The Apparatus Architect

Most all types of apparatus, whether engine or ladder company units, will at some point require members to climb up onto the vehicle to perform firefighting duties, rack hose or conduct maintenance work on the apparatus or equipment. Data collected and...


The Apparatus Architect series first appeared in the August 2000 edition of Firehouse® Magazine with the ambition that the material presented would “enhance a fire department’s ability to obtain properly designed and functional apparatus.” Some 10 years later, we still find ourselves...


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Today’s engine apparatus typically are equipped with high side body compartments with rescue pumper-style bodies becoming more common with full-height and full-depth compartments on each side of the apparatus. These bodies typically are 60 to 72 inches in height and, when factoring in the height from the ground to the first step on the apparatus, the top of the body can be over eight feet from the ground. Even with lighted non-slip step surfaces and handrails, the safe use of these folding steps when climbing straight up the front of the apparatus can be problematic at best.

Apparatus bodies that have locker- or coffin-style compartments at the top of the body will at some point require members to access the equipment stored in these compartments. Safe access to these areas is best accomplished by designing a safe step arrangement at the rear of the apparatus using a series of fixed steps that can provide a larger surface area or an access ladder that incorporates handrails on each side of the ladder.

The height of the rear hosebed on many engines has increased as well due to the need to carry an increased amount of equipment for any type of incident. Full-depth body compartments typically require a rectangular water tank and, with everything else being equal, a combination rescue-engine apparatus with a 750-gallon water tank will have a higher hose body than a unit with a T-shaped water tank. Flat-back-style bodies offer additional enclosed compartment space, but can limit the available options for stepping arrangements for access to the hosebed. Using fixed or swing-out, pool-style ladders can provide safer access to this area and are not dramatically more expensive than the cost of a series of folding steps installed around the body.

The next time you are viewing apparatus at a fire service show, climb on the apparatus at the various points where fixed or folding steps are provided. You will be surprised at how difficult this simple task may seem at first and then consider that you are doing this in your street clothes. Now imagine that you have donned your PPE and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and are attempting to access a hoseline or piece of equipment from the apparatus. A few minutes spent in thoughtfully locating fixed steps with large non-slip surfaces or access ladders on your apparatus can greatly improve the level of safety for your personnel.

A manufacturer’s standard location for fixed and folding steps may or may not meet your needs. The details for step locations and points of access are typically determined at the engineering conference after the contract with the manufacturer has been signed. Your apparatus committee will need to detail the type and material construction for access steps on the apparatus in the bidding specifications. Gaining assistance from an experienced apparatus salesperson or an apparatus architect can provide technical information on different arrangements for stepping and climbing components.

Master-stream devices that are manually controlled from the top of the pump area also require members to climb on the apparatus. With the increased use of generators, foam systems and hydraulic rescue tools, many of these fixed components are located above the fire pump for ease of installation and maintenance. Care must be given when positioning these components to provide several non-slip surfaces for personnel to operate from when using these master-stream devices. An alternative would be to provide for a remote-control deck gun where the engineer can operate the deck gun while safely on the ground. Another option is to outfit your apparatus with a blitz line attached to a portable monitor that can discharge up to 500 gpm several hundred feet from the apparatus with minimal staffing.

A review of fire apparatus history will show that over the years, engine, ladder and rescue apparatus have become larger, heavier and carry more equipment than their predecessors. As a result, some simple tasks such as equipment retrieval and racking hose have become much more difficult on many apparatus. A “back-to-basics” approach to the overall design of the apparatus can provide a fresh look to many of the drawbacks we face when setting out to specify a new piece of apparatus.

Apparatus committees should concentrate on defining the mission of the vehicle, knowing that a manufacturer may attempt to build a pumper, ladder, tanker, rescue, foam, air and light unit that will have a little bit of everything and when you get it to the fireground will not be very good at anything. As the demand for multi-functional apparatus increases, we must resist the temptation to ignore or compromise the core mission of the vehicle and you must always keep safe operating procedures in mind during the specification process.