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How will these numbers affect the ownership that your department has of a used gasoline tanker? Water weighs over two pounds per gallon more than gasoline. If your department decides to put 4,000 gallons of water in a used gasoline tanker, that is 8,000 pounds of additional weight that the vehicle was not designed to carry. What effect will this additional weight have on the steering components, shocks and springs? Will the tires and chassis be able to hold that additional weight for extended periods of time?
Petroleum tankers spend most of their life span less than full. Fire department tankers spend most of their life span parked completely full. What impact will this have? How will this additional weight affect the handling characteristics of the vehicle? We know that petroleum tankers are not baffled nearly as well as fire department tankers. This will have a drastic effect on the vehicle's stability when it is driven. This is particularly true when these vehicles are driven in rural settings with steep hills, many turns and curves. Many dirt roads still exist in rural America that are subject to washout and are very narrow, and those conditions make it very difficult to drive an apparatus like this safely.
Many fire departments do not have the $100,000 to $300,000 needed to buy a new fire department tanker. Yet we are driven to provide the very best fire protection we can with the resources we have available to us. What does this all mean? We will continue to be innovative in our approach to hauling water. But emergency vehicle operators need to realize that although it may have red lights and a siren and it may look like a fire truck, it may not be a fire truck. Emergency vehicle operators need to know the difference between fire department tankers and tankers retrofitted for fire department use and drive them accordingly.
Emergency vehicle operators must know and understand fully the pitfalls of using retrofitted tankers. It is hoped that with this additional knowledge you will be able to provide fire protection within your budget and deliver that fire protection in a safe and efficient manner.
Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an FDNY lieutenant in Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx and a firefighter in the Howells, NY, Fire Department. He is an adjunct instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science and the Orange County Fire Training Center. Wilbur has developed and presented emergency vehicle operator courses throughout the country and has consulted on a variety of fire apparatus issues.