The Future Of Apparatus - Part 1

Firehouse® Magazine has asked key executives of fire and emergency apparatus manufacturers where they see the industry heading as we enter the new millennium. With "their fingers on the pulse" of the apparatus industry, these industry leaders discuss engine size, radiators, braking, design, and the inclusion of automobile technology in the design and manufacturing of fire and rescue apparatus. Technological advancements never before imaginable are now being tested for possible inclusion in future designs.

This is an interesting - and frank - discussion about where the apparatus industry plans to be in the years ahead. The questions were posed by Firehouse Editor-in Chief Harvey Eisner. Some responses have been edited for length; not all companies chose to answer every question. Participants are:

  • American LaFrance Corp. - John Chadwick, chief engineer.
  • Crash Rescue Equipment Service - Grady North, operations manager.
  • Emergency One Inc. - Jeff Aiken, chassis engineering manager, and Bill McCombs, vice president of research and development.
  • Ferrara Fire Apparatus Inc. - Larry Romaine, production engineer.
  • Hackney Emergency Vehicles - Ed Smith, director of sales and marketing.
  • KME Fire Apparatus - Mark A. Kopunek, product manager of the Pumper Group. (Aerial ladder questions are answered by Peter Hoherchak, product manager of the Aerial Group.)
  • Pierce Manufacturing Inc. - Mike Schoenberger, vice president of product development, marketing and sales.
  • Saulsbury Fire Rescue Inc. - Edwin A. McManus, regional sales manager.
  • Smeal Fire Apparatus Co. - Delwin Smeal, company president and chief of engineering. (Additional information provided by the Research & Development Group, which includes sales and engineering executives.)

Will future apparatus continueto grow in size and length?

Pierce: Driven by the desire to carry more equipment for the increased number of EMS calls, both volunteer and career departments are purchasing trucks that perform more functions. While this trend toward multifunctional vehicles is currently driving an increase in vehicle size, there is a growing interest in compact, multipurpose apparatus for departments in congested urban areas.

American LaFrance: Current apparatus designs, especially aerial apparatus, have already grown to match the current federal weight limits. At times, special emergency vehicle permitting has been required when weight limits have been exceeded as one vehicle is configured to perform all missions.

In my discussions with many departments, the emphasis is shifting back to shorter, lighter vehicles which are more maneuverable. This is true in larger metropolitan areas, especially in the more congested municipalities along the East Coast. Weight is especially important where there are older fire stations that are listed as historical sites. These stations have floors that cannot support heavier vehicles and department budgets do not allow for new facilities to be constructed.

In addition, the arrival of more stringent diesel engine emission regulations will cause vehicle weight to be more closely reviewed. These new standards, effective with vehicles manufactured in October 2002, require the engine manufacturer to revise their product design. New designs will cause a 15-23% greater heat load to the engine cooling water. This may lead to vehicles having lower horsepower ratings that work with today's cooling packages or require revised cab/crew configurations to allow for larger cooling packages.

With just these issues in mind, I believe the future of the mega-truck, the one truck that does it all, does not seem bright.

Saulsbury: Size and length of apparatus have varied from city to rural departments. The trend we see is the city department specifying apparatus that will give them the most capabilities in a smaller more maneuverable unit. The rural department with limited manpower is specifying a larger apparatus with multiple purposes.

Hackney: Hackney is seeing a growing concern for maneuverability, especially in urban areas and western mountain zones. In respect to this, fire departments are either reducing the overall length of the body or opting for the increased cost of a custom fire apparatus, which affords a shorter wheelbase. Eighty percent of the rescue apparatus we manufacture require a four-door cab, primarily as a means of providing on-scene rehab facilities.

Transportation of four or more personnel comes in a close second. When specifying a conventional cab/chassis, the four-door dramatically increases the wheelbase requirements, forcing many departments to take a more serious look at how to better configure the compartments to utilize the available storage space. This has led to much more practical rescue-type vehicles.

Crash Rescue: I think we have reached about maximum in overall size and length. Roads, bridges, streets and weight laws restrict maximum size. However, I think that components will be packaged more efficiently to gain more usable space within current vehicles size.

Ferrara: I think they will always try to grow in size. As equipment gets more compact, they need to carry more and units are used in more dual roles.

E-One: The long-term trend will be to be smaller vehicles due to the number of calls that are not fire related. For the short term, small fire departments still need their apparatus to perform a variety of functions, due to both personnel and financial restraints.

Smeal: No. Maneuverability of an apparatus is one of the most important aspects of a truck. A "do-all" truck that is too big and bulky to be driven safely and efficiently in a fire district is of little value. Trucks in general are about as big as they are going to get.

KME: I do not believe so. I feel fire departments will attempt to design apparatus to provide the maximum amount of usable space on an apparatus and utilize new technology to reduce the overall size of space consuming components on the unit.

Do you envision new apparatus will be built for multipurpose use or for specialized use?

E-One: Both. The trend is to multipurpose for some of the same reasons discussed under size and length of vehicles. The smaller departments will need multipurpose vehicles, whereas the larger departments will be able to specialize, especially with hazmat or incident command equipment.

KME: Multipurpose use. Staffing concerns in both city and volunteer departments will require apparatus and fire departments to maximize their capabilities.

Ferrara: Multipurpose. Budgets are getting tighter, so the fire industry is forced to make their apparatus units do more for less.

Saulsbury: New apparatus is being designed for multiple purposes. The best example of this is the pumper/rescue units, combining the capabilities of a pumper with a larger capacity for storage of equipment of a rescue. Some of these units are also being specified with generators, lighting and/or breathing air cascade systems that are normally carried on a rescue unit.

Hackney: Our experience over the past two years has shown that departments are attempting to purchase multipurpose vehicles. With the fire service evolving into a multitasked emergency response agency, they are forced to find better ways to transport the vast array of technical support equipment. Upwards of 70% of all emergency support vehicles built by Hackney are designed to accommodate not only extrication and medical equipment, but breathing air refill stations and/or a larger number of spare SCBA bottles, confined space rescue equipment, salvage equipment, environmental monitoring equipment, assorted ladders, plus minimum 25-kilowatt generators for light towers and portable lighting. Twenty-five percent of that 70% will even incorporate some type of command center facility.

Pierce: Both, but multipurpose will be more common. The role of fire departments in providing non-fire-related emergency services will drive this evolution. There is growing interest in combination fire/patient-transport apparatus. In addition, staff shortages and reductions will drive expanded use of quint aerial apparatus.

Smeal: Most definitely toward a more multipurpose use, which is occurring in the marketplace today. Economics and budget restraints are the driving forces. An example is the EMS compartments, with locking doors for drugs, which is almost a standard feature on all types of apparatus being built today.

Crash Rescue: I believe a larger percentage of vehicles will be multipurpose. However, there will still be a need for specialized vehicles.

American LaFrance: I believe there will be growth in the area of smaller, lighter vehicles designed to cope with several incidents instead of today's trend to specify a single aerial/pumper/rescue mega-truck. While smaller and lighter vehicles will eventually form the bulk of a municipality's force, the aerial and heavy rescue vehicles will continue in their current forms, primarily because of their design and unique functions.

Aerial units need mass for stability and to counter-balance the forces of the aerial and its load. Since heavy rescue units must be versatile to face a variety of mission requirements, they normally must "carry it all" to the emergency. Rescue units may benefit from becoming specialized to the mission, but I envision that this will occur more for fire and EMS first responder units.

What type of safety systems from the automobile and heavy truck industry are slated to be incorporated in future apparatus design?

Saulsbury: Many of the safety features of the heavy truck industry are incorporated or available with the chassis, such as antilock brakes and restraining belts. Transport of personnel to and from the scene is done in the chassis portion of the apparatus. Saulsbury is primarily a body manufacturer and relies on the chassis manufacturer for these safety requirements.

Crash Rescue: More use of antilock brakes. Automatic restraint systems (airbags, automatic seatbelt tensioners, etc.). Front and rear crumple zones in sheet metal and guards to prevent overriding cars or cars under riding the rear. Backup sensors and sensors all around the vehicle to detect objects. FLIR (forward looking infra-red) heads-up vision for the driver. Stronger cab materials and rollbar design.

American LaFrance: That is a particular area of emphasis for American LaFrance and our parent company, Freightliner Corp. We commissioned an extensive study of accidents, injuries and fatalities in fire trucks with the University of Michigan's Institute for Transportation Research which told us much about fatalities on the way to and from calls. It also helped show exactly where we should be focusing our company's tremendous engineering and safety technology resources to protect crews with active and passive safety measures. Improving the safety of fire apparatus is American LaFrance's top priority job. That means engineering and design advances, but just as important, pushing for more stringent and uniform safety standards for apparatus. For example, Freightliner pioneered the use of ABS brakes as standard equipment on heavy trucks and the school bus chassis well before they were mandated by federal regulations.

We envision the fire and emergency service industry will see mandated occupant protection testing once the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has approved and released the draft procedures now under committee review. In addition, Freightliner has already incorporated a host of advanced safety technology in its heavy trucks that can be transferred to fire apparatus. These include:

  • Rollover advisor and control systems
  • Electronic braking systems (EBS)
  • Electronic stability systems that work in conjunction with EBS, ABS/ASR and electronic engine systems
  • Collision avoidance systems
  • Supplemental occupant restrain systems, such as front and side airbags
  • Apparatus data logging units - the so-called "black box" data recorders

KME: Multiplexing will be utilized more frequently for vehicle electrical systems and I have seen some interest in central tire inflation systems for apparatus that respond in on- or off-road areas.

Pierce: Heads-up displays, airbags and even electronic crash avoidance systems are all features and concepts we're exploring. Other technologies involve ways to make vehicles more maneuverable and easier to handle.

Our unique ALL STEER electronic all-wheel steering system falls into this category. It's a great example of an unbelievable technology that's available today. This system can reduce a vehicle's turning radius by up to one third. And, it features three separate steering modes to help maneuver more quickly and safely through congested traffic. Departments who use the ALL STEER system swear by it. In off-road situations, for wildland and urban interface fire fighting, central tire inflation systems is technology that may be explored for safer, better performance in rough terrain. This technology is used extensively by Oshkosh in its defense and ARFF vehicles.

Another interesting safety technology is forward-looking infrared systems that allow the operator to "see" through thick smoke. The technology exists to integrate this type of system into Pierce fire apparatus.

E-One: Technology advancement, especially in electronic monitoring, will drive the introductions in this area. These will deliver better warning systems for the driver, such as FLIR , vehicle driver stability systems and air bags. The ability to monitor and be warned of potential problems before they occur will aid the driver tremendously.

Will pump controls/aerial controls change in the future?

American LaFrance: Yes. Today's reliance on mechanical linkage will gradually give way to electronic controls and gauges that have been tried and proven. The pump panel controls will see the greatest use of electronic advancements. The aerial controls will most certainly see advancements as well. They will become more influenced by on-board operating envelope and load moment indicating systems. They will continuously monitor elevation, extension and payload. Based on that information, the on-board systems will restrict the operator from operating the aerial into an unsafe condition. Greater integration of the aerial controls, pump controls and chassis information/diagnostic systems will also be present in the future.

Vehicle designs will continue to evolve toward a single integrated electronic network where all devices will have the capability to communicate and exchange data once a single universal machine language is mandated for use. Currently most of the efforts underway are being developed to standardize on SAE J1939 as a common method for communicating diagnostic/fault data between devices. As the development of vehicle data networks continue to evolve, devices for the control of aerial and water pump valving systems will find a broader appeal. The smaller size will lend themselves to more compact and ergonomic control panels, allowing vehicles to become smaller and lighter. The ability to display control and diagnostic data, as well as the capability to store faults, will be beneficial to maintenance personnel. The key to their acceptance and broader use will have to be that they are designed to be durable and dependable, with a volume which will prevent their use from being cost prohibitive.

Smeal: Yes, the pump panels and operation of the pump and related components will continue to become more computerized. This will help maximize efficiency of the machine, while helping to minimize operator error and make the unit more user friendly.

KME: Yes. Technology is leading the way in this area to assist in reducing operator error and provide more accurate control of these systems. Some examples of this would be some of the new pressure governor systems which interface directly with the engine computer systems and auto-leveling systems for aerial device setup.

E-One: Absolutely. The controls will continue to become more intelligent. Electronic monitoring will allow load sensing, etc. The trend is to electric controls with small remote operating panels.

Pierce: Today, pump panel controls are becoming more organized and user friendly. With the added fire suppression systems, such as foam proportioners and CAFS, the number of fire system functions has increased. Simplicity is the trend in pump panel design. Relocating large discharges, color-coded labels and T-handles - with handles aligned with the corresponding gauge all help make the pump panel easier and more efficient for the operator to use. And, standardization and commonality in pump panel control layout also help departments in training.

In addition, advances in computers, multiplexing technology and electronics systems are changing the face of the pump panels. In the future, the pump operator may never need to leave the safety of the cab. The pump and fire suppression systems can be controlled from a computer. The operator will input the desired functions for the fire suppression systems, and the computer will instruct the systems to automatically activate. Imagine an officer already loading the proper information into the computer before the apparatus even pulls to a stop at the scene. Then, once the parking brake is applied, the computer signals the pump engagement sequence, the engine RPMs are increased to provide the pre-determined flow and PSI, the foam system is activated and the concentrate percentage is set, the discharge is selected and engaged. And, the officer has never left the cab!

More changes are due in aerial controls as well. Along with chassis, aerials are being multiplexed. Multiplexing is a "SMART" system that literally runs by a computer. You simply program aerial performance instructions into the computer. For example, the aerial controls can be programmed to stop the device if there is a danger of hitting the cab or body. Or, program the controller to slow down when reaching full stoke regardless of the handle location, so as not to endanger someone at the tip of the device. The speed of the aerial device can also be changed by flipping a switch at the control console. In addition, multiplexing allows the aerial control station to display vital operating information such as engine data, stabilizer condition and maintenance data.

Saulsbury: The design of pump controls and operators' panels continues to improve. Removing possible hazards such as discharges and hoselines from the operator's position is a safer setup for the operator. The use of a single control to automatically accomplish multiple tasks in pump controls is increasing in number, and limits the mistakes that could be made by an operator.

Crash Rescue: I think you will see touch-sensitive pump panels and single joystick controls and more radio remote controls for aerial and nozzle functions.