The American Fire Service has often been described as “100 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress.” Unfortunately, in many fire departments this statement is entirely true. Whether talking about administrative regulations, fireground operations or communications procedures, much of what we do today is a direct result of our past experiences. A common theme when conducting a post-incident critique is “Lessons learned and lessons reinforced.” Every response and fire department action provides an opportunity to hone our skills and improve our service. We can choose to act like nothing has changed or adapt our operations to provide safe and effective service delivery to the residents of our community.
Webster’s Dictionary defines progressive as: “Making use of interesting new ideas, findings or opportunities, moving forward or onward.” For a number of years I have traveled around to visit with fire departments that embrace the notion of progressive thinking with respect to their fire apparatus design. Perhaps no organization better defines this approach than the fire department in the City of Syracuse, NY. During the 1970s, the department faced the challenges of an aging apparatus fleet, older stations that were designed for horse-drawn units and a state mandate to reduce the firefighters work schedule to 40 hours per week.
A Department of Innovation
The late Chief Thomas Hanlon III lobbied for and received funding to construct seven new fire stations and over a five-year period took delivery of over 37 new pieces of apparatus. In addition to the new vehicles the department, in conjunction with newly formed companies such as Fire Research Corporation and Task Force Tips, developed new tools and nozzles that would make fireground operations safer and more efficient. During Chief Hanlon’s tenure, between 1970 and 1985, the department was propelled into being one of the most progressive fire service organizations anywhere.
The most visible of these actions was the development of the Mini-Maxi Concept where each of the engine companies were assigned a short wheelbase commercial four-wheel drive chassis apparatus equipped with a 300-gpm pump, 200-gallon water tank, 750 feet of large diameter supply line, two crosslays and a preconnected remote-control monitor. A custom chassis four-wheel drive unit equipped with a 50-foot telescopic waterway, 2,000-gpm pump, 500-gallon water tank and four preconnected handlines supplemented these mini-pumper units. Each of the pumpers was outfitted with automated pump controls, automatic nozzles and Rapid Water injection systems. During this period department operations were constantly revised and upgraded to match their new capabilities.
Today the department protects the city with 10 engines, six trucks, a rescue company and several aircraft rescue firefighting units deployed at the Syracuse Hancock Airport. The department is under the command of Chief Mark McLees and annually responds to more than 20,000 incidents. The Mini-Maxi Concept has evolved over the years to keep pace with the increased number of EMS responses. A first-alarm incident calls for the response of three engines, two trucks and the rescue company. Together with a district chief a routine incident brings 27 personnel and a chief with specific assignments for each unit.
Each Syracuse engine company is assigned a first response EMS vehicle and a 2,000-gpm maxi pumper for fire suppression duties. The departments engine fleet is comprised predominately of both Saulsbury and American LaFrance apparatus that are similarly equipped with 50-foot TeleSqurt model booms, four preconnected crosslay attack lines, Class A foam systems and 500-gallon water tanks. Since 1973, the department’s engine apparatus has retained these capabilities, which are complimented by the six truck companies all of which are assigned Sutphen aerial towers that were acquired between 2001 and 2010. Due to current economic and industry conditions the department was challenged to develop specifications for two new pumpers that would not be provided with the elevated water-tower devices. After a competitive bidding process using the department’s specifications the contract for two new pumpers was awarded to the Sutphen Corporation. Working with engineers from Sutphen and their local representative, Phil Vandemolen, the department set out to finalize the design for their new apparatus.