The Apparatus Architect

Over the years, most pieces of fire apparatus, regardless of type, have become larger. Basic dimensions such as overall length, overall height and the in-service weights of units have become so large that in some instances the physical size of the vehicle...


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Most apparatus manufacturers have developed standard body designs with specific compartment dimensions based on the capacity of the water tank and hosebed to provide different lengths in order to meet fire department needs. The apparatus committee should inquire as to the various options to determine the best match for the overall length of the body and how this may impact the wheelbase and turning radius for the completed unit.

Often, departments simply choose the largest body available and then work backwards to make the tools and equipment fit within the allocated space. This often results in mega-sized apparatus that carry everything, but do not allow access to tight areas within a community or simply cannot maneuver in locations where older vehicles could easily fit.

When reading through manufacturers’ specifications, remember that all dimensions are not necessarily equal. Some specifications state the overall compartment dimensions in inches for the height, width and depth of each area. These numbers, while impressive, may not take into consideration the loss of height due to headers or the roll-door shutters and the clear-door opening past hinged doors or trim pieces. In addition, the depth of each compartment should be the clear usable space for equipment storage with the door closed. The use of slide-out trays for easier access to equipment must allow not only for the height of the slide mechanisms and thickness of the tray itself, but the side clearances required to pass through the door opening. Some of these dimensions are normally not provided in specifications provided by the apparatus manufacturers and must be determined after consultation with sales and engineering personnel.

After the specific compartment dimensions are established, you can begin to lay out your tools and equipment within each compartment area. If you had already developed the apparatus inventory of equipment, including dimensions and weights, there are several methods that you can use to lay out each compartment shelf, tray and tool board space. Several manufacturers and equipment mounting companies can provide a computer-aided design (CAD) drawing for each area within the compartment body. These CAD drawings can be of great assistance to determine ahead of time, before any metal is sheared, that your equipment can be safely mounted in each location.

Another technique that can be accomplished in the fire station is to mark out on the apparatus bay floor with tape each surface area such as an adjustable shelf, tray or wall area and locate the desired equipment within the space. Documentation of this work should include digital images and a listing of the appliances and equipment for each location. Still other fire departments have built wooden compartment mockups with the exact dimensions of each compartment.

The upfront work conducted at this point in the design process can alleviate some of the issues that crop up later and can cost a great deal of time and money to solve once the apparatus goes into production. This work is particularly important if your department is working on the design for an apparatus that will combine the equipment from several pieces of apparatus into a single unit. The apparatus manufacturer will be able to validate your requested tool and equipment locations while providing an accurate analysis of the anticipated in-service weight of the apparatus prior to construction. Failure to provide this level of detail during the design phase can lead to unbalanced side-to-side weight or overloaded apparatus, which in some cases cannot be easily modified to ensure a safe vehicle. The work the apparatus committee does in the beginning pays big dividends at the end of the project, especially when your apparatus committee goes to do the all-important final inspection.

While tool and equipment mounting is one of the last items to accomplish prior to placing the unit into service, consideration must be given to how this work is going to be conducted. Some departments have historically left this work to individual fire companies with mixed results. Others have tasked this work to be conducted by the department shops and mechanics to provide some standardization in tool and equipment placement.