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Many fire departments are struggling with reduced budgets, including little or no funding for capital projects. Fire station repairs and apparatus maintenance and testing are often being deferred with resulting higher costs to the community when equipment fails to perform.
The end result is that we must be in a position to justify the expenses involved with apparatus and equipment maintenance as well as having a documented fleet-replacement program for all units.
The fleet-replacement plan should encompass a number of criteria, including initial acquisition cost, preventative maintenance, fuel and insurance costs, mileage, age and condition of the apparatus as well as suitability for use to meet the current deployment strategies of the department. Community demographics, types of incident responses, staffing levels and training all impact the type, size and functional capabilities on our apparatus. Putting all of the tools in one toolbox may not necessarily be the optimal strategy to deliver fire and emergency services.
The “what-if” factor
Over the past few years, we have observed a number of fire departments that have designed engine apparatus with every conceivable option under the “what-if” premise that this could be the only unit to arrive at the incident scene. This type of apparatus, in addition to being super sized with respect of overall length, will carry a minimum of a 1,000-gallon water tank, a 2,000-gpm fire pump, hydraulic rescue tools, a large-capacity generator with a light tower and a full complement of technical rescue gear.
While not discounting the value of this equipment, every engine company in your community does not need to be a quint version of a pumper. Special-service apparatus has a purpose in every fire department and, properly designed, can meet the needs of most fire and emergency departments without spending more than $600,000 for a multi-purpose, all-hazards pumper. The “what-if” can be an intimidating factor for the apparatus committee and can cause it to up size everything on the apparatus so no one can ever come back and say why didn’t you get the biggest pump, tank, etc., even though in the first-due area never was there a situation that would have dictated such a purchase.
Define your mission
So how do you determine exactly what the appropriate type of engine apparatus that you need for your department? As we have mentioned several times in The Apparatus Architect series, the organization must clearly define the mission of the vehicle. Your department’s current apparatus, staffing levels and training can provide valuable information on the appropriate size, minimum fire pump and water tank capacities based on the hazards in your response area. There is nothing inherently wrong with combination apparatus such as rescue-engines or engine-tanker units; however; it is critical to avoid the pitfalls that make these vehicles expensive to operate and maintain.
During a recent visit to a fire department operating with 10 pieces of apparatus from several stations, it was observed that while the fleet was impressive with newer units, the size and complexity of several vehicles had a detrimental impact on department operations. One unit in particular, an engine-tanker apparatus, had only seven qualified drivers with no one from the outlying rural station capable of operating the apparatus. Due to the myriad components and systems on the apparatus, the annual maintenance costs were excessive for a unit that saw limited front-line service.
Once the mission of the apparatus is defined, establishing the maximum dimensions of the vehicle, including the overall length and height, wheelbase and turning radius, will provide an outline profile for the vehicle.