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" feature starting on page 46 of the January issue of Firehouse Magazine

When it comes to multi-purpose apparatus, the rest of the world is way ahead of the United States, according to experts.

One such person who subscribes to that philosophy is Alan Saulsbury, a fire service marketing consultant from Homer, N.Y. Saulsbury, who is also a former apparatus builder, has been in the business for more than 40 years. Last summer, he went to the 2010 Intershutz Fire Rescue show in Hannover, Germany, the world's largest fire service trade show that convenes every five years.

From his experience at that worldwide apparatus showcase, Saulsbury learned that nearly every fire truck in other parts of the planet is multi-purpose.

In Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, compact, multi-purpose pumpers rule and Saulsbury sees that day happening here in North America.

"A unit with a 500-gallon tank and a 1,000-gallon pump and a booster reel is a rare, rare animal today," said Saulsbury, remarking about what was once the bread-and-butter apparatus of the fire service.

New Apparatus Designs Coming to U.S.

The world's approach to apparatus seems to make sense in the United States given the dire straits of the nation's economy. Fire departments are laying off firefighters by the hundreds and many are finding it difficult to justify spending big dollars on specialized apparatus.

"It's unprecedented," said Bill Doebler, vice president of sales and marketing for Crimson Fire, an apparatus maker in Brandon, S.D., of the apparatus sales slowdown. "I've been in this business 21 years and I've never seen anything like this."

To help departments meet the needs, or demands economic conditions have placed upon them, manufacturers have come up with new designs to help clients get more for less.

Crimson has come up with three new multi-purpose apparatus, including a rescue pumper with patient transport capabilities, a rescue pumper with an innovative pump location to increase cabinet space and a lower-cost aerial device to help departments afford elevated master streams compared to full-blown aerial devices.

Smeal Fire Apparatus in Snyder, Neb., developed a Class A pumper with an auxiliary pump to provide pump and roll capability for urban interface applications.

And others have joined the fray too - Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton, Wis., with its many variations of the PUC (Pierce Ultimate Configuration) designed primarily to make apparatus multi-functional and easier to use.

Ferrara Fire Apparatus, Holden, La., has its MVP line of apparatus with multi built into it - Multi Vocational Pumper. The apparatus, which can be configured as a pumper, a rescue pumper or aerial, has additional compartments and layout to serve many purposes on fire and accidents scenes. The company's tag line for the apparatus is "one look at all the equipment this truck carries and you will ask yourself, "how many trucks does our department need to carry all of this?"

Rosenbauer, with plants in Lyons, S.D. and Wyoming, Minn., has been making pumper tankers for many years and recently came up with an apparatus called the Roadrunner, which is a pumper with a Rosenbauer-made elevated master stream.

The aerial-like device is available in 51- and 68-foot heights. It is designed, primarily, as an engine but with the ability to flow water through an elevated master stream and still have the advantages of an aerial, or telescoping booms, but on an easier to maneuver wheelbase. The company calls it a water tower with a fire service grade ladder attached, yet with a 500-pound tip load while flowing up to 1,250 gpm.

"The cost of ownership is much less with the Roadrunner, compared to a conventional aerial," said Scott Oyen, the Vice President of Sales for Rosenbauer's South Dakota plant.

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.

Oyen said one of the keys to making apparatus multi-purpose is to use all the all available space and use of available truck "real estate" can make apparatus more versatile.

He said Rosenbauer apparatus typically has Class A pumps, but where it is placed can be negotiated. Rear-mount pumps often leads to improved compartments space and even kicking the pump off to one side, or moving it to non-traditional locations can free up space used for another purpose.

That's the premise for Crimson Fire's FRAC and Transformer apparatus, said Doebler. Using every inch of the apparatus is critical to making it multi-functional.

The Europeans have learned how to use every bit of space on apparatus, Doebler said.

"Not one inch is wasted," Doebler said. He predicted as much as 30 percent of the new items introduced at Intershutz Fire Rescue show will make its way to North America within the next five years.

"There's a desire for apparatus that offers the total solution," he said. "We are always looking for the next big thing."

Today, Saulsbury said, 50 to 75 percent of all engines sold are considered rescue pumpers with lots of compartment space with rescue tools, light towers and a variety of other equipment historically dedicated to other apparatus.

There's a trend suggesting apparatus has become more and more versatile over the years, a trend that is worldwide, Saulsbury said.

Saulsbury is scheduled to present his thoughts and findings at Firehouse World, the Firehouse trade show and training conference in San Diego, Calif., Feb. 26 to March 2. Titled "The Future Impact on US Fire Apparatus with Innovations from Intershutz and Around the World," the presentation will look at what's new in apparatus, from 300-foot aerials to, ultra-high pressure pumps to "compact" multi-purpose rescue pumpers.

Apparatus in the United States is becoming increasingly influenced by European designs and Saulsbury said that trend will continue, especially as NFPA becomes more accepting of overseas designs.

"The apparatus we see today is much like what the Europeans were doing in the '70s and '80s," Saulsbury said, noting that he hopes the barriers keeping European designs out of the U.S. will begin to relax some giving firefighters in the U.S. more selection creating multi-purpose apparatus to help them do their jobs.

"Apparatus, worldwide, is evolving, with PTO pumps coming on, rear-mount pumps, compact designs and Bronto-style aerial devices," Saulsbury said. "And it's coming to the states as well."