adds. “We built a tractor-drawn fifth-wheel trailer for the Cincinnati (OH) USAR team that has a portable forklift on the back,” he says. “The equipment is stored in industrial tubs that are lifted by the forklift.” Summit also built a tractor-drawn chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) technical rescue trailer for Boone County, Kentucky, where the interior has a laboratory for analyzing at hazmat incidents. A separate exhaust system in the lab keeps any contaminants from reaching other areas of the trailer.
Wes Schamle, sales manager for Unruh Fire, says that the technical rescues Unruh has been building are on Ford F-550 chassis with nine- to 11-foot bodies. “We are doing a lot more with slide outs and taller bodies to maximize the use of space on the vehicle,” Schamle says. “For those departments that want a small technical rescue, maneuverability and speed of access are very important, but they still want to pack on as much equipment as possible.”
Unruh recently built a technical rescue for thr Overland Park (KS) Fire Department that combined trench and collapse rescue with water rescue. “We built it on a Ford F-650 chassis with a 14-foot body to hold a 12-foot boat on top that was accessed by a winch and rollers at the rear of the vehicle,” Schamle says. “The truck also carries air struts and air bags in compartments.”
Single or Dual Axle?
Mildner believes rescues have become larger in recent years to carry the array of technical rescue equipment needed at calls. “The vehicle becomes a special-purpose rig and often requires the use of dual rear axles,” Mildner says. “A lot of them are carrying multiple hydraulic tools, cribbing, struts, confined space equipment, rope equipment, hazmat suits, dive suits, and other rescue gear. We’re building about 50:50 single axle to tandem axle rescues these days.”
Sorensen agrees on the split between single- and dual-rear-axle units. “If a department can get all the equipment it needs on a single-axle technical rescue, they usually go that way,” he says. “But, those departments that want to carry more equipment, like plywood, cribbing, and shoring material, usually have to go with a tandem rear axle truck.”
Marquis says that Rescue 1 built a high-rise and tunnel rescue unit for the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department on a single rear axle that has a lift gate at the rear of the vehicle allowing preloaded carts stored in the center of the truck with air bottles and high-rise attack kits to be dropped at a dock or to the ground. Outside compartments on the truck are 29 inches deep, and the rig has 300 feet of electric cable on reels in the front bumper.
Alternatively, a technical rescue that Rescue 1 built for the Wheaton (MD) Fire Department is on a dual-rear-axle chassis, that Marquis says “is a rescue that’s set up for everything, including tunnel rescue, water rescue, building collapse, railroad tunnel rescue, and confined space.”
As for the future development of technical rescue trucks, Mildner observes, “All of the rescues we are building are what can be called multidiscipline rescues. There are no plain-Jane rescues anymore.”
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 Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.