The New Fire Apparatus: Multi-Purpose Units Meet Variety of Needs

Editor's Note: This article is part of a continuing series on fire apparatus maintenance and design found within Firehouse Magazine and For more on multi-functional vehicles you can view the "Firehouse Roundtable: Multi-Purpose Apparatus...

Braun Industries Inc., an ambulance maker in Van Wert, Ohio, is also in the business of multi-purpose apparatus. About three years ago, the company introduced The Patriot, an apparatus that has an ambulance body with full transport capabilities. It also has compartments and rescue tools, and most surprisingly of all, fire suppression equipment with a pump, foam system and a 200-gallon water tank.

The maker said it was "engineered in response to the growing demands placed on fire departments across the country." The company also said it's designed to respond to more than 95 percent of all emergency calls.

"This unit is also ideal for volunteer fire departments without the manpower to staff several vehicles," according to the maker.

Numbers: Response Trends And New Vehicles Being Built

Interestingly, 62 percent of all calls for assistance, nationwide, are medical calls and only six percent are actual fire calls, according to the National Fire Protection Association that also reports that the total number of calls has nearly tripled in 30 years.

The NFPA has also concluded that while there are significantly less fires than in any time in history, the ones that do happen are often bigger than any others, so there's still a need for big water.

And, according to NFPA statistics, 6,102 apparatus were sold in 2008 and 4,200 in 2009. And from anecdotal information from manufacturers, it appears that 2010 will tally in at 10 percent less than 2009 and another double digit dip is predicted for 2011.

"People say it's like this, or like that, but they're wrong," said Saulsbury who was once a maker of apparatus under his namesake label. "But, they're wrong, we have never experienced anything like this and 2011 is going to be even worse."

While apparatus that has more than one use are not a new concept, as there have been quints and rescue engines, and pumper tankers around for years, it seems communities are becoming more particular when it comes to their apparatus needs and are looking to manufacturers to become more and more innovative with their apparatus designs.

"With the economic constraints we're now under, people are trying to get more bang for the buck," said Bryan Smeal, regional sales director for Smeal. "They are looking to combine vehicles. If they're looking at a pumper and a rescue, maybe they'll start thinking about combining those and not replacing the rescue."

"It's really has a lot to do with the economy," Smeal said. "With budget constraints, departments have to do what they can with what they have."

To do that, Smeal said departments are deliberately specifying apparatus with more capacity for equipment. Typically, an engine accommodates 2,000 pounds of equipment. Lately, however, Smeal said departments are looking to get upwards of 5,000 pounds of equipment on an engine giving personnel much more ability to work as a rescue as well.

To do that, Smeal said departments must make compromises and choices. More equipment means less water or hose bed, or longer wheelbases.

"It's all a matter of priorities," he said. "If it's going to be more for rescues, it should carry more equipment. If it's going to be more for firefighting, it should have more water.

Units for Wildland and Urban Response

Smeal said that 90 to 95 percent of all the apparatus his company builds have pumps installed, including aerials. Even its multi-purpose urban interface apparatus has a Class A rated pump with an auxiliary pump to give it pump and roll capabilities.

This spring, Smeal will also be building unique Type III apparatus for wildland operations, he said, noting that a lot of innovations come from customers.

"They'll see something they like that someone else is doing, or come up with ideas of their own and we do what we can to help them get what they want."

And, according to Rosenbauer's sales V.P. Oyen, what people want is the ability to do more with less.

"There's a lot of concern in departments over manpower," Oyen said. That's why pumper tankers are popular. "Departments want to be able to roll with three people in the cab, with a pump and plenty of water so they can get operations at least started."

And the same is true with the Roadrunner, Oyen said. Aerial ladders need staff, as do the pumpers, but with an elevated master stream with a full Class A pump, firefighters are able to do more with less staff, he said.