I would like information on the pro's and con's of commercial versus custom fire apparatus. Any information including personal experiences or opinions may be helpful. In my experience, or I should say, what I have been told by many apparatus manufacturers, is that the only positive point to a commercial truck is the lower initial purchase price while the custom offers many other benefits. I am a proponent of the custom fire apparatus and need to convince my city council of the benefits of this equipment. Adversarial comments are also welcome.Especially helpful would be comments from dept.s who went to commercial trucks and were disappointed or not pleased with their performance. Any help in this matter will be greatly appreciated.
[This message has been edited by dmjones (edited March 27, 1999).]
[This message has been edited by dmjones (edited March 27, 1999).]
[This message has been edited by dmjones (edited March 29, 1999).]
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03-27-1999, 06:17 PM #1dmjonesFirehouse.com Guest
Custom versus Commercial Fire Apparatus
03-28-1999, 10:10 AM #2Captain HickmanFirehouse.com Guest
We like many department sometimes are faced with the high cost of apparatus and equipment. We don't have any money trees growing in our district and have to do the best we can with what we can afford. For years and still today we purchase commercial equipment. But I sometimes have to admit that we in the fire service push commercial to the limit. Usually overloading the frames and suppensions. We sometimes also trust the apparatus manufactures to much also. They say 'We can do that' to much. Then after we take delivery of the rig, we weigh the thing and find that we are within 400 pounds of the GVW on the rig. It's important to do your homework when specs are written. Get what you want, but plan on paying for it. Either pay for the important things: frame, suppension, axles, tires, and body, up front and get a long life out or it or replace it in 5 years after it starts falling apart. I use to think commercial was the way to go, but I sometimes lean toward custom.
03-29-1999, 03:02 PM #3STA2Firehouse.com Guest
About 4 yrs ago my dept. looked into the feasability of commercial chassis for our engine co. apparatus. I spoke with 4 medium to large cities about there experiences with them and the pros and cons of them in use. Fort Worth, Colombus, Oh., Phoenix and LA County all were asked about there experiences. At the time Colombus had the most in service of the four (4) dept.'s. The pros of the commercial chassis were as follows: Lower initial cost, NFPA compliancy, and overall inservice time due to ease of parts access. The cons were as follows: Tight crew area, diminished engine size and HP, harder entry and exit from cab, more limited GVWR, more limited options (engines and transmissions at the time), turning radius and longevity. Fort Worth has continued to buy commercial and it seems to work for them as does Colombus. You have got to know what you need and what you expect the rig to do and over what time frame. Each dept. is different as you know and that matters as some cities are more financially able to rotate apparatus with new ones.
In my own volunteer dept. we explored the avenue of commercial for our last two twin rescue pumpers and found similarities with the above mentioned thoughts. Our concern was tank size limitations b/c of GVWR and longevity of both the chassis and ability to supply the electronic components over time. My volunteer dept. like Capt. Hickman said does not have money trees in territory. We wanted the most bang for the buck and over our expected 15 yr service life we felt that custom chassis were the way to go. As I mentioned before over time the efficiency of the engine diminishes. It will no longer put out the same HP as when it was new. At the same time the electrical draw of all on-board systems stays constant as does the pump needs. That means that with limited engine options that most of the time you have less room to spare and over time that margin decreases. If you plan on replacing the chassis every 6 yrs, depending on service, then it might work out. But you replace a commercial chassis once with another one and you have come close to meeting the initial cost of the custom to begin with. Suspension systems and frame strength are also concerns b/c of them not being Fire Service products exclusively. These same commercial chassis are also on beverage trucks, water trucks, delivery trucks and the like. Our use and yours require going from shut down in the station to emergency responses back to back on roads that are not the best and then pumping for 4 or 5 hours then doing it again. This is just some info to think about. Any questions please E-Mail me. Stay safe.
Another thought before I go. When it comes to commercial chassis we speak of, don't disregard them entirely as alot of dept. use them for rescue co. rigs and special service rigs were they work great. Also the mentioned electrical concerns can be handled with a PTO generator that relieves the load on the alternator and batteries when engaged.
03-29-1999, 08:49 PM #4dmjonesFirehouse.com Guest
Captain Hickman and STA2,
Thank you both for your reply. Believe it or not , money really should not be the biggest problem in our apparatus purchase. Our Dept. has about $300,000 we received from a county fire tax that we could use toward the purchase of a new truck that has nothing to do with our city's budget. For some reason our council does not want to see us spend this money on a custom apparatus. My biggest concern is to see that we get a truck that will fit our needs. We typically keep a pumper in service for 20 years as a front line pumper and shift it to reserve when it is replaced. From what I have heard a commercial truck doesn't have that kind of service life. Some of the other benefits of custom apparatus include heavier frame rails and suspensions due to the fact that fire apparatus are fully load 95% of the time, better maneuverability due to shorter wheelbase and better cramp angles, more HP options, better visibility in front of vehicle, and probably most importantly is that they are designed and built from the ground up to be a fire apparatus not a delivery truck. I know some of these have already been mentioned, but if anyone can think of some others please let me know. I can not for the life of me figure out why politicians feel that they are better qualified to spec out a truck than the men who use them. Anyway, if anyone else has any comments on this subject I would be very interested in reading them.
04-22-1999, 11:45 AM #5Drive P17BFirehouse.com Guest
Maybe if you took one of the council members with alot of pull or the mayor and gave him some hands on experience then he would see the light. I am sure the manufacturer would help with a demo of each type of apparatus
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