Designing Ladder Company Apparatus

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur advise seeking the expertise of an apparatus architect for the first-time aerial apparatus purchaser.


In the last installment of The Apparatus Architect (October 2003), we discussed the importance of planning and evaluation in the process of developing specifications for the purchase of a new ladder company apparatus. While we might possess the technical experience to develop specifications for a...


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In the last installment of The Apparatus Architect (October 2003), we discussed the importance of planning and evaluation in the process of developing specifications for the purchase of a new ladder company apparatus. While we might possess the technical experience to develop specifications for a new pumper, many of us have never had the responsibility to act as part of a truck committee to spec out a new ladder truck. Learning experiences can be costly and difficult to correct, unless we “do our homework” to insure that the money we spend on a new ladder truck will truly meet the needs of our community. Only after you have spent time evaluating the needs of your first-due area can you then set out to determine what type of aerial device is appropriate for your fire department.

0204app1.jpg
Photo by Tom Shand
This 1966 Maxim 100-foot midship aerial ladder operated by the Hellertown, PA, Fire Department is typical of the style of ladder truck from this era. While the apparatus has a considerable overhang from the rear, the truck has extensive body compartments and carries 217 feet of ground ladders.

At this point, it would be helpful to seek out the expertise of an apparatus architect. If your department is a first-time aerial apparatus purchaser, spending a few dollars up front to retain the services of someone who knows what he or she is doing (an apparatus architect) is a must. The apparatus architect could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars and you could end up with a far better apparatus with greater longevity.

Aerial apparatus purchased in the 1950s and 1960s were predominantly built with midship-mounted turntables installed directly behind the cab of the unit. With the exception of articulating booms such as Snorkels, the fire service had pretty much employed these midship aerial ladders as the standard aerial device. A few big-city fire departments such as Chicago and FDNY used Magirus rear-mounted aerial devices that were imported from Germany and installed on Mack chassis in order to gain some additional vertical reach above the traditional four-section 100-foot aerial ladders.

In 1967, Seagrave introduced the Rear Admiral series of ladders that featured rear-mounted turntables built on wheelbases as short as 210 inches. This not only eliminated the rear ladder overhang, but reduced the overall length of the apparatus as well. Not to be outdone, American LaFrance produced its first Ladder Chief rear-mount unit the following year and since that time virtually every manufacturer has offered both midship- and rear-mounted aerial ladders.

Let’s look at some of the advantages of midship-mounted turntable aerial devices. First, when positioning a ladder truck with a midship-mounted turntable, you can position the truck more readily as the driver can easily judge the position of the centerline of the turntable with the building. This enables the driver to place the apparatus to achieve the maximum use of the aerial device for horizontal or vertical position. The old adage “You can stretch a hoseline, but you cannot stretch a ladder” is certainly appropriate. Second, with the midship device you increase the scrub area that you can reach on a building as compared to a rear-mounted device. This is due to gaining the effective length of the ladder by placing the turntable closer to the building, particularly when operating off the front of the apparatus as well as the sides between 9 and 3 o’clock with respect to the centerline of the chassis. Depending upon the streets and building setbacks in your first-due area, this feature alone could “make or break” some of your fireground operations.

0204app3.jpg
Photo by Tom Shand
The Hyattsville, MD, Fire Department operates with this Pierce Dash 100-foot rear-mount ladder built on a short 216-inch wheelbase. Truck 1 carries a wide assortment of hand and power tools and over 200 feet of ground ladders.
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