Chris Mc Loone
Technology is transcending just about every part of fire apparatus and equipment design. Most of the time electronics come to mind when discussing technology. Think about all the electronics that go into fire apparatus, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and recently even personal protective equipment (PPE) research has been devoted to adding electronics into PPE. They’re everywhere.
Another technology area firefighters often think of is communications. Between digital radio systems, mobile data computers (MDCs), and paging systems, communications today are advancing more quickly than many can comprehend. Performance Advantage Company (PAC) is leveraging communications in a way not traditionally considered in the fire service. There are few, if any, fire departments that don’t have a computer connected to the Internet. It’s the way the world communicates today. Although the days of picking up the phone and calling a dealer or OEM are not gone, communicating with e-mail and through a company’s Web site is the preferred method for many, especially the younger generation entering the fire service today.
PAC’s specialty is tool-mounting systems. In the 20 years the company has existed, its reach has become global. Even when the economy saw better times, it was not always feasible to send representatives all over the world to train end users and dealers how to install PAC’s mounting systems. With PAC’s new “PAC SHOWROOM,” communicating just got easier. “Our swing-out tool board is getting very popular, and it’s easy to install if you know how,” says Dick Young, founder of PAC. “Engineering has put out instructions that should be OK. But, suppose you run into trouble?” PAC will have the parts and pieces for its swing-out tool board right at the PAC SHOWROOM. Using video conferencing, Young says, “We’ll be able to show you exactly where you’ve got the problem.”
|(1) The PAC SHOWROOM includes workbenches, layout tables, drills, saws, and so on. With video conferencing, end users can work with technicians in real time to solve their mounting problems. (Photo courtesy of Performance Advantage Company.)|
Identifying a Need
Tool mounting has become increasingly important. Besides the various tool mounting required to be compliant with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, there are weight distribution considerations. Still, many departments have compartments full of equipment that is not mounted. “One of the problems, first of all, is getting the end user to be willing to identify that tool mounting is a problem,” says Chick Granito, vice president of PAC. “What we see a lot of is a compartment open and everything thrown into it with no ability to safely mount the equipment, to inventory the equipment, or save the equipment from being damaged. We’ve had situations where a fire department spends an exorbitant amount of money each year to repair portable equipment because it’s just bouncing around in the compartment.”
Young adds, “Another very important thing is that up until a few years ago, the way you bought a fire truck was you got it in and then you figured out how to mount your equipment. Now you really have to figure out what your equipment-mounting needs are to design your new truck.”
Additionally, PAC receives inquiries from dealers, customers, and potential customers who want to know how to best mount the wide variety of tools and portable equipment in use throughout the world.
The need to show end users exactly how to mount their equipment is reinforced when one considers that tool mounting has not traditionally been embraced because of its difficulty level. “I think historically mounting tools and equipment has been considered a pain,” says Young. “They don’t have the people or the talent to know how to mount it. We can get across that we can solve that problem up front. We can help, we can show, and we can demonstrate. I think that education is the thing.”
The PAC SHOWROOM
The PAC SHOWROOM is an area at PAC’s headquarters in Lancaster, New York, where it has gathered a variety of tools that are on display with mounting options. Via video conferencing, PAC brings its showroom to a fire station, maintenance facility, or officers meeting to assist in planning, specifying, and mounting equipment to best fit a department’s needs.
“The end of the showroom will be workbenches, layout tables, drills, saws, that kind of stuff,” says Young. “We’ll be able to show you exactly-take you right through it, bring the camera right over. You’ll be able to see the PAC representative working with you and what he’s doing. And we’ll be able to help. The person on the other side of the camera can put a camera on what he’s doing. We can learn from each other.”
Granito says it’s analogous to a cooking show where the chef is putting a recipe together and the person at home is watching. “But, he can also talk to the person who is putting the recipe together and say, ‘I think I’ve added too much baking powder,’ and the chef will say, ‘I think you’d better start from scratch.’ ” He adds that the PAC SHOWROOM is “the next step of getting that level of technical expertise essentially standing right next to the person performing the installation.” It’s impossible, Granito asserts, to send a technician to every firehouse to stand alongside an end user to tell him procedurally how to do the mounting. “But in essence, you’ll be able to do this visually and graphically” with the PAC SHOWROOM.
End User Process
To illustrate the process an end user might go through with the PAC SHOWROOM, Granito cites the story of a recent delivery where the department wanted to do the equipment mounting itself.
The fire department took delivery of a pumper, but none of the equipment was mounted, not even the NFPA-required equipment. The captain of the department had met Granito at a show and asked if there was any reason the department couldn’t mount the equipment itself. He asked what he needed to get started. “I said what you need is what you want to put in the compartments and what your compartment sizes are,” says Granito. “So if you provide us with a tool list and a compartment size, we can give you some CAD configurations of what you might want to mount in those compartments and relatively what the cost will be because you want to do the work.” PAC took the list of equipment, and its engineering department put together a CAD drawing of the compartments and sent it back to the department, all via the Web. When the department started the installation process, it ran into some problems.
It used VHB structural two-sided adhesive, which has been proven to be outstanding as long as you clean the metal surface with denatured alcohol. It used acetone, which did not clean properly and interfered with the tape bonding. Now PAC will be able to “talk” to the installer and help him to do the job correctly.
Part of Truck Design
OEMs are also part of PAC’s vision for the PAC SHOWROOM. Apparatus purchasers are now often requesting that equipment be mounted and the trucks be designed around how the equipment will be mounted.
One department, according to Granito, bought 12 trucks with an add-on for another 13. The department gave the OEM a list of equipment to be carried and asked the OEM to design the truck to accommodate the tools and equipment it wanted to carry in specific compartments. “You see more and more departments doing that-saying, ‘When you are responding to our specification, here’s an equipment list. Now design the truck not only around the pump, the engine, and the driveline but also what we want to carry on the truck.’ So, the OEM in order to cost it out has to have a real understanding of what it wants to do,” says Granito.
The PAC SHOWROOM is a learning opportunity for end users and for PAC. “I think we’re trying to help people understand what we do,” he says. “Our goal is to help you mount your tools and equipment. We come up with bracketing to do what we know how to do. But, there can be a lot of things we don’t know about. So, we need to know.” He adds, “I think the key is you just evolve. This is going to be a tool, a communicating way that we can evolve in meeting the needs of the industry.”
Both Young and Granito point to the global market PAC serves. Granito points out that the company does business with 35 countries overseas. “Most of those dealers or OEMS we’re dealing with overseas are already involved in this kind of technology. They are the ones saying, ‘If we could view this or get the technical information on an interactive basis, it’s going to make it easier for us and expand our ability to sell.’ ” Young cites a recent order from Turkey and the company’s Australian and South African markets. “We don’t know what they’re going to ask for, but at least we’ll have a way to communicate with them.”
Of course, the PAC SHOWROOM is also a means for dealers to learn. “If we’re in the field working with a dealer or a specific department and a question comes up, we can go online with a computer and sit down with a maintenance department or a chief and say, ‘OK, here’s a problem you’re running into. Let’s talk to the people back in the shop and let’s see what’s relevant to solve your problem,’ ” Granito says. “The showroom is an application, but the whole concept of adequate tool mounting lends itself to a need of the industry. Whether it’s PAC or other providers or the OEMs themselves, it must make sense when you figure roughly 20 percent of the cost of apparatus is what you mount in it. And if you’re not aware that you have to mount that 20-percent cost, you’re wasting a lot of money injuring people and destroying equipment.”
He continues, “This technology is not ultra-sophisticated. It’s being used in so many other venues, and the younger firefighters who are used to the technology are probably going to embrace the application of it a lot faster than older firefighters. So what we’re doing is we’re recognizing that that technology is available. Let’s figure the way that we can integrate it into what our needs are, and the fire service’s needs are, because we think that the ability of the fire service to adapt itself to this technology is much better now than it was five or ten years ago.”
Young concludes, “The people who really need to know what we do can’t readily get to shows. We need to be able to get to them. Now we can. Now we have an effective way to communicate that was never there before.”
CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 19-year veteran of the fire service and an assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.