The Apparatus Architect - III

Photo Courtesy Tom Shand & Mike Wilbur
The College Park Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland spent many months preparing their specifications prior to letting out bids for their new pumper. They recently took delivery of Engine 121, a 2002 American LaFrance short wheelbase wagon equipped with a 2000 GPM Hale pump and a 500 gallon fiberglass L shaped water tank.

Now that your apparatus committee has been formed and you have begun the task of determining what type of equipment is required, you now should begin the task of gathering technical information from a variety of resources to expand your knowledge in the critical areas that will impact the design of the apparatus. If you have followed some of the concepts that were mentioned in Part I of this series, you already have an idea as to where the committee should begin. While there is no right or wrong way to begin this part of the process, it is important that all members of the committee understand the importance of gathering this information and participate in the process. All committee members need to be turning from the same page. Many apparatus committee?s do not even know what kind of truck they want, or more importantly what they really need, i.e. a pumper, tanker, pumper tanker or some specialized combination unit. In some instances the well meaning uneducated apparatus committee takes over and ends up with a pumper-tanker-aerial-rescue truck all rolled into one unit. This apparatus has a little bit of everything, but from a functional standpoint is not very good at anything. For many individuals this is the fun part of the process as the group will have the opportunity to travel to observe newer units, visit and participate in trade shows and interview manufacturers representatives about their products.

Each of these areas will require some careful research and you need to have your questions prepared, to enable you and the committee members to obtain the necessary information for the group. Let?s look at each of these areas to see where the time you spend to evaluate these components will be of benefit to the department in the end.

Fire equipment trade shows are scheduled at various points around the country during the course of the year. Traditionally the first few shows each year are when the apparatus manufacturers and the component suppliers unveil their latest equipment and innovations. Apparatus builders in particular will try to show newly delivered units, some of which may be fully outfitted with hose and equipment. This can be particularly valuable when designing a rescue-engine or heavy squad as your committee can look at what other fire departments have designed to meet their needs. Whenever you go to a show it is helpful to bring along a 35mm or digital camera, to enable you to photograph the significant compartment layouts and designs that you wish to record. At some of the larger shows there may be representatives from the fire department displaying their unit with their apparatus. This will provide your committee with a unique opportunity to question the fire department on their ideas on the apparatus and get some direct feedback about the effectiveness of their design.

Trade shows offer an excellent opportunity to talk with the various apparatus manufacturers, including some of their engineers who design the equipment. Manufacturers will often have their senior managers and engineers staff the displays at trade shows to handle customer questions and service issues on a personal basis. Many of the component builders such as fire pumps, valves, warning devices, generators and foam system manufacturers will display their hardware and this is a significant opportunity to interview these people to discuss their products and how they may be integrated into a piece of apparatus for your department.

Photo Courtesy Tom Shand & Mike Wilbur
Engine 121 is equipped with a 200 foot 2.50 inch attack line, 250 foot 2.00 inch attack line, 1000 feet of 4.00 inch supply line, 1000 feet of 3.00 inch supply line, a 400 foot extended attack line and a 200 foot 1.75 inch attack line. All lines are equipped with smooth bore tips with a hose bed that is 64" from the ground.

Viewing apparatus at trade shows does however have a few drawbacks that you need to be aware of. First, most apparatus manufacturers would tend to show more complex units with numerous options which will show their overall capabilities. These larger units while very impressive will probably not be exactly what your department is looking for, however they will generate some conversations over the relative merits of some components. Secondly, the trade shows are not the place to price compare among manufacturers. No one?s apparatus is identical at the shows and therefore whatever the advertised or quoted price is relatively meaningless, as it is unlikely that your department will specify a unit identical to that being displayed by the manufacturer.

Conducting visits to other fire departments to review and inspect their apparatus can also prove to be a benefit to the committee. This provides the department with the opportunity to critically evaluate another department?s apparatus and equipment to see how their unit may fit your fire departments specific needs. This may often be accomplished on your own schedule, without having the influence of a salesperson accompanying your committee. Once again, you should plan on taking a camera, tape measure and notebook to record your comments and findings on the particular apparatus.

Should you locate a piece of apparatus that you have particular interest in, you may wish to record the manufacturers model and serial number from the data plate that is normally provided inside of the cab on the drivers side. This reference number can provide you with additional information, should you desire to contact the apparatus manufacturer who built the unit. Manufacturers can supply you with additional information including engineering blueprints and specifications which can provide the committee with specific design items and components which were installed on the unit.

When performing these outside inspections do not let the local sales person take you from fire house to fire house visiting newly delivered apparatus. Any new piece of equipment will generally appear to look good and with a limited in-service time there is no established record of use or maintenance history to evaluate. If you have to rely upon your local sales person to set up your trip, take the time to instruct the sales person that you do not wish to visit any apparatus that is newer than five years old. A newly delivered apparatus can easily WOW a truck committee with all of its chrome and state of the art gadgets. The apparatus committee that has carefully planned there outside inspections, with the assistance of an apparatus architect will be able to get through these smoke screens. Certainly ten years down the road the committee members would much rather share the credit for a well thought out and reliable apparatus, rather than shoulder the blame for an apparatus nightmare that will not come close to meeting the needs of the community or making the projected fifteen to twenty year life cycle.

Once the apparatus committee has reviewed both newer units at trade shows as well as older, in service units it is now time to schedule meetings with prospective manufacturers sales representatives. This part of the process can become quite involved and there are several strategies that your committee should employ to make these meetings honest, informative and worth the investment of your valuable time. We will cover this portion of the process in detail in our next installment of the Apparatus Architect.