The Apparatus Architect - I

Overall design and function of each piece of apparatus is dependant upon the individual needs of each department and to a larger degree, the personality factors in their community.

In addition, there are other resources for technical data that can be helpful during the design phase of the new apparatus. Contained within the NFPA 1901 standard on Fire Apparatus is a questionnaire in the appendix which takes you through a number of questions that will prompt discussions in some areas that may very well be overlooked by the apparatus committee. We have all heard about a newly delivered apparatus that would not fit the available space in the fire station, or departments that could not fit the amount of supply line in the hose bed because this was not sufficiently detailed in their specifications.

Doing your homework up front to address all of the pertinent issues will not only provide for a cost effective piece of apparatus, but will insure that the fire protection needs of the community are being met.

One of the major pitfalls of apparatus design is evident with "incremental purchasing". Examples of this are the last pumper that the department acquired was a 1250 GPM unit, so the new one must be at least of 1500 GPM capacity. If the newest unit was equipped with a 750 gallon water tank with a 400 horsepower diesel engine with seats for eight firefighters, the new engine must be equipped with a 1000 gallon water tank, 500 horsepower engine with seats for ten firefighters! The old adage of "bigger is not necessarily better" is certainly appropriate here. While apparatus has certainly become more multi-functional over the past decade, units have also become increasingly bigger to the point that 220 inch wheelbase, 34 foot long pumpers are becoming commonplace. Along with the larger apparatus comes training issues of just how well your drivers can handle and maneuver these rigs around in their response areas. Even with improved steering cramp angles, ABS brakes, and engine retarders, the unit that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 44,000 pounds with a 220 inch wheelbase will certainly handle differently that that older pumper built on the 180 inch wheelbase that weights less than 31,000 pounds in service.

A unique approach embraced by some departments is to tap the knowledge of individuals that possess an intimate technical knowledge of fire apparatus who are not directly associated with an apparatus manufacturer. This person could be aptly titled "The Apparatus Architect." The apparatus architect is an advocate for the fire department whose main purpose is to insure that the department designs a functional piece of equipment that meets the needs of the community and that the chosen manufacturer produces the apparatus in accordance with the specifications and contract terms for a reasonable price. The term "reasonable price" may best be described as not extreme or excessive, which may not necessarily the low price. The old adage says that "You can pay me now, or pay me later. The several thousand dollars that the department can save by accepting the proposal of the low bidder could cost much more over the life cycle of the apparatus.

Fire departments have long recognized the critical importance of training in the development and maintenance of their technical skills. With the advent of hazardous materials, high angle rescue, collapse rescue and weapons of mass destruction training it becomes apparent that one single individual cannot posses all of the required skill sets to be proficient in each of these areas. People who have become specialists or recognized leaders in their respective fields have unique talents and technical knowledge to assess problems and develop solutions to various aspects within the subject area. Individuals who have become specialists or recognized leaders in their respective fields have the technical knowledge to assess problems and develop solutions. This is where the apparatus architect can become an invaluable resource for the fire department. When compared to a building project, we wouldn't consider designing a fire station without retaining the services of an architect. Likewise, the design, construction and acceptance of a new piece of fire apparatus is a complex issue which may be beyond the technical expertise within the fire department.

Carefully evaluating the needs of your community and utilization of some of the previously mentioned outside resources may prove to be invaluable to your fire department.

In the next article we will explore the value of an Apparatus Architect and discuss the makeup of your next Apparatus Purchasing Committee.