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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5. If your community has one-way streets or other tight areas, set up the truck by short jacking to observe what practical limitations there are with the ladder device. Always use all of the required safety devices and only perform this operation with the supervision of the manufacturer’s representative.

6. Review the available body compartment space and ground ladder banking arrangements to see how they may or may not meet your department’s needs.

7. If the apparatus is equipped with a waterway or platform with master stream appliances, set up the apparatus in a location where you can supply the unit with water and operate the unit as a water tower. In this way you can verify some of the claims made in the specifications regarding water-flow capabilities and determine how the features of the aerial device may benefit your department.

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Photo by Tom Shand
Note the position of the waterway, monitor and guard assembly at the end of this ladder. The 12-volt and 120-volt lights will hinder the placement of the ladder into a window opening.

These are just some of the aspects of a ladder truck demo that you may wish to consider when evaluating new apparatus for your department. After the truck committee has looked at several different makes and models of ladder trucks, it may then be helpful to put all of the important features and components on a spreadsheet to fairly compare each of the aerial units. Due to marketing strategies by each of the manufactures this may be a difficult task. They do not want you to compare apples to apples, but do not get discouraged – the time you spend now will pay big dividends in the long run. Taking digital photos of the important characteristics of each apparatus will assist later on when reviewing the various types of outrigger and aerial ladder controls that you were exposed to during this time.

One aspect of ladder truck design that greatly impacts operational performance is what type of options you can put at the end of the fly section on an aerial ladder. It is now possible to put waterway monitors, 12-volt and 120-volt lighting, electrical outlets, breathing air, tip controls and hydraulic outlets. While each these components may have some value, placing all of these items at the tip will inhibit the operation of the ladder when you need to make the roof, enter a window or perform some horizontal vent with the aerial ladder.

Be careful not to specify or buy “everything in the catalog” simply to have one of everything on your ladder truck. Many otherwise well-designed ladder trucks are rendered useless because of some of the unnecessary items that we purchase, just to make ourselves feel better or “keep up with the Joneses.” What your department ends up with by buying everything is a very expensive one-dimensional water tower that can shine an elevated light. Would it not be better to purchase a versatile vehicle that can perform rescue, ventilation, roof access, window access and yes even a water tower?

After concluding several aerial demonstrations in your community, the truck committee should have sufficient information to make an informed decision on the style and model of aerial equipment that best fits your needs. Aerial ladder apparatus should complement the balance of the fleet that is operated by the fire department. Properly designed and well-equipped apparatus will provide a measure of safety for the personnel in the fire department as well as for everyone in the community.

In the next installment, we will discuss some component and equipment items that you may wish to consider when developing specifications for your next aerial apparatus.


Tom Shand is a firefighter with the Newton-Abbott Volunteer Fire Department in the Town of Hamburg, NY, and a senior instructor at the Onondaga County Community College Public Safety Training Center. He is employed by American LaFrance and is assigned to the Hamburg Facility in the apparatus sales department. Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served for the past five years on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He has consulted on a variety of apparatus related issues throughout the country. For further information access his website at www.emergencyvehicleresponse.com.