The Apparatus Architect

Technical rescue teams are being placed into service in many fire departments to expand the capabilities of fire-rescue and medical response to include confined-space rescue, high-angle rescue, trench rescue, swiftwater rescue, structural collapse...


Technical rescue teams are being placed into service in many fire departments to expand the capabilities of fire-rescue and medical response to include confined-space rescue, high-angle rescue, trench rescue, swiftwater rescue, structural collapse, damage assessment and as well as weapons of...


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Technical rescue teams are being placed into service in many fire departments to expand the capabilities of fire-rescue and medical response to include confined-space rescue, high-angle rescue, trench rescue, swiftwater rescue, structural collapse, damage assessment and as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) preparedness. Each area requires specialized expertise gained through extensive training in different scenarios as well as thorough knowledge of the tools and equipment required to safely and effectively carry out these missions. The scope of technical rescue is ever changing and as a result new equipment and technologies are being rapidly developed to keep pace with the increased demands on this service.

In The Apparatus Architect series, we have previously discussed several aspects relating to rescue squad apparatus design in parts 23 through 26, where one overriding principle is to determine the overall mission of the unit before setting out to specify a new rescue vehicle. There are some parallels going back into history with the development of rescue company apparatus and the present-day expansion into technical rescue services.

At the outset, many larger departments, including the New York City Fire Department, placed rescue company units into service with older apparatus that were rebuilt to meet their needs. Rescue Company 1 in New York, which was organized in March 1915, first operated with a 1914 Cadillac touring car that was modified by the department shops. Three different versions of these open-bodied apparatus were used until the first custom-built, fully enclosed walk-in rescue was placed into service with Rescue Company 1 in 1939.

So what is the parallel here with respect to technical rescue apparatus? Even before the current economic downturn, fire departments were being called on to provide more services to the community with stagnant or reduced funding levels. Placing a technical rescue team into service requires a good amount of funding to provide the necessary staffing, training and equipment to support the mission of the team and to meet the needs of the department. The type, size and quality of the vehicle used to transport personnel and equipment can vary widely, based on the financial resources available and the internal resources of the department.

Technical rescue units fall under the category of Special Service Fire Apparatus in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Depending on the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), the minimum equipment allowance could be a little as 2,000 pounds for units up to 15,000 pounds GVWR up to 10,000 pounds for trucks with a GVWR of 60,001 pounds or more. Determining the needed size of your technical rescue apparatus depends on many factors, such as:

  1. Will the apparatus be staffed on a daily basis and respond to routine emergencies as well as incidents requiring technical rescue expertise?
  2. What is the anticipated equipment inventory, including the size and weight of each piece of equipment?
  3. Will this vehicle be a stand-alone unit or will it operate with other support apparatus and companies when needed?
  4. Considering the assessment of these questions, will the overall needs of the vehicle be best met by using a commercial Class 7 or 8 chassis or a custom-built fire chassis?
  5. Given the equipment payload and staffing levels, will a walk-in-style rescue body or walk-around, fully compartmented body best meet the needs of the team?

Selecting a Chassis

These are just some of the areas that need to be explored before setting out to develop a set of specifications for a new piece of apparatus. In Part 26 of The Apparatus Architect (Firehouse®, April 2006), we compared some of the differences in chassis components and available options between commercial and custom fire chassis. Commercial chassis offer a wide range of options for wheelbase and axle capacities and can save significant money over their custom-chassis counterparts, particularly if the technical rescue unit is going to be primarily used as a support vehicle and the need to carry personnel inside of the cab is limited to four personnel or less.

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