The Apparatus Architect: Part 26 - Designing Rescue Squad Apparatus

Michael Wilbur and Tom Shand discuss the type of chassis that will carry the body, personnel and equipment.


The November 2005 installment of The Apparatus Architect covered some of the considerations when determining the type and size of generator system that should be designed into new rescue apparatus. Once your apparatus committee has determined the preliminary tool and equipment list and the number of...


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Safety components such as non-slip handrails should be supplied at all cab entrance areas, as standard hand rails may not be compliant with NFPA standards. Also, specify that all step surfaces should be lighted when any cab door is opened and that sufficient lighting is provided inside the cab for reading and nighttime operations.

As these chassis are provided primarily for commercial use, there are a number of seemingly insignificant components that are necessary to provide a safe and reliable chassis for fire and rescue operations. Overall, the commercial chassis can provide for many years of operation; however, careful planning is required to ensure that all of the necessary chassis components and options are specified with the original chassis order. These chassis are typically built within 90 to 120 days, so once the order is placed with the respective chassis manufacturer, little time is available to change the configuration of the chassis.

Custom Chassis

Custom chassis by design offer a wider range of cab configurations, engine and transmission combinations and almost an infinite number of options for the truck committee to consider. For many departments, the decision as to whether to specify a custom or commercial chassis depends on other units that you have in your fleet. For example, if all of the engine and ladder company apparatus are on custom chassis with 400-plus-hp engines and seating for six people in the cab, it is unlikely that you would design a rescue unit that does not have similar components to enhance the driver training and maintenance aspects.

As a “typical†custom chassis can cost between $35,000 to $40,000 more than a commercial chassis, the duty cycle and staffing levels of the apparatus will many times dictate which type of chassis would be more beneficial for the department. Also, safety may play a role as custom-cab apparatus withstand a rollover better than their commercial counterparts. Many departments are specifying tandem-axle rescue apparatus, which enable them to carry additional equipment regardless of body design. Here, the custom chassis offers a significant advantage as the cabs can carry additional equipment and personnel without having to make the body longer to compensate for equipment that cannot be safely located in smaller commercial cabs.

For a number of years, the walk-in-style rescue body was favored where all personnel except the driver and officer rode inside of the body. As departments began to increase the amount of tools and equipment they needed to carry, the non-walk-in unit began to increase in popularity, since this style of body can carry more equipment in a given body length than the walk-in style because the area used to carry personnel can be converted into equipment storage space. Where the fire station bay space dictates the allowable length of the apparatus, the tool and equipment list will often determine which type of body design and chassis will be of most benefit to the department.

Custom fire chassis can easily be adapted for rescue squad work, as the required electrical components such as large-output alternators and chassis-integrated load-management systems are designed into the unit. Other components such as cab compartments, front-bumper extensions with reinforcements, chassis-stability systems and seatbelt warning devices are all commonly available. Each of these systems comes at a cost, but when evaluating the life cycle of the apparatus and annual operating costs, each department can analyze which style of chassis will best meet its needs.

The next segment of The Apparatus Architect will discuss other body components and equipment that you may wish to consider in designing your new rescue squad apparatus.


Tom Shand, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and works with Michael Wilbur at Emergency Vehicle Response, consulting on a variety of fire apparatus and fire department master-planning issues. He is employed by American LaFrance and is assigned to the Hamburg, NY, facility. Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He consults on a variety of apparatus-related issues around the country. For further information, access his website at www.emergencyvehicleresponse.com.