20 Years Of Service

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Then & Now

Apparatus: 1974 Maxim aerial 1996 Pierce aerial platform
Weight: 46,000 pounds 70,000 pounds
Height:  10 feet, 4 inches 11 feet, 5 inches
Wheel base: 200 inches 263 inches
Overall length: 36 feet, 2 inches 47 feet
Engine: 8-cylinder 350 hp, 2,300 rpm, 6-speed transmission 6-cylinder, 470 hp, 2,100 rpm, 5-speed electronic transmission, retarder
Fire pump: 1,000 gpm, 2 stage 1,500 gpm, single stage
Booster tank: 200 gallons Not available
Ground ladders: Wooden Aluminum
Aerial ladder: 100-foot, 3-section all steel, 250-pound tip load 102-foot heavy-duty climbable, 3-section all steel, 1,000-pound tip load
Hose bed: Split type, 2 compartments with 500 feet of 21/2-inch hose, 150 feet of 3-inch hose for ladder pipe, cross lays with 150 feet of 11/2-inch hose 1,000 feet of 5-inch hose with 5-inch hose intake to feed pre-piped waterway with crosslays of 13/4-inch hose
Cab: 5-person semi-enclosed with jump seats 10-person fully enclosed with air conditioning and heat
Platform: Not available Equipped with breathing air, 110-volt electricity, 13/4-inch hose, 3-way intercom, 4 spot/floodlights and 2  monitored nozzles, one manual, one remote-controlled
Air horns: Roof mounted Bumper mounted
Generator: Small portable, gas-powered Onboard, 1,200-watt diesel
Retarder: Not available Yes
Automatic chains: Not available Yes
Heated mirrors: Not available Yes
Heated pump: Not available Yes
Cost: $110,000, including trade-in of 1956 rig $651,322

It is only fitting, that on Firehouse® Magazine's 20th anniversary, that in this column we compare driving emergency vehicles today vs. 20 years ago.

The first place to look is the apparatus we drive. What is the same? What is different? What technological advances have been made in apparatus manufacturing and accessories?

For this apparatus comparison we will use the aerial apparatus from the McQuoid Engine and Ladder Company in the city of Middletown, NY. In 1974, Middletown purchased a 100-foot quint from Maxim Motors of Foxboro, MA. This past summer, Middletown replaced the Maxim Quint with a 1996 Pierce Lance 102-foot aerial platform (see chart for comparisons).

Already we see a lot of changes. First, Maxim Motors is out of business and Pierce Manufacturing went from little known in 1974 to a major fire apparatus supplier in 1996. (A lesson to be learned here is that fire apparatus manufacturing is a volatile business. Many old-time manufacturers went out of business for a variety of reasons Ward LaFrance, Hahn, Ahrens Fox, Maxim, Peter Pirsch, Crown Coach, FMC, Young and Sanford, to name just a few. It is my advice to get a Dun & Bradstreet financial outlook on any potential bidder for your new apparatus purchase. This may help to prevent future problems.)

The overall size of the 1996 model dwarfs the 1974 unit. The Pierce is almost twice as heavy, one foot taller, 10 feet longer and has a wheel base 63 inches longer than the Maxim. The 1996 diesel engine has fewer cylinders, doing fewer rpm and creating more horsepower. The new transmission has one less forward gear and electronics have been introduced.

The trend for fire pumps is to go from two-stage 1,000-gpm units and this is likely to continue with gasoline engines being phased out in favor of diesels that can create much more horsepower to power pumps.

Wooden portable ladders are being phased out in favor of lighter-weight aluminum ladders. This trend will likely continue as obtaining sufficient manpower for initial fire suppression becomes a bigger problem. Also, large-diameter hose has grown in popularity over the past 20 years. Two reasons come to mind: we can flow more water with less hose and modern-day master streams require more water for operation.

Firefighter safety has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. In comparing the two apparatus, the new unit features a fully enclosed cab capable of carrying more firefighters safely. Apparatus have reflective trim and audible warning devices are mounted on the bumper of the apparatus instead of on the roof. The aerial ladder is stronger, holding more weight on the tip, flowing more water in pre-piped waterway, at lower elevations, within the safety of a bucket. In the bucket there is breathing air, lighting and a handline for additional safety. Onboard generators provide expanded lighting capabilities to enhance nighttime safety. Retarders, automatic chains and heated mirrors are just some of the options available to increase driving safety.

Several key factors will make the safe arrival of new apparatus a formidable challenge. As shown here, apparatus are generally longer, higher, heavier and faster than they have ever been before. Combine this knowledge with the fact that many fire departments own more apparatus then they did 20 years ago. The apparatus is going on more responses, over roads that have not been substantially improved. And now the roads are more congested with motorists who fail to grant us the right of way. If this is not a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is. Twenty years ago, we were probably the least likely to be sued or to be regulated; today, the opposite is true.

It appears we have come full circle. In 1936, the McQuoid Engine and Ladder Company purchased a 1936 Seagrave Quad. Ironically, some of the points raised in 1936 cost ($15,033), large pumping capacity (1,250 gpm) and long wheel base (265 inches) are still being ovoiced 60 years later.

The challenge for the fire service leading into the next century is to empower firefighters with more knowledge and training. We at Firehouse have strived to provide this knowledge and training in the past 20 years. We take this commitment very seriously and look forward to providing the fire service with the best training and education opportunities into the next century and beyond. Happy anniversary, Firehouse!


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.

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