The Apparatus Architect – Part 27: Combination Rescue-Engine Units

Michael Wilbur and Tom Shand discuss the purpose of combination rigs: to deliver a wide variety of tools, equipment and personnel to an incident in a safe manner.


The April 2006 installment of The Apparatus Architect discussed some of the inherent advantages of custom and commercial chassis for use in designing rescue squad units. Each chassis provides distinct advantages for fire departments to consider when developing specifications for new apparatus. In...


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The April 2006 installment of The Apparatus Architect discussed some of the inherent advantages of custom and commercial chassis for use in designing rescue squad units. Each chassis provides distinct advantages for fire departments to consider when developing specifications for new apparatus. In contrast to the traditional walk-in rescue trucks, combination rescue-engines are becoming more popular among many departments.

The terminology for these units varies from department to department. In some areas, they are known as rescue-engines, rescue-pumpers, squads or enhanced engine companies. Regardless of the local designation, the purpose of these combination rigs is to deliver a wide variety of tools, equipment and personnel to an incident in a safe manner. At this point, there is no universally accepted definition for these multi-purpose units, nor is there an accepted standard for the equipment inventory that these units should carry. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard on apparatus does not differentiate between a standard pumper and a rescue-engine other than to require that an apparatus with more than 250 cubic feet of compartment space must be able to carry a minimum of 2,500 pounds of equipment, in addition to the specified hose load and personnel.

Much like aerial ladder trucks that are designed as quints, from a practical viewpoint, the department apparatus committee has a great degree of flexibility when specifying a combination rescue-engine unit. One of the most important questions for the committee is to determine how the proposed apparatus is going to be used. If it is to be used for routine engine company responses in addition to extrication and rescue incidents, then these missions will in part determine how the apparatus and body compartments should be designed. If it will be an additional unit responding on the alarm, then the amount of engine company equipment, hose and ground ladders may vary widely.

One of the earliest articles in The Apparatus Architect series discussed the importance of “Defining the Mission†of the new apparatus. This is critical with any combination apparatus, but especially significant with a rescue-engine unit. While the present NFPA standards would require a minimum of a 2,500-pound payload for this style of apparatus, a similar unit designed as a special service apparatus with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 47,000 pounds would require a minimum of a 6,000-pound equipment payload. Defining the mission of the vehicle helps determine what equipment will have to be carried on the new apparatus to meet its goals.

One of the common hurdles for the committee to establish is just how much engine company versus rescue equipment the vehicle will be expected to carry. If the apparatus is to provide engine company service within its response area, then it is reasonable to consider that a nominal complement of supply hose, pre-connected attack lines, ground ladders and other standard equipment will have to be incorporated into the body design. On the other hand, there must be sufficient room to carry hand- and power-operated extrication tools, cribbing and shoring materials, ventilation saws, airbags and hand tools together with electrical, hydraulic and air reels.

There is a critical balance between carrying the right equipment for the job versus carrying a little bit of everything that you believe you may ever need, but may never use, including that once-in-a-lifetime technical rescue operation. Some apparatus committees design the apparatus to do a little bit of everything and carry a little bit of everything, but when the apparatus arrives on scene, it does not have any degree of functionality and performs poorly.

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