The Apparatus Architect: Part 1

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur introduce a series of articles that will enhance a fire department's ability to obtain properly designed and functional apparatus.


In addition, there are other resources for technical data that can be helpful during the design phase. Contained in the appendix of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard on Fire Apparatus is a questionnaire that takes you through questions that will prompt discussions in areas that may 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 hosebed because this was not sufficiently detailed in their specifications. Doing your homework up front 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.

Another pitfall is "incremental purchasing" - for example, the last pumper acquired was a 1,250-gpm unit, so the new one must be at least of 1,500-gpm capacity; the last unit was equipped with a 750-gallon water tank with a 400-hp diesel engine with seats for eight firefighters, so the new engine must be equipped with a 1,000-gallon water tank, 500-hp engine that seats 10!

While apparatus has become more multi-functional over the past decade, units have also become bigger to the point that 220-inch wheelbase/34-foot-long pumpers are becoming commonplace. Along with the larger apparatus comes a training issue - just how well can your drivers handle and maneuver these rigs around in your response area? 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 than that older pumper built on the 180-inch wheelbase and weighing less than 31,000 pounds.

An approach embraced by some departments is to tap the knowledge of individuals who possess an intimate technical knowledge of fire apparatus, but who are not directly associated with a 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. A "reasonable price" may not necessarily be the lowest price. Think of the adage "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." The several thousand dollars that the department can save by accepting the low bid could cost much more over the life of the apparatus.

Fire departments have long recognized the importance of training in the development and maintenance of members' technical skills. With the advent of hazardous materials, high-angle rescue, collapse rescue and weapons of mass destruction training, it becomes apparent that no individual can possess all of the required skills to be proficient in all of these areas. People who have become specialists or recognized leaders in their fields have the technical knowledge to assess problems and develop solutions.

This is where the apparatus architect can become an invaluable resource. We wouldn't consider designing a fire station without services of an architect. Likewise, the design, construction and acceptance of a new piece of fire apparatus is a complex process that may be beyond the technical expertise of a fire department's membership. Carefully evaluating the needs of your community and using of some of the previously mentioned outside resources may prove to be invaluable.

Our next article will explore the value of an apparatus architect and the makeup of an apparatus purchasing committee.


Tom Shand is a firefighter with the Onondaga Hill Volunteer Fire Department in Syracuse, NY, and a senior instructor at the Onondaga County Fire Rescue Institute. He is employed by American LaFrance and is assigned to the company's Hamburg Facility in the apparatus sales department. Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse