The Apparatus Architect – Part 18: Designing Ladder Company Apparatus

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur provide a guide for purchasing a midship or a rear-mount truck and discovering which is correct for your department.


In the last in-stallment of “The Apparatus Architect,” we reviewed some of the considerations for both midship and rear-mounted aerial devices and how they effect positioning and operations on the fire- ground. From this discussion, it should be clear that each unit offers advantages that must...


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In the last in-stallment of “The Apparatus Architect,” we reviewed some of the considerations for both midship and rear-mounted aerial devices and how they effect positioning and operations on the fire- ground. From this discussion, it should be clear that each unit offers advantages that must be considered by the truck committee before designing a new ladder company apparatus.

0404app1.jpg
Photo by Tom Shand
This 2004 Seagrave 100-foot tractor-drawn aerial ladder operated by the Morango Fire Department in California is an example of a well-designed ladder truck. This unit is equipped with 207 feet of ground ladders, a 10-kilowatt diesel generator and numerous hand tools.

What if, after some initial investigation, the truck committee is still not clear whether a midship or a rear-mount truck is correct for the department? It is difficult at best to assess the advantages and disadvantages of each by reading a detailed specification or reviewing a blueprint of the rig. While both documents provide valuable data on the configuration of the apparatus, they do not provide sufficient data to let a committee properly consider all of its the operational aspects.

Most reputable manufacturers build stock-model or demonstrator aerial devices that let sales personnel bring the apparatus directly to your community to enable the truck committee to view and operate the aerial device in your environment. There are many benefits to “test driving” the ladder apparatus that you might be considering, without having the obligation to purchase or specify any of the components that are on the demonstrator unit.

0404app2.jpg
Photo by Tom Shand
This Seagrave rear-mount ladder from Bladensburg, MD, has no obstructions at the tip of the aerial, which makes roof work much easier. Note the hand tools mounted on the front bumper.

If you are unsure as to the type of apparatus, inquire if the manufacturer can bring in both a midship and a rear-mounted truck to be able to compare side by side, as to how each unit would set up and operate at buildings within your community. Notice the last part of the last sentence, “how each unit would set up and operate at buildings within your community.” Please take note it did not say go to the largest parking lot in town. Many, if not most, aerial demonstrations take place in parking lots and most of those demonstrations do not flow any water out of the ladder pipe or off the tower ladder basket. From a practical point of view, a demonstration like this is a waste of time because we do plan on flowing water and we do not have many parking lot fires.

We found this story to be interesting and very relevant: A small New England city was on the verge of trading its five engines and three ladders for four quints until at the eleventh hour, just prior to signing the purchasing contracts, someone said, “Let’s take one of those quints around town to make sure it will work.” They soon learned that these vehicles could cover only 20% of their city. The city still has five engines and three ladders.

Following are some suggestions as to how to make the most out of a demonstrator ladder truck visit to your department:

2. After confirming that the demo unit will fit into your station, park the rig inside to look at how much space is needed to house the truck. This is especially important if you are moving from a smaller aerial ladder to a larger or longer platform unit.

3. Prior to the arrival of the truck, map out a realistic road course through the community following normal response routes, to insure that the proposed truck will adequately maneuver in your first-due response area.

4. Set up the apparatus at several target hazards in the community to assess the working scrub area of the device and how much time and room is required to set up the outriggers to properly stabilize the truck.

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