The Apparatus Architect: Part 23 - Designing Rescue Squad Apparatus

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur review rescue squad apparatus and other special service units, as well as discussing the decision of what type of rescue service the department is going to provide.


With this installment of "The Apparatus Architect," we begin our review rescue squad apparatus and other special service units. While some fire departments have operated rescue and special service units for some time, other departments are just getting into the technical-rescue end of the...


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With this installment of "The Apparatus Architect," we begin our review rescue squad apparatus and other special service units. While some fire departments have operated rescue and special service units for some time, other departments are just getting into the technical-rescue end of the business.

If your department has purchased a new or used heavy rescue in the past, then you might have a good idea as to what works well for your department in terms of apparatus design. On the other hand, if your department has never operated a heavy squad or even a medium-duty rescue unit, how do you know where to start in the process of designing a well-equipped rescue truck?

One of the first things that you need to address is what type of rescue service the department is going to provide. Will the apparatus be used primarily for vehicle rescue and fireground support? Will the apparatus be used to supply lighting and breathing-air support? Will the apparatus be used to support hazardous materials operations or other special technical-rescue missions? These are just some of the questions that your apparatus committee should evaluate in order to develop a detailed list of equipment that the apparatus will be required to carry and deploy in an effective manner.

The amount of equipment, number of personnel and type of onboard systems will all have an impact of the overall design of the rescue apparatus. Some departments make the mistake of thinking that the rescue truck is simply a "big toolbox on wheels" and that you can buy your 22-foot super rescue and then figure out where the equipment is going once the rig is built and delivered. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. When you make a mistake on fitting an expensive piece of equipment on the new rig, you are generally forced to live with the problem for a long time.

The days of buying a new rescue truck, unloading the equipment from the old rescue truck, putting the equipment on the apparatus floor and then trying to guess where it is going to fit on the new rescue truck are gone forever. Why? Because the compartment space on the new rescue truck represents some of the most expensive real estate on the face of the earth.

Take the amount of money you paid for the apparatus and divide it by the number of square feet in compartment space, and your apparatus committee will be given reason not to want to waste any space at all. Careful planning in the design phase can pay big dividends when the final product rolls off the manufacturing line and arrives at the station.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 standard defines special service fire apparatus as: "A multi-purpose vehicle that primarily provides support services at emergency scenes." This description can fit a wide range of support vehicles, and while the 1901 standard can assist the committee in insuring that the rescue apparatus will meet a minimum design criteria, there is a lot of homework that will be required in order to develop a well-designed rescue truck. Also, remember that the NFPA's 1901 standard is only a minimum standard and you should be designing your apparatus to exceed it.

One of the concepts that should be considered during the development of the specifications for a new rescue squad is to visit several fire departments operating rescue apparatus that perform functions similar to what your department may be considering. This gives your committee the opportunity not only to review that department's apparatus and equipment, but you will have the opportunity to "pick their brain" as to what works well versus what things to avoid from a component and design perspective.

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