Apparatus Engineers Roundtable 2005

Firehouse Magazine conducts a Q&A with the chief engineers of apparatus manufacturers and discusses apparatus safety.


Firehouse Magazine recently asked fire apparatus manufacturers to join a roundtable to discuss the all-important issue of vehicle safety. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports that vehicle crashes represent the second-leading cause, or about 25%, of firefighter line-of-duty deaths. The USFA...


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In addition, there will be movement to air disc brakes for both the front and rear axles. These brakes don’t fade and allow the vehicle to stop in some cases up to 125% quicker than current drum brakes. These are currently available on some axle models and will be available on more in the near future. I would not be surprised if at some point these brakes were industry standard.

Also, radar and infrared technology will start to become widespread. Radar technology will be used for collision avoidance. It can be used on the apparatus while it’s in motion by monitoring the blind spots. The technology is currently available for small radar transceivers to be mounted on the back of the rig which warn when the unit is backing into an obstacle. The same technology could also provide warning of approaching cars if the unit is operating on the side of the road.

Infrared will be more vocational. Remote-controlled infrared cameras will allow the officer to size-up the scene on approach and even scan a building exterior for fire spread. They may even be used to search for accident victims when operating in rural areas at night. This is just the logical next step from the thermal imaging cameras that have exploded on the industry. Both technologies will be controlled and monitored using integrated in-cab screens.

Because fire suppression is becoming a smaller percentage of the emergency services work load, the pump will take up less and less real estate of the typical fire truck (without sacrificing capability). In addition, pump panel controls will continue to be streamlined and simplified. This will range from graphical groupings of valves and gauges to single-point digital controls that monitor and control all vehicle functions from pump output pressure to valve controls to deck gun operation to generator operation to area lighting. As an example, this system could be used to safely pressurize a pre-connected handline and bring the pump to a pre-set discharge pressure at the touch of a single button.

Finally, ergonomic equipment storage systems will become prevalent on most new vehicles. These will be designed to store a lot of equipment in tight spaces while still allowing it to be readily accessed when needed. It will also position the equipment where it can be most easily used, such as putting heavy items as low as possible. European manufacturers have been experts at this for many years, and it’s begun to spread to U.S. markets. This will include completely enclosed hose storage designed to secure the hose while still allowing it to be quickly deployed upon arrival at the scene. Such systems will be designed to facilitate easy loading and unloading without having to hang off the side of the truck or climb to unsafe locations.

Some of these advances will be driven by manufacturers. Some of them will be driven by market demand from individual fire departments. All will have an impact on cost and service. One thing that’s certain, though, is that the typical truck of 15 years in the future will look very different from the typical truck of today.

Firehouse: What can be done to reduce the rollover potential of apparatus, such as wider tires or suspensions, when drivers steer apparatus near the edge of road surfaces?

Kelley: American LaFrance has introduced two major items that help improve the stability of the vehicle. The first is a new proprietary AAC axle which increases the wheel track by three inches. While no one should expect that this is a cure-all, it’s a simple matter of geometry and physics; a wider track takes more lateral acceleration to roll. These new axles also include air disc brakes which improve stopping distance. In addition, I mentioned previously the electronic systems that monitor brakes, throttle, steering, and acceleration. American LaFrance has recently made available a simple version of this type of system from Meritor-Wabco called Roll Stability Control (RSC). This system reduces the chance of an understeer situation by manipulating brakes and throttle when it senses a potentially dangerous situation. Future systems will build upon this foundation.