1. #1
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    Firefighter430's Avatar
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    Jul 1999
    Virgilina, VA USA

    Default Fire Truck Construction Steel v/s Aluminum

    Steel v/s Aluminum v/s Stainless v/s Poly for Fire Truck Construction

    Over the past few months I have been investigating replacing one of our trucks with a new unit. For a little background the department is looking at replacing a midi-pumper with a flatbed or mini-pumper type truck. The question that keeps popping up is the material for the fire body. We have always had steel body trucks but there are other options that include aluminum, stainless steel, and poly material. Just wondering about what works out there. I know some of the advantages and disadvantages of most of these materials but do you have more. Any input would be appreciated.

    Steel-advantage is strength, lower cost, ease of fabrication
    Disadvantages are corrosion, weight

    Stainless Steel- Advantages are strength, corrosion resistant,
    Disadvantages are weight, high cost, slightly harder to fabricate

    Aluminum-Advantages are corrosion resistant, good strength to weight ratio, lightweight, ease of fabrication
    Disadvantages are may be prone to stress failure (I wonder what the statistics are on this and if it really is an issue in fire bodies?), have heard some departments with older aluminum trucks complain about paint issues with the aluminum, cost falls between steel and stainless.

    Poly-Advantages are lightweight construction, ease of construction, no corrosion problems, impact resistant to resist damage caused by minor fender benders etc.
    Disadvantages are stigma related to having a “plastic” fire truck, lack of long term service record to show how well they hold up OVER LETS SAY A 20 YEAR LIFE SPAN.

    (I really don’t have enough information or knowledge about poly to really discuss it intelligently so I listed things I have heard, some of these are “around the firehouse” conversations so take them as that.)

    I know that some manufacturers specialize in fabricating fire bodies from different materials and some offer various materials as alternates but I really don’t want to get in a “this manufacturer is better” contest. I would just like to see what’s working and what’s not working with your fire truck construction. Our problem with the steel construction is corrosion and that’s not that big of a problem. We try to keep the compartments dry and keep water from pooling up anywhere in or on the body and that helps. The biggest advantage I see with aluminum is the weight savings and the corrosion resistance. As I stated above our hope when buying a truck is a 15-20 year service life with maintenance and equipment updates being performed as needed, so longevity is very important. We have had a very good record in doing this with the past trucks
    Last edited by Firefighter430; 11-06-2002 at 01:16 PM.
    "Illegitimis non carborundum."

    - Gen. Joseph Stilwell
    (Lat., "Don't let the *~#%&S grind you down.")

  2. #2
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    Bones42's Avatar
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    Mar 2001
    Pt. Beach, NJ


    We have 2 aluminum trucks, a 91 and a 95. We are 1/4 mile from the ocean so salt air/water corrosion was a big problem for us before. With the aluminum, it will pit if not taken care of, but it won't rust and fall apart like our old steel trucks did.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

  3. #3
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    EastKyFF's Avatar
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    Feb 2001
    Nippa, KY


    We have an '87 mini of aluminum, no rust, no problems. Looks great.
    “I am more than just a serious basketball fan. I am a life-long addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky.”
    ― Hunter S. Thompson

  4. #4
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    Fire304's Avatar
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    Jun 2002
    At the Helm


    Aluminum is nice, less weight=carry more water. I've no experiance with poly, but since I do with glass. Alum can have stress problems, but these are usually related to design, in other words, you can avoid having serious stress problems by buying an aluminum body from a designer/builder with a track record, who is willing to back up the design. But in a small truck you should not have any real problems, and even if you do, aluminum is fairly easy to repair (although not as easy as steel). I drive an oil truck in the winter, two of my trucks are aluminum, one is steel. The steel one has rot issues and I worry about inside-out corrosion (you don't see it until it breaks through). The aluminum tanks have stress cracks, especially where the tank meets the body, but they are repaired once a year and there is no problems with them, we just keep an eye on them. Fiberglass can also have stress problems and is extremely expensive to repair, often putting the unit out of service for a week or more as the glass needs time to cure. Painting aluminum is difficult, requiring meticulous attention to detail in the process, but why do it? Bare alum looks good, you acid wash it every few months.

    My vote would be for a simple commercial aluminum "tool box" design with a skid mount in the bed. It'll keep your weight down, which is very important in a mini, its low maintenance, and readily available.

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