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...


  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 has made it difficult to work from with...


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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 has made it difficult to work from with some tools and equipment literally out of reach of the average-size firefighter.

We can all probably remember a piece of apparatus that was on display at a fire show and thought to ourselves, “Why on earth did they do that?” The level of customization on fire apparatus depends in large part on the perceived needs of the department and the ability of manufacturers to develop new and innovative components that catch our attention.

While not meant to demean their capabilities on the fireground, combination apparatus such as rescue engines and quints have fostered the concept that departments can combine components, tools and equipment into one vehicle that will bring the entire toolbox to an incident. As a result, many all-hazards agencies have embraced the multi-purpose apparatus as the answer to their needs to carry the majority of their equipment on a single unit. The issue becomes one of when does a piece of apparatus become too large and cumbersome to operate, either within the first-due area or in neighboring jurisdictions?

In “The Apparatus Architect – Part 45” (April 2010), we discussed a trend in some areas of the country to return to smaller mini-pumper-size engine apparatus in a “back-to-basics” approach to providing both first-response and suppression services for the community. In many communities, the square footage of homes is greater than that of some commercial strip stores. While the magnitude of the fire potential at these locations has increased dramatically, roadway access for fire apparatus is very limited, particularly in some private gated subdivisions. More than ever, apparatus committees must evaluate the service needs of their first-due areas and temper this with practical application of situational awareness to provide for well-designed apparatus.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, in Table 12.1.2 provides excellent guidance as to the minimum equipment payload weights that should be considered for the various types of apparatus. For pumpers with enclosed compartment space of less than 250 cubic feet, the minimum equipment allowance is 2,000 pounds and increases to 2,500 pounds for larger bodies. As these payload allowances are a minimum, the fire department must clearly identify their requirements for hose, tools and appliances when developing their specifications. Unfortunately, there are many pieces of apparatus operating today that are overloaded as the equipment complement was not specified and over time, additional tools are mounted on the apparatus, which can result in poor braking and vehicle performance. Overweight apparatus have become a fire service plague. In recognizing this, the NFPA now requires all fire apparatus to be weighed annually.

Making Space for Tools

During the specification-development process, the apparatus committee, after determining the mission of the apparatus, should review the tool and equipment requirements, starting with an inventory of existing apparatus. While NFPA 1901 lists basic equipment requirements for engine, ladder and special-service units, this equipment loading typically does not capture all of the tools and appliances that departments will require on front-line units. For example, it is one thing to call for a hydraulic rescue tool compartment to include reels and sufficient slide trays to accommodate fire department-supplied equipment and another to detail the specific make, model, size and weight of this equipment to ensure that sufficient compartment space and weight are available to safely carry these tools. Also, make sure to allow space for any mounting brackets along with the tool itself.

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