The Apparatus Architect: Part 11

In the last installment of the Apparatus Architect (July 2002) we discussed the importance of proper pump panel design and layout. This area, set aside for the plumbing and instrumentation of the apparatus, has a large impact on the ability of the engine company chauffeur to insure a continuous and reliable supply of water on the fireground. Careful consideration of the pump panel layout during the design process will improve the overall operation and performance for the engine company crew, as well as enhance safety for all personnel.

With this article we will review some of the considerations when designing the body compartments and storage areas on the pumper. If you were to evaluate the relative cost of the enclosed compartments on a pumper, it would become apparent that this area is some of the most expensive real estate that you can purchase. A fairly standard Class A pumper produced on a custom chassis can easily cost $350,000 to $375,000.

For the past several years, the fire apparatus industry has experienced cost increases that follow the normal pace of inflation. With these thoughts in mind, it is important that we engineer and plan out what tool and equipment space will be required for the compartments, as well as laying out the proper space for our attack and supply lines on the apparatus.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 standard requires a minimum of 40 cubic feet of enclosed compartment space and 30 cubic feet of storage space for supply line on a pumper. In addition, the apparatus must have sufficient axle and carrying capacity for 2,000 pounds of equipment plus the required hose load specified by the fire department.

Let's suppose that your fire department is designing a rescue engine that is going to replace an older pumper and small rescue truck. Your apparatus committee must carefully evaluate your anticipated equipment storage requirements for the new apparatus. This should include the development of the proposed equipment inventory, which will detail the equipment size and weight. Gathering this information will assist the committee in guiding them through the design of the body compartments.

Due to the high cost, per square foot, of compartment space and the limited amount of compartment space, the days of unloading equipment off the old apparatus, then backing in the new apparatus and trying to figure which tools and equipment will fit where are gone forever. The apparatus committee should have a good idea of which tools are going to go into which compartments before construction of the vehicle begins.

Just about every apparatus builder produces some type of program pumper that is designed to meet the needs of some fire departments. Believe it or not, not all of these units meet the NFPA standards and some of these pumpers may not meet your department's needs as well. A famous East Coast clothing outfitter developed the company slogan, "An educated consumer is our best customer." Nothing could be more true in this case.

The apparatus that appears to be a bargain with a low purchase price with some of the features that your apparatus committee was considering may not be a bargain at all if it does not meet all of the needs of your department and the community you serve. Furthermore, the bargain you get today could be a maintenance nightmare tomorrow. For example, if your equipment inventory suggests that you will require a 4,000-pound payload on your new apparatus, then specify the appropriate components to carry this intended load. Overloaded fire apparatus is more common than you may think and can often be the cause of poorly performing or accident-prone units, as well as being just plain unsafe.

Can fire apparatus be NFPA compliant and still be unsafe? The answer is yes. Fire apparatus are built every day in this country that are unsafe, don't work very well, are user unfriendly and still NFPA compliant. NFPA 1901 is a minimum standard and apparatus committees should look to enhance those requirements whenever possible.

Apparatus bodies can be produced of galvanneal steel, aluminum or stainless steel. Each apparatus manufacturer has its preferences and styles of construction which will be reflected in the specifications that it employs to build the apparatus. The committee should look at the life expectancy of the apparatus as well as some of the findings that were revealed when gathering technical information on the apparatus (See "The Apparatus Architect: Part 3 - Gathering Technical Information," November 2000).

Each type of body material has advantages and depending upon the factors that are important to the committee there should develop a clear choice as to which material should be used in the construction of your new pumper. The apparatus manufacturer will attempt to convince the committee that its style of construction is the best and will embellish its presentation with lengthy warranties and other assurances that its unit is "the best money can buy." Here is where the educated consumer can differentiate between fact and fiction, or with the assistance of an apparatus architect insure that the proper materials are specified and used in the construction of the new unit.

If your department has adopted a standard design for engine company apparatus, then the process of purchasing a new pumper will be easier. Large departments like FDNY and Los Angeles City have acquired pumpers for many years with standard compartment designs with enhancements in each model year of apparatus. However, many departments do not have this degree of standardization and will approach each new pumper with a new design. At this point, it could be beneficial to join with neighboring departments, standardize basic apparatus design and order multiple apparatus.

The reason for having the apparatus committee formulate an equipment list is to conceptualize the size of the body needed to carry this equipment. Most manufacturers offer pumper and rescue engine bodies in various configurations and sizes. If two different apparatus manufacturers offer identical body dimensions, this is a coincidence and not by design. The apparatus committee should determine the minimum compartment sizes and cubic foot storage capacity that will be needed to hold the department's equipment. You can go back and measure the compartments on your last pumper to get a basis for comparison as well as calculate the enclosed storage space on new apparatus that you have looked at.

Remember, bigger is not always better when it comes to physical size of the apparatus. As the body compartments and water tanks get larger, one or two things happen: the rig gets taller or longer, or both. This impacts the working height of the rear hosebed, access to ground ladders, overall vehicle safety and other equipment that may be stored over the pump area.

One of the most important aspects of body design is the useable depth of the compartments with the doors closed. Manufacturers will advertise certain dimensions in their specifications for compartment depths, but many times this will be the overall depth of the compartment and not the useable depth for storage of equipment. The thickness of the door, whether hinged or roll up, and intrusion of door hardware will affect the useable depth of the compartment. Why would you spend thousands of dollars per square foot on compartment space only to fill the top half of the top compartment with the roll-up door?

Equipment layout inside of the compartments is not difficult; however, if you wait until the apparatus backs into the door to decide what is going to fit where, it's too late in the process to change the body. Any change that you make now will be costly and you will be forced to live with the results for the life of the apparatus.

Certain equipment items such as one-hour self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles, rotary saws and long hand tools may not fit in standard body compartments and special mounting arrangements may have to be considered. In addition, if the engine company carries special fittings and adapters, these will need to be made readily accessible for immediate use. All of these concerns need to be addressed in the design phase of the apparatus when changes can be made at little or no cost.

The apparatus body should be protected by a heavy-duty rub rail that runs the entire length of the body. This rub rail should be the widest point of the body and extend beyond the fenders and exterior compartment hardware. Rub rails that look great and are highly polished often do not do the job they were intended for and offer little protection to the side of the apparatus body. The rub rail should be spaced away from the body and of a substantial design to protect the body.

Most engine companies are fortunate to be staffed with four personnel to perform all of the required evolutions. The efficient layout of tools and equipment will allow fire personnel to perform their job functions with improved efficiency and increased safety. The number-one goal for all of our operations should be to bring our personnel home, back to the station safely and without harm.

In the next installment of "The Apparatus Architect" we will discuss the business end of the pumper, the supply line and attack line beds, and what can be done to enhance these areas of the engine company.


Tom Shand, a Firehouse

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