During the early 1970s, mini-pumper fire apparatus became the standard bearer in many fire departments throughout the country. The advantages of these vehicles were clear: they were smaller, more maneuverable and cost significantly less than a full-size engine and in many cases could handle most...
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During the early 1970s, mini-pumper fire apparatus became the standard bearer in many fire departments throughout the country. The advantages of these vehicles were clear: they were smaller, more maneuverable and cost significantly less than a full-size engine and in many cases could handle most incidents, saving wear and tear on their larger counterparts. Departments from Syracuse, NY, to Arroyo Grande, CA, adopted mini-pumpers into their firefighting operations and as a result many new variations on the mini-pumper theme have been developed over the past 40 years.
By the later part of the 1980s, the mini-pumper craze had died off for several reasons. The apparatus had inherent limitations with 200 to 250 gallons of water as well as compartment space and available axle capacities to prevent overloaded units. Safety considerations of having only two personnel responding to an incident were also put into question and soon most mini-pumpers were placed in reserve status or relegated to use for brushfire and off-road incidents. At the same time that these smaller units were falling out of favor, a trend began to develop to design larger, multi-purpose engine company apparatus.
While four-door-cab apparatus would not be required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard until 1991, many departments were already buying these units to enhance safety for all personnel. Manufacturers quickly reacted to these purchasing preferences and began to introduce longer cabs with seating for up to 10 personnel, raised roofs with front and side windows, and transverse compartments that could be provided under the forward-facing crew seats. All of this resulted in longer and heavier apparatus with wheelbases often over 210 inches and overall vehicle lengths approaching 34 feet. The modern-day version of these units has evolved into the rescue engine, which carries engine and rescue company equipment and is designed to operate at any type of incident.
Many manufacturers in the future will have to rethink this marketing strategy because of the work being done on the national firefighter seatbelt project and the anthropometric study that we have embarked on. Some interesting information has been uncovered, as it relates to these cabs: four average-sized 2010 firefighters in bunker gear with their seatbelts on will simply not fit across the back of most eight- and 10-person cabs. As it relates to raised cab roofs along with adding cost, height and weight, there are other concerns. First, with the exception of a paramedic engine, the only reason that a large majority of fire departments buy raised-roof cabs is to allow room for firefighters to stand up in the apparatus and get dressed while the vehicle is in motion, which is against NFPA standards and common sense. Also, if you are buying an aerial device, the raised roof offers a severe restriction as it relates to "scrub area," that part of a building that can be touched by the tip of an aerial ladder or the basket of a tower ladder. As stated for a long time in this series, bigger is not always better.
Much like the mini-pumper of old, some departments have now come to the realization that do-everything engine apparatus do not function as well as expected. One of the most often-heard comments regarding combination engine apparatus goes something like: "The unit carries everything that we initially wanted to operate with, but in the end, the rig is neither a good rescue nor an easy engine to work from." This does not mean that there is not a place for the rescue engine in the fire service, but rather your department should carefully consider its operations and the mission of the apparatus before setting off to purchase a combination engine for the sake of following a trend.