Ballam: Spending Quality Time in Fire Apparatus Cabs

The best way to get a feel of the different options and features of custom fire apparatus cabs is to get inside and check them out.


I spent some quality time sitting in apparatus cabs recently. I sat in cabs from at least six different manufacturers, not bothered by anybody, completely anonymous.

I was at the New England Association of Fire Chiefs’ Expo in Springfield, Mass., a show over 150 miles from my home, but the closest one that’s large enough to attract major apparatus manufacturers.

As you’ve read in past blogs, my fire department is in the early stages of looking for a new pumper. We’ve only had a couple of meetings, so we're not far into the process, but we’re looking.

Let me explain why I was thrilled to have a few moments of quiet time in the cabs. Usually when I go to large shows, like Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, which is coming up in a few weeks, or Firehouse World in San Diego in February (a great place to be at that time of the year by the way), and others, I know people who want to show me the latest feature they’ve welded on, bolted on, molded on, or in general just improved. That’s fine, it’s my job and don’t we all enjoy seeing and learning about new things?

This was different though, I had my fire department t-shirt on, a pair of blue jeans, no business cards, no notebooks, no cameras, other than my cellphone – just me.

I wanted to look at things like visibility, layout, space, dog house height and general comfort. I climbed into each cab as a customer with a critical eye, exactly what the vendors want to you to do. I even closed the doors behind me to get a feel for spatial design.

It was amazing what I learned.

While I won’t give you a Consumers’ Report kind of recommendation, I can tell you things to look for that might help you pick the kind of cab you want. Spend some quality time in the front and back and see for yourself what each manufacturer offers and determine what you like and what you don’t like. Trust me, after years of going to fire trade shows, one of the only ways to get that kind of hands-on, experiential information is to go to a show. I can think of no other place, except maybe a parade, where you could find such a wide variety of apparatus – and a parade isn’t the best place to ask people to sit in their apparatus, especially for any length of time.

Let me say up front, we’re in the market for a custom cab and chassis, so I didn’t hop into any commercial cabs and chassis – there’s only a handful of those anyway, and, come to think of it, there’s only a couple of handfuls of custom cabs and chassis from different manufacturer. So, my observations are limited to custom cabs.

Approaching the cabs, I was struck by the different treatments manufacturers had for access. Height of the first step is the first notable difference one might consider. Handrails, tread depth, riser height and general accessibility issues should be considered. Keep in mind I was in jeans and t-shirt which makes accessibility easier than being in bunker pants and a coat.

While they were all within a range, a couple were lower than others, and a few where higher. And what a difference four inches can make when climbing up into the cab. Points to grab should be intuitive – when you reach up grab something, the thing you’re supposed to grab on ought to be right there. It’s one thing to be compliant with grab rails and just stick them anywhere, it’s quite another thing to be ergonomically designed to be right where your hand and body wants to be at all times.

There were a few manufacturers that did and some that didn’t and I’m not going to tell you who because it’s subjective and my opinion. I will say, to pay attention to that kind of detail, it will pay off in the long run. I am what you might call a big guy with short legs, so the height of that first step makes a big difference to me.

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