The Apparatus Architect-Part 58 What Components and Features Do You Really Need on Your Apparatus

Many fire departments are struggling with reduced budgets including little or no funding for capital projects.  Fire station repairs, apparatus maintenance and testing are often being deferred with resulting higher costs to the community when equipment fails to perform.  The end result is that we must be in a position to justify the expenses involved with apparatus and equipment maintenance as well as having a documented fleet replacement program for all units. 

The fleet replacement plan should encompass a number of criteria including initial acquisition cost, preventative maintenance, fuel and insurance costs, mileage, age and condition of the apparatus as well as suitability for use to meet the current deployment strategies of the department.  Community demographics, types of incident responses, staffing levels and training all impact the type, size and functional capabilities on our apparatus.  Putting all of the tools in one tool box may not necessarily be the optimal strategy to deliver fire and emergency services. 

Over the past few years we have observed a number of fire departments that have designed engine apparatus with every conceivable option under the “What If” premise that this could be the only unit to arrive at the incident scene.  This type of apparatus in addition to being super sized with respect of overall length will carry a minimum of a 1000 gallon water tank, 2000 gpm fire pump, hydraulic rescue tools, large capacity generator with a light tower and a full compliment of technical rescue gear.  While not discounting the value of this equipment, every engine company in your community does not need to be a quint version of a pumper.  Special service apparatus has a purpose in every fire department and properly designed can meet the needs of most fire and emergency departments without spending over six hundred thousand dollars for the multi-purpose all hazards pumper. 

So how do you determine exactly what the appropriate type of engine apparatus that you need for your department?  As we have mentioned several times in the Apparatus Architect series the organization must clearly define the mission of the vehicle.  Your department’s current apparatus, staffing levels and training can provide valuable information on the appropriate size, minimum fire pump and water tank capacities based upon the hazards in your response area.  There is nothing inherently wrong with combination apparatus such as rescue-engines or engine-tanker units, however it is critical to avoid the pitfalls that make these vehicles expensive to operate and maintain. 

During a recent visit to fire department operating with ten pieces of apparatus from several stations is was observed that while the fleet was impressive with newer units, the size and complexity of several vehicles had a detrimental impact on department operations.  One unit in particular an engine-tanker apparatus had only seven qualified drivers for the unit with no one from the outlying rural station capable of operating the apparatus.  Due to the myriad of components and systems on the apparatus the annual maintenance costs were excessive for a unit that saw limited front line service.

Once the mission of the apparatus is defined and establishing the maximum dimensions of the vehicle including the overall length and height, wheelbase and turning radius this will provide an outline profile for the vehicle.  When developing specifications for a new apparatus whether engine, truck or special service unit ask the manufacturers to bring a similar size apparatus to your community to see how it performs and maneuvers in the response area.  More than one department has been embarrassed when the new engine arrived in the community only to find out that it did not fit into the fire station bays or could not negotiate in tight areas where apparatus positioning would be critical.

Manufacturer’s can provide turning radius information for review by the department to verify vehicle performance and capabilities.

An important but often overlooked aspect of apparatus design is the amount of hose, tools and equipment that are going to be carried on the vehicle.  While the current NFPA 1911

Standard on apparatus maintenance requires that all units be weighted on an annual basis to verify in-service weights, many departments have found that units in their fleet regardless of age are operating with unsafe, overweight vehicles.  The department should determine the hose and equipment compliment that is going to be carried on the apparatus and have the prospective manufacturers provide a detailed weight analysis of the vehicle showing the projected front and rear axle loads when fully equipped. 

Fire pump and water tank sizes have grown incrementally over the years with attendant increase in axle ratings, vehicle size and center of gravity concerns.  Many of these areas have been addressed by the NFPA 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard, however there is no regulation regarding how much water, body compartmentation and auxiliary appliances that you can have built on a single rear axle.  From a practical perspective, some manufactures will limit rescue-engine apparatus to a 750 or 1000 gallon water tank in order to produce a unit that will be safe to operate under most conditions.  Be wary of the builder that would permit the department to design a combination engine-tanker unit with a rescue style body and 1800 gallon water tank on a single axle while claiming that the unit will “handle like your car” and meet all of the NFPA and local weight restrictions.

The fire service has suffered over the years with what could be described as incremental purchasing.  The twenty two year old pumper that you are replacing was equipped with a 1250 gpm fire pump, 750 gallon water tank and a standard compliment of hose, tools and equipment with seating for six personnel.  After reviewing some local new apparatus deliveries the truck committee determines that the new engine should be outfitted with a 2000 gpm pump, 1000 gallon water tank, and dual ladder racks with seating for eight personnel.  A review of their last five years worth of incident responses found that their average unit staffing was 4.5 personnel on all calls, the 1250 gpm fire pump had never been used to capacity at a structural fire and no member could ever recall running out of water at a fire.   

This fictitious scenario is an example of the logic that is often employed by department’s when replacing older apparatus.  If larger capacity components are available then they must be better than what we currently operate with.  The result of these decisions will impact the department for the life cycle of the vehicle including training and maintenance costs.  When going to the municipal officials to justify the cost of the new apparatus there needs to be a clear rationale for the overall design of the unit to avoid the pitfall of bidding out the new apparatus only to be told that you need to cut forty thousand dollars from the bid price as the project is over budget. 

The fire service is not immune from citizen scrutiny when it comes to our operations and budgets.  In many communities any capital expenditure must be approved by the citizens and with the cost of modern day apparatus the fire department must often get out in front to inform the community of its needs and how the apparatus and equipment will benefit everyone.  Simply claiming that the apparatus will save some ones life will not pass in the court of public opinion.

A well developed and funded apparatus fleet replacement plan can go a long way to meet the long range needs of the department while providing a time line for the acquisition of new vehicles with appropriate justification.  Fire departments must be proactive in the public arena to not only provide the appropriate level of emergency services but must design and specify apparatus to protect both their members and the community.

Photos for use in AA Part 58:

All photos by Tom W. Shand

1.  Apparatus comes in all shapes and sizes, this Seagrave pumper from Reading, Massachusetts carries a 1250 gpm pump, 750 gallon water tank with a 40 gallon foam tank, with a 174.50 inch wheelbase.


2. Engine 40 from the Paxtang, Pennsylvania Fire Department combined full depth body compartments on the left side of the apparatus with a low hose bed and 50 gallon water tank.PAXTANG ENGINE 40 LEFT #2


3. Pump panels do not have to be complicated, this Pierce pumper from the La Plata, Maryland Fire Department is an excellent example of a straight forward panel with low mounted crosslay hose beds.