Firehouse® Magazine recently asked a sampling of fire chiefs for their opinions about apparatus purchasing, especially in light of the current economic situation. We selected chiefs from various regions to gain a snapshot of what fire departments are doing to maintain and upgrade their...
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While we currently build a very custom fire apparatus for our city, a more standardized approach to apparatus construction would benefit all of us with reduced costs and simplification. Manufacturers are building what we each are asking for — but we as the fire service need to agree that what works for you may work for me, and get some economies of scale working for us. We have way too many options today — and all of those options have a cost that we all pay for.
MCGRATH: I'd like to see frontal and side-impact airbags and stability control as standard equipment.
REEVES: There's always room for improvement in ergonomics and the overall cab environment. It's a continuing challenge for manufacturers to meet the cooling requirements of the higher-horsepower engines we all love so well while still providing enough space for the crew to ride and function safely. While increased glass area is a plus for visibility, it can be a problem in a crash. Better cab integrity and survivability continues to evolve as a result of crash testing and incorporation of modern automotive safety systems. Some manufacturers have made efforts to decrease overall apparatus size by moving components around, and while some of them show promise, they all involve compromises of one sort or another. You can only configure the same basic components so many ways, and moving any one of them affects the others.
Some may contend that the "next leap forward" will be in motive power, be it electric, hydrogen fuel cells or whatever. The mainstream trucking industry will be the trendsetter for any such sweeping change and, at the moment, I don't see it occurring any time soon.
Cab and body construction materials may grow to include more use of composites and/or carbon fiber, but again, you may be up against a cost factor there. It's difficult to see how custom fire apparatus, as we now understand the term, can be made "more affordable." The number of choices available to the buyer, and our unwillingness to compromise on what we as end users "must have," conspire to keep the cost of this type of apparatus high.
In Syracuse, we have tried to standardize our types of apparatus as much as possible to increase efficiency and be more cost-effective, but this will always be problematic when the apparatus is purchased via competitive bid. Different manufacturers do the same things in slightly different ways.
ROUTLEY: We are looking at all of the advanced safety systems that have become available, including improved seatbelts and ergonomic improvements, to improve the safety and functionality of new apparatus. The space that is available inside the cab for the driver and officer is a particular concern.
We will also be looking closely at horsepower requirements based on vehicle weight and performance standards in order to achieve an appropriate balance between horsepower and fuel economy. We will be looking at configurations that are smaller, more maneuverable and lighter weight than the previous generation. Energy saving options, including auxiliary power systems that reduce idling time for the vehicle engine will receive serious consideration with the emphasis on green technology.
We are also placing an emphasis on durability and reliability in our future apparatus. We want the best technology, but we also need vehicles that will withstand heavy use without excessive maintenance and repairs.
Q: What impact has your department seen with an increase in annual responses with higher maintenance costs for the size of your department's fleet?
DICKERSON: Like most others, we are seeing rising costs as we keep vehicles in service longer and run more and more calls every year. Newer rigs have many features that previous generations of apparatus did not have, but those items come with additional maintenance and repair costs and are more complex, sometimes resulting in additional downtime for the units while awaiting repairs.
ESTER: Obviously, more runs and use are going to equate to additional maintenance costs. For instance, we have several 2002 engines with upward of 140,000 miles and 7,000–8,000 hours of operation. These will be soon going into reserve status.
Where we are feeling this impact the greatest now is with our truck companies, as a result of engine company brownouts. The paramedic-staffed trucks are now picking up much of the call volume for those closed engines, and showing the wear and tear. We are seeing increased downtime for maintenance and repair issues.