The Apparatus Architect - Part 32: Frequently Asked Questions of the Apparatus Architects

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur answer questions frequently asked by Firehouse readers.


This month, we depart from our usual format to answer some of your most commonly asked questions. • Top-mounted vs. side-mounted pump panels. I have been assigned to our apparatus committee and have been elected chairman. We are doing a complete fleet replacement of eight engines. We are...


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This month, we depart from our usual format to answer some of your most commonly asked questions.

Top-mounted vs. side-mounted pump panels. I have been assigned to our apparatus committee and have been elected chairman. We are doing a complete fleet replacement of eight engines. We are considering the differences between top-mounted pump panels and traditional side-mounted pump panels. We have used only side-mounted pump panels in our history. We are concerned about safety of our drivers and crews. We are also tasked with getting smaller and more maneuverable fire engines. We currently have engines with 176-inch wheelbases and overall length of 30 feet.

Our staffing levels of three-person engine and truck companies are another consideration. We need the pump operator to assist with hooking up supply hose as well as being able to help out with air bottle changes and other tasks. This is somewhat unorthodox, but our staffing levels make this a reality. We have some members who have worked with top-mount pumps panels and like them. Most of the crews would like to change to top-mount pump panels, or at least try them out.

What insights to the operational issues of having top-mount vs. side-mount pump panels do you have experience with? I am sure there are many departments that have had one and switched to the other. Do you have comments on the switch and whether it was beneficial? Our committee would appreciate any help that you are able to give us. Thank you. —Mike R.

First of all, we are firm believers in short-wheelbase pumpers that are capable of carrying your needed personnel, hose and equipment in a safe manner. While we are not personally familiar with your department's units, if you look closely at some of the major urban departments in the United States (Los Angeles City, Chicago, FDNY, Washington, DC) and others, you will more often than not find that these busy jurisdictions operate predominantly side-mount pumpers for several reasons:

  1. The side-mount pumper generally affords the shortest wheelbase possible. FDNY uses 185-inch-wheelbase, LAFD uses a 175-inch-wheelbase and the DCFD uses 163.5-inch-wheelbase rigs. Top-mount designs add between 20 and 28 inches to the wheelbase and overall length, depending on the specific manufacturer's design.
  2. A side-mount pumper allows you to position crosslay hosebeds lower to the ground, generally around 64 to 66 inches as they can be dropped low in front or over the fire pump. Top-mount pump panels require hosebeds to be above and behind the pump or used as "speedlays" in front of the pump, which often add nine to 12 inches to the wheelbase.
  3. Whether your department utilizes a straight or reverse lay as its principal attack method, the engineer can break or connect the supply line or open or close an intake or discharge valve from the ground without having to climb up or down on the top-mount walkway.
  4. If you are going to go with a top-mount panel configuration, we would recommend that you specify vertically hinged pump access panels on each side of the unit to improve maintenance access to the pump and piping.
  5. To our knowledge, there have been no definitive studies evaluating the pros and cons of top mounts, nor have there been any safety-related studies that prove that top-mounted fire pumps are safer with attendant lower incidents of accidents than side- or rear-mounted pumps.

Window tinting. I'm trying to find out the pros and cons of aftermarket window tinting on fire apparatus. Is there some kind of standard? Does it off gas when heated any more than anything else in the cab would? Any other input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you — Steve M.

There generally are no problems with the aftermarket tint; however, in most cases, the standard "dark tint" available from the various builders is sufficient to keep the inside of the unit cool. Unless you are located in the desert Southwest or areas of Southern California, the standard dark tint application should be adequate. We hope that this information is useful to you.

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