Firehouse® Roundtable: Multi-Purpose Apparatus

  When the economy is weak, or faltering, as it has been for the past couple of years, people try to cut back and make what they have go further and do more. There's no exception when it comes to fire apparatus. As the economy continues to...


  When the economy is weak, or faltering, as it has been for the past couple of years, people try to cut back and make what they have go further and do more. There's no exception when it comes to fire apparatus. As the economy continues to wring the life out of the fire service and...


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Rosenbauer, with plants in Lyons, SD, and Wyoming, MN, 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, vice president of sales for Rosenbauer's South Dakota plant.

Braun Industries Inc., an ambulance maker in Van Wert, OH, 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 200-gallon water tank.

Braun said the apparatus was "engineered in response to the growing demands placed on fire departments across the country." The company also said it is designed to respond to more than 95% of all emergency calls. "This unit is also ideal for volunteer fire department without the manpower to staff several vehicles," according to the maker.

Interestingly, 62% of all calls for assistance nationwide are medical calls and only 6% are actual fire calls, according to the NFPA, 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 fewer fires than in any time in history, the ones that do happen are often bigger than any others, so there is still a need for big water. So, with the changing dynamics of the fire service, call volume and call nature, apparatus need to evolve too.

Doebler, from Crimson Fire, said the changes of modern apparatus to multi-function units has been far more than evolutionary.

"It's been revolutionary," Doebler said. "Evolutionary means that there are enhancements to products, but in our case, we're talking about brand-new, never-before-seen products. That's revolutionary."

Within the past few years, Crimson Fire has introduced three "revolutionary" products, starting with the Boomer, a "boom" aerial device with a 28-foot reach. It can act as an elevated master stream and features a 6,000-watt light tower, and connections for hydraulic rescue tools, electrical supply and water discharges.

"The Boomer has taken a little while to take off, but it really has started to," Doebler said. "Departments might not have the money for an aerial, but they certainly have the money for a Boomer."

Crimson Fire next introduced its First Response All Call (FRAC) vehicle at the Fire-Rescue International show in Denver, CO, in 2008. It is designed to incorporate rescue, transport, fire suppression and command into a single vehicle. Doebler also said Crimson Fire has a Transformer vehicle that moves the pump and the pump controls to non-conventional places affording the apparatus more compartment space on a shorter wheelbase. It is well suited as a rescue pumper, Doebler said, but doesn't have a big price tag.

"It's an affordable vehicle that does a lot," Doebler said, noting that a New Jersey fire chief was looking at it recently wishing he could afford a well-designed vehicle that used virtually all available space for equipment. "We threw him some numbers and he was very surprised at what it cost," he said.

Smeal, from Smeal Apparatus, said his namesake company has been building a lot of multi-function in recent years. "It's really has a lot to do with the economy," he 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 upward to 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 hosebed 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.