1. #1
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    Question Front-mounted winches

    How about some "informed opinions" on front-mounted winches? We are currently drawing up specifications for a new custom-chassis heavy rescue, and have looked at everything from 7,000 pound electric units to 30,000 pound hydraulics. What have your experiences been? What should we be aware of, or watch out for? I'm certain there are at least a few "winch experts" in the crowd . . . let's hear from you!

    Thanks.

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    I saw several trucks this year that have a 9,000lb class winch on a Class III (?) Receiver plate stored in a compartment. With receiver hitches at the front and rear of the truck so it can be popped in which side is needed.

    Our Service truck has a similiar design, but uses two receiver hitches on the front for a more secure design...one of these days Phase 2 will be completed which is adding the "double receivers" to the rear of the truck. It'll look odd, with a center receiver for trailer work, with two more receivers flanking it about 1' apart that the hitch slides into.

    Although I have seen them used, it's a very rare item for us to actually deploy at an emergency -- maybe twice a decade.

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    Default A good idea . . .

    Thanks Dalmatian90, we have already included those "trailer hitch" type class III mounts in each wheel well area. Very useful for remote-mount portable winches as you mentioned and also for belaying ropes. I was more concerned with the "main unit" hard-mounted in the front bumper pan area. How big is TOO big? Is one make better than another? C'mon folks, I know the knowledge is out there....

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    Thumbs up winches

    When designing our squad last year we went with a 12,000lb. WARN 12V electric winch mounted in the front bumper. This has been plenty big for everything we have used it for. We have a tanker and brush truck that are equipped with 8,000lb. WARN winches in recievers that can be moved from the front of the truck to the back. As far as brands I have worked with both WARN and Ramsey winches they seem to be about a horse apiece. Both work well and have not had any problems with either. Our old brush truck had a PTO winch which would pull like mad, but was overkill for the normal tasks like stabilization and pulling cars out of a garage fire. My vote is to go 12V electric because they are cheaper, easier to use, and are plenty upto the task. Good luck with your new truck.

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    fyreline

    On our heavy rescue we have a 12,000 lb. 12 volt winch on both the front and rear of the vehicle. The winches are manufactured by Ramsey Winch Co. with 125 feet of 3/8" diameter galvanized aircraft cable. Ever since the apparatus was put in service in 1998 they have worked out well and have had no problems with them. We felt they were the most cost efficient for our need.

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    We have a 12,000 lb electric, a nice addition would be an A-frame for a vertical lift. Ours is a front mount, I've seen winches on the back also which seem to add some versatility.

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    We had a 12,000 Warn winch istalled in the front bumper on a Ford Louisville 8000 rescue rig c/w 125 3/8 cable. Pulls great, even sucks ambulances out of the toolies If you want a winch that you can control the speed, a PTO winch is the answer because as you probably know electric winches are more or less one speed usually quite slow compared to a PTO type, which you can speed up with the engine. Warn or Ramsey winches are probably the most common at least they are for what I have used.

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    Fyre... depends on what you want to pull. We have a 12000 Ramsey, the first thing we had to do was replace the cable and hook. The chain dealer basically told us they were garbage. For 150 bucks the new one is much nicer and higher quality. Second is the rating. First thing we purchased were snatch blocks, doubling the cable back allowed us to get a reasonable pull with less draw on the winch. The 12K rating is very limited. A single wrap of cable on the drum and check the owners manual, somewhere in excess of 300 amps draw on your electrical system! We spoke with a rep from either Warn or Ramsey's factory at a show who basically told us that when they test the winches they have to run a hose on them to to keep them cool at higher loads, may want to consider this also. All of this being said, it works well for what we do. Hook it up to stabilize, some light pulling, etc.. Any truly heavy work would get a crane or heavy duty wrecker. PTO would seem to be the only choice for really heavy work.

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    We have a new 12,000lb Ramsey, with a new Ramsey bumper. Looks nice! It has been on for less than a month, and have yet to use it, and hope to keep it that way. For simplicity, and simplicity of maintince, electric would be the way to go. All of the following things apply to both hydraulic and electric. look at the gear drive, which is one of two types (Planetary gear and worm gear) Planetary Gear gives a greater pulling speed and quite operation Worm Gear gives sure breaking, pure brute strength, and easier repairs if necessary. Also to keep in mind that the amount of cable that is pulled out determines your pulling capacity. the more cable you have pulled out, the more pulling power you have, and the less pulled out the less power you will have. Line pull ratings are based on the first layer of cable on the drum (not including the first 5 safety wraps) and each additional layer added to the drum will decrease the line pull capacity of the winch. Check out www.awdirect.com Last i looked they have electric winches up to 12,000lb, and hydraulic only up to 10,000. Hope this helps.
    Last edited by HF&R_H28; 07-13-2002 at 12:52 PM.

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    I would also go,with a 12000# winch, and since this is a heavy squad, I would also agree with the A frame mounting on the front.

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    Before you spec a winch you must ask yourself, what are you going to use it for and does anybody on the dept have rigging experiance?

    If the answer to number 1 is "just in case we need it" you may be wasting a lot of money. How often have you actually used a winch? For me, its been a long time.

    If the answer is "to pull stuck fire trucks out of the bog" then you need to train your drivers not to get stuck and consider the serious damage you can do to a frame yanking on a stuck truck, never mind what will happen to your crew when the pulling hook on the back of that tanker lets fly. Stuck trucks are for big tow trucks, they have much more experiance than we will ever have.

    If you use the big winch for any type of rescue you need to have the experts on your FD who can stand up in court and swear they knew what they were doing when things went wrong, and those people better be running the op, not the white hat who only thinks he or she knows what they are doing.

    This last anwser ties into the second question, does anyone know what they are doing? As our profession changes from seat of the pants to technical expertise we need to cover our butts more and more. If your department is volunteer, as mine is, you probably don't have anyone who's been to a profesional rigging school for heavy wire work. You may have a wrecker driver who knows what they are doing, but will they be able to stand up to a good personal liability lawyer? If you are a pro dept. then maybe you're lucky enough to send a bunch of operators our to some sort of certication class. But lets face it, the class will be expensive and the knowlege seldom used, wouldn't that money be better spent on a get out alive or high angle course? A winch is an extremely powerful device, what looks like a slack wire can have enough tension on it to roll a car over, or if it parts it can decapitate the winch operator.

    Anything which we can/should do with a winch can be done with rope, and there is less danger of either overpowering the rope, or personal injury if the rope fails (versus a truck mounted winch). We should all be trained to a basic level with ropes, which is a lot more than can be said with winches.

    Personally, I'm terrified of the damn things and stand well clear of them when in operation, I've seen several well maintained wires jump a sheave or part and do some major damage in the process. More often than not, even a small winch is more powerful than what it's attach to and can pull off the bumper of the car you're hook to, or uproot that maple tree you're using as a fair-lead. What will happen to your operation if the winch wire holding something (a car) up suddenly goes slack because the anchor point has failed, nevermind if the wire parts.

    I'd dump the winch and stick a set of hydraulic rescue tools on 100' hose reels under the hood and leave the winches to the experts. If the truck has a pump I'd put 200' of preconnect or a suction fitting on the front bumper. Winches are best left to the front bumper of some yahoo's Bronco.

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    Talking Thanks, fellas . . . . .

    Some great responses here . . . THANK YOU to all who took the time to share (and there's still time - don't be shy!). Without giving you guys any background to go on, any and all comments were welcome. Now, here's the deal: This winch is for a municipal fire department (one of the twenty busiest in the nation). We have a tremendous amount of practical experience with both winches (we have had scores of vehicles so equipped) and large A-frame set-ups, both off the front and back of the vehicle. This particular heavy rescue will respond to about 5,000 alarms per year, with a crew of seven men. Their current vehicle is a 1997 E-One tandem-axle rescue with a 28-foot box and an overall length of nearly 41 feet (yes, it's too damn big). The new vehicle will be equipped with the Amkus Ultimate 4-tool system (two each side). They do in fact use the winch, and have had about every type from (as I said) 7,000-pound electrics to 30,000 pound hydraulics. As the Chairman of the Apparatus Advisory Committee, I have spent the last year writing the specifications package for the new unit and I didn't want to let all the knowledge you guys have go to waste. I had already pretty much decided on what I will write into the specs, but I know enough to know that I don't have all the answers. I've done the specs for six 2000 gpm engines with Tele-Squrts, 3 Tower Ladders, and a half-dozen other vehicles over the past five years - about five million dollars worth - and so far everything has been delivered on time and under budget. So, I do know a few things - I just didn't want to overlook anything. Mostly I know I'm grateful for the time you folks took to write, your genuine concern for operational safety (good for you!) and for forums like this that allow us to network with each other. Maybe sometime I can help you.

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    Fyreline,I was wondering if you ever considered recievers on the sides of the rig. They could be used for a portable winch or an eye hook for tie downs. I also was wondering if you are going with a tandem rear again. A FDNY Lt. in my department suggested putting a light between the tandem that shines on the ground next to the rear. When you put the truck in reverse it turns on showing you the pivot point of the truck. It has works very well.

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    Fyreline
    After reading your post I was just curious,what type of winch did you put in the specification and where will it be installed. Also having written specifications for my department I was wondering how you plan to spec-out a shorter vehicle with all the equipment that rescue companies want to carry! What type of body material are you asking for and what manufacturer is the department leaning toward. Good Luck with your choice!

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    Default Some responses . . . .

    XCAPT1, the side-mounted receivers are in the specs. The new unit will be a tandem-axle. Since 1998 all of our apparatus has utilized ZICO "dock lights" angle-mounted in the rear wheel well area for additional revese illumination. Definitely a good idea.

    BCRJP, the current specs call for a 15,000-lb. hydraulic winch mounted in the front bumper pan extension. The new rig will be between three and four feet shorter than the existing unit, and will have an ADDED 100 cubic feet of compartment space (it CAN be done). Body construction will be 100% stainless steel including the substructure.

    As in most cities, our fire apparatus is acquired through the Department of Purchase via competitive bid. Writing specifications that allow only one manufacturer to bid is rarely in the taxpayers' best interest, although getting the "right rig" for our personnel is the highest priority. It isn't impossible to balance the two. In my nearly 30 years we have had apparatus from E-One, Sutphen, Pierce, Seagrave, Saulsbury, KME and others (with two engines currently on order from American LaFrance). Those who say of a particular brand "Those rigs are junk" need to invest more time in their specifications writing. All of the manufacturers know that our specs are thorough, complete, well-researched, and also do-able by any quality apparatus manufacturer. We frequently have as many as eight bidders and so far everything has come in on time, within budget, and (most importantly) satisfactory in use.

    As far as fire apparatus specifications are concerned, the "morals of the story" are really pretty simple:

    1.) DO YOUR HOMEWORK - INVEST THE TIME - GET IT RIGHT. Also remember this isn't your personal vehicle. It may not have everything you want, it may have things you didn't want . . . but you may be wrong, ya know! Keep your eyes on the vehicle mission.
    2.) Don't buy what somebody else buys. You know your district and local conditions, and they don't. What makes sense for the FDNY may fall flat in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.
    3.) Pre-build and factory visits aren't vacation junkets. Get there, get things right, go home. Take only people who can help.
    4.) Try to keep a professional working relationship with ALL the manufacturers. Just because they didn't get the bid this time doesn't mean you'll never have to deal with them again.
    5.) Remember this vehicle may be there long after you're gone. Look at the big picture, look down the road, think ahead.
    6.) If you don't know, ASK. If you think you do know, ASK ANYWAY.

    Again, thanks for your input. Stay safe, brothers.

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    First off I'm not a big fan of electric winches.I prefer PTO or even better hydraulic.Much more up(pulling) time between breaks.How big? How much does your rig weigh?The winch should have at a minimum 50% of that weight in pulling capacity preferably more.Get out of the common misconception that a winch "yanks" on your frame,it DOESN"T!A winch is a leaverage enhancing device that will slowly and steadily load until either the rescue moves,the "target" moves or something breaks,or the winch stalls.Use ONLY TOP GRADE cable,hooks and blocks by a reputable mfg preferably USA.Do not try to save money with offshore items in these catagories,YOU WILL BE SORRY!Next Train specific operators in proper winching procedures,a winch can be a dangerous weapon if you don't know how to do set up.And never use a "stretchy"recovery strap on your winch set up,it can have disasterous results.If you have other questions,E-mail me for answers,I'm being very general here.T.C.

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    One thing to remember with any winch, is if it is on a 4 wheel drive vehicle, take vehicle out of 4wd before using winch. Leaving it in 4 wheel drive will cause the park pin in the transmission to snap. (i was told this by a professional ramsey serviceman)

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    Fire304, I agree with what you had to say about winches being dangerous if used improperly, and like any other piece of equipment we should not be operating them without training. Winching is not rocket science, its simple physics, and when you understand how they work and know the limitations of them their not so scary. A little training tempered with a huge dose of common sense can accomplish a lot. As for tow truck operators being the experts, thats a totaly different topic to discuss

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    Fyreline
    I agree with what you said about spec writing,but found writing the specifications for our rescue much harder then for our engines and ladders. Because of the workload,amount of equipment,and unforgiving street conditions we had to replace our 1990 Freightliner/Emergency One Rescue in only 8 years because of many things you said. It seems that your department is replacing a vehicle that was built in 1997. I feel with specialized apparatus you have to be careful in dealing with too many manufacturers. Just completed the specifications and bid process for a Special Operations Unit,a second piece for the rescue which wanted to carry more equipment,and found that it was better to spend alot of time with three or four manufacturers who really seem to understand then with too many.

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    If the trans. park pin is inclined to snap it will whether you are in 4wd or not.Never seen it happen in over 40 yrs of vehicle tecovery/repair.Of course I wouldn't think of winching on anything without my winch vehicle being "chocked and locked"anyway.If you're going to use a winch,you better get trained or read a good manual on the PROPER use of this POWERFUL TOOL!I use them everyday,Imagine, if you will, a ten wheel drive cement mixer filled with cement being dragged around like a VW beetle all because of a winch.T.C.

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    Default a few more responses . . .

    BCRJP, I know what you mean about writing rescue specs - I thought it would be easier than an engine or tower ladder (hey, it's just a big box, right?). It turned out to be every bit as complicated. The current 1997 E-One rescue is being replaced and moved to reserve status due to ongoing structural problems that have rendered it unreliable. Our bad experience with this vehicle is the reason that the Apparatus Advisory Committee was created, and since then the apparatus have been excellent. The lesson learned was this: The Rescue Company Captains may be terrific firefighters, but they don't know squat about designing a vehicle. That won't happen again. As for your words of caution("I feel with specialized apparatus you have to be careful in dealing with too many manufacturers . . . found that it was better to spend a lot of time with three or four manufacturers who really seem to understand than with too many"). I agree. Remember there is a huge difference between "talking to" and "dealing with". Let me step onto the slippery slope of personal opinion here for a moment and say that I feel Saulsbury builds one of the finest stainless-steel heavy rescues available in the world. We purchased heavy rescues from them in 1976 and 1985 on International Paystar chassis, and were very satisfied with them both (about ten years is the expected life span of our heavy rescues due to the heavy work load and abominable street conditions). While my current heavy rescue specification is not a "Saulsbury Spec", it draws heavily on their experience and methods. Can Marion or SVI or Seagrave or KME or a few others build a rig from these specs? Absolutely. I have "talked to" all of the manufacturers to let them know we will be advertising for bids, far enough in advance that THEY can contact ME if they want to be added to the vendor list. This enables them to ask pertinent questions to determine if they "have a shot" at the bid or not. Some do, some don't, and I give it to them straight. Putting a bid proposal together costs them time and money, and I won't waste theirs or my own. As I stated before, it helps to keep the path of communications open between yourself and ALL of the manufacturers. As volatile as the fire apparatus industry is, the guy you talked to who was selling Brand X today may be selling Brand Y tomorrow, either through re-employment or corporate acquisition. Be smart, make 'em all like you.

    Rescue 101, sounds like you are the winchmeister. Good for you, keep reminding everyone to "get trained or get hurt". It never ceases to amaze me how many departments slap winches on the front of a bunch of vehicles and turn 'em loose with no training and no respect for this powerful - and potentially deadly - tool. Syracuse used to have four-ton winches on the front of all our mini-pumpers (over a dozen of them), and we decided not to have them on the latest versions. Lack of use was one reason, and even though every member received instruction on "The Care & Feeding of Winches" during their initial fire academy training, it was felt that not enough on-going field training was done to ensure proficiency and safety. By the grace of God no one (firefighter or civilian) was ever injured during the years we had all those winches out in the field. The answer is easy:
    Training, training, training. Drill like you work. Drill as if your life depended on it. It may.

    The topic of "hiring out" your winch, boom or crane work to a private company is a whole other topic. I've dealt with wrecking companies that sent a professional, knowledgeable technician driving a quarter-million-dollar rolling workshop complete with helpers. He turned out to be a wizard that could lift, roll or recover anything from anywhere. I've also had to deal with Billy Bob's Towing, Storm Window and Screen Repair who showed up in a clapped-out'74 F-150 pickup with a home-made welded-up boom in the bed, complete with flea-infested dog, a crying baby, and his wife with a black eye ridin' shotgun. Oh, swell. I would say that it pays to get the business card of the first guy, and get the license number of the second. In most cases, our winches and booms are to stabilize a vehicle in a precarious position while we rescue the occupants. Time is the factor here, but don't compromise your own safety or that of your crew. A four-ton winch won't safely stabilize a loaded 18-wheeler hanging off an overpass. Common sense (which is nowhere near as common as you would think!) needs to kick in. Before you engage the winch, engage your brain. What am I trying to accomplish here? Is it safe? Is it necessary? Lots to think about, and not much time to do it.

    Welcome to the fire service!

    This has been a very enlightening topic. Thanks again all, keep your comments coming.

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    Fyreline
    Really enjoyed discussing this post with you. I have to say I agree with everything you said about talking to all manufacturers. The most important item I found is writing your own specifications during the process of talking with different manufacturers. Found the problem with some is that they want to tell you what you need and not listen to what you want,especially if they were able to deal like that with the department before. I felt that was one of the biggest assets in talking with Saulsbury. Saw your Rescue during one of our inspection trips and was told that most were not happy with the switch from Saulsbury to E-One. Have alot more I would like to discuss with you,maybe we can hook-up together sometime.

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    LT13, you're right, with proper training a winch is a great tool, but like everything else we have to deal with, a little information can be dangerous.

    Allow me to correct myself, I respect winches and have used them often in the past (in my "real" career). I have seen close calls, luckily none involving injury. Usually the cause was momentary operator inattention, occationally operator error, and more than once, gear failure. In every case those around the incident were standing out of the danger zones avoiding injury.

    My "fear" is from the knowlege that not everyone on the scene knows the limits of a winch or where not to stand. We see this with experianced FF'rs using hydraulic rescue tools standing between the tool and the car, and they should know better. I fear the potential for grave bodily harm to those who do not recognize the power and built in hazards of winching, including many people who would describe themselves as "experianced."

    Most volunteers do not have the pleasure of spending dozens of hours each week drilling, knowing that all hands have a certian level of knowlege. This is a problem of every volunteer unit. I am glad to hear that this thread was started by a pro and his crew will drill as a team and know their own limitations as well as that of the machinery.

    I do still, however, feel that, as often as we ue them, the majority of volunteer units should not get into the business of winching. I also reitterate my belief that there is nothing we can do with a winch that cannot be done more safely with rope and/or cribbing. The only thing a winch will get you is speed, a great asset with proper training, but without that training it can rush you into trouble.

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    Fire304,I'm going to take you to task on this one.You speak of using rope.Well, rope with associated accessories can be every bit as dangerous as a winch.A winch is fast?Not in my world and if I'm stabilising a farm tractor or anything over a VW in weight I prefer a US wire to anyones rope.Personal preference of course but in the world of machinery rescue you many times have raw or sharp edges,fatal to a rope,but not to a wire rope.I think too many times we try to over do the liability issues,if we let that become the DRIVING force in our programs,we will never be effective on the street.I have 8 dept. members I will use rigging at a scene,I always recheck each connection before pulling.I don't believe that for the AVERAGE FD winching operation(ie stabilization)you need to be terribly concerned with breakage or life safety,you're merely tensioning a holder to prevent further movement.Just my 2.5 bits.T.C.

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    Unhappy easy does it . . .

    While it was certainly not my intention to start a topic about hauling, stabilization techniques and training (or lack thereof), I think it can be useful to discuss these things. There is definitely still a place for ropes, and yes, winches (and anything else mechanical) can be dangerous and should never be used by untrained personnel. Adequate size-up, purchase points, physics and a good dose of common sense - which ain't as common as you would think - will go a long way towards ensuring a safe and successful operation. As I said before, the best tool a firefighter has is his brain. Like any good tool, keep it sharp and protect it (wear your helmet . . . and the rest of your gear, too!). UNLIKE other tools, don't put it away when you're done with it. I've seen too many rescuers injured AFTER the rescue, while picking up. I appreciate all the input from concerned individuals, that's how these forums are supposed to work.

    As a kind of postscript, the final specifications package for our new heavy rescue is now complete. Our winch decision is a 12,000-lb. hydraulic DP winch. Yes, it is much more expensive than an electric winch, but after field trials of both types (and several sizes), there is just no comparison. Larger capacity winches (some MUCH larger) were considered, but ultimately decided against. Again, thanks for your participation. You DID help.

    Captain Dave Reeves
    Syracuse Fire Department

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