Apparatus Innovations

John A. Calderone discusses how fire apparatus designs are continuously changing and adapting to the individual needs of fire departments.


Many factors have affected the evolution of fire apparatus. The development of diesel engines led to larger, more powerful vehicles. Civil unrest in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in enclosed cabs. Legislation and standards have brought about design and mechanical changes such as dual rear axles...


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Many factors have affected the evolution of fire apparatus. The development of diesel engines led to larger, more powerful vehicles. Civil unrest in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in enclosed cabs. Legislation and standards have brought about design and mechanical changes such as dual rear axles, seated and belted riding positions and anti-lock brake systems.

Staffing shortages have forced the use of technological advances to compensate for lack of firefighters. Career fire departments are being pressed to cut budgets. Even volunteer departments today experience staffing shortages; many members work out of town and recruitment of new members is an ongoing problem.

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Photo by Charles Madderom
A highly maneuverable tractor trailer quint built by LTI on a Duplex chassis for Huntington Beach, CA

Perhaps the most visible change today is in apparatus color. What has actually happened, though, is that most of the fire departments that went to other colors have returned to traditional red or, now more common, white-over-red with white reflective stripes.

There are many reasons for the return to traditional colors. Among those cited have been appearance, confusion by the public, inability to keep these colors as shiny as traditional red and poor firefighter morale. Some departments actually experienced higher accident rates with these "safety" colors. New York City conducted a controlled pilot program using lime-green apparatus which was terminated with negative results after only a short period. Some of the larger fire departments that returned to traditional red or white-over-red after using lime-green or lime-yellow for years include Boston; Detroit; Bridgeport, CT; Yonkers, NY; San Jose, CA; Kansas City, MO; St. Louis; Tucson, AZ; Charlotte, NC, and the fire services operated by the U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps at military installations.

An interesting color variation is making inroads. For years, Chicago has operated black-over-red apparatus. This color scheme is also becoming popular in specific regions many departments in New Jersey, for example, now use this color combination. Whatever the reasons for the return to red, the fact is that most apparatus being delivered today are red or white-over-red in color.

Another area seeing rapid and widespread development in apparatus design today is multi-functional vehicles. In some cases, particularly in the use of quints, multi-purpose vehicles have become controversial. A quint is an apparatus that can perform five functions: it has a pump, booster equipment, hose bed, a full complement of portable ladders and truck company tools, and an aerial device. Some cash-strapped cities are using a single quint to replace both an engine and ladder company in the same firehouse, with a single crew for staffing.

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Photo by John A. Calderone
U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, Engine 4, a 1995 Emergency One 1,250-gpm pump with a 500-gallon tank.

While quints have their place in the fire service, their use in a traditional firefighting system where engine and ladder companies have specific assigned missions and distinct responsibilities has limitations. This is particularly true in cities with older, attached multi-story structures in congested areas. The physical characteristics coupled with the construction features in these areas negate the technological advantages of the quint.

Traditional fire tactics in these areas dictate that the engine company positions at the nearest serviceable hydrant and hand-stretches a hoseline to the involved floor. The ladder company positions its apparatus in front of the fire building to perform rescue and ventilation. Non-fireproof apartment buildings in many older cities can be up to eight stories in height. The use of an aerial device is essential at such buildings. A quint would have to position at the hydrant to supply water and, unless the hydrant was in front of the involved structure, use of its aerial would be lost. A quint positioned in front of the structure, with its limited staffing, cannot accomplish all the functions of stretching the first attack line, stretching a supply line to the hydrant, laddering, and performing ventilation and search anywhere near as quickly as an independent engine and ladder company.

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