Apparatus Architect: Part 21 – Designing Ladder Company Apparatus

In the September installment of the Apparatus Architect, we discussed some of the concepts surrounding quint apparatus and some of the trade-offs involved with fire pump, water tank and ground ladder complements on new rigs. No matter what type of ladder company rig your department may choose – rear-mount, tractor-drawn, tower ladder or rear-mount tower – there will always be areas where you will have to give up something in order to gain the desired features on the apparatus. As we have mentioned previously, gaining experience in ladder truck design can be a risky and expensive proposition. Following many of the concepts that have been presented in the Apparatus Architect series will serve to improve your opportunities to make the right decisions during the specification and purchasing process.

Photo by Tom Shand
The West Point Fire Department, which protects the U.S. Military Academy, operates this Emergency One 110-foot rear-mount ladder. Note the position of the fire extinguishers and hand tools mounted on the side of the body.

In this article, we will cover tool and equipment layouts on ladder trucks and how you can set up your rig to be more efficient on the fireground while making your truck a safer one to operate from. How much equipment you carry on your new rig will have a lot to do with how effective the ladder company will operate. For example, if you choose not to carry a large-output generator or other portable units on the ladder truck, your nighttime fireground operations will tend to be poorly illuminated and more hazardous for your personnel. Since the ladder company will generally have a position directly in front of the fire building, the truck should be outfitted with a wide array of fixed and portable lighting.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard is a good starting point to determine what equipment your new ladder company should carry. As always, this is a minimum standard and your department should carefully consider your equipment needs before you begin the process to evaluate the size and type of body that will be needed to accommodate all of the truck company tools. Also, keep in mind that the NFPA 1901 standard requires the apparatus manufacturer to allow a minimum equipment payload capacity of 2,500 pounds on all aerial ladder trucks. While generally not a problem on larger tandem-axle units, this minimum weight allowance must be considered when dealing with single-axle ladder trucks, especially quints. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the apparatus and rear axle loads must be evaluated carefully with any quint apparatus where the water tank size and hosebed capacity will often dictate the amount of compartment space for tool and equipment storage.

The apparatus committee should develop an inventory of hand tools, power equipment, portable equipment and other appliances to be carried on the ladder truck, together with the weight of this equipment. This will assist not only the committee, but the prospective bidders as to the requested equipment payload on the completed apparatus. It is not uncommon for ladder trucks to carry upwards of 5,000 pounds of equipment, but the important thing is to determine this equipment inventory early in the specification process. The days of buying a new apparatus, unloading tools and equipment from the old apparatus, pulling it out of the bay, backing the new apparatus into the bay and trying to figure out where all the tools will fit are gone forever. The apparatus and associated compartment space costs too much money for the space to be wasted or for tool placement to be left up to a whim.

Here’s another way to put together the tool inventory: when you are inspecting other department’s rigs, request a copy of their equipment inventory and take photos of each compartment’s tool layout. If a particular compartment layout is noteworthy, jot down the compartment dimensions for future reference. This information will assist you when comparing specifications from several manufacturers.

Photo by Tom Shand
The Waldorf, MD, Fire Department’s Truck 3 carries a wide assortment of fans and power equipment on slide trays. Note the location of the electric cable reel and portable lights at the front portion of the body. The rig also carries five tool boxes for a variety of applications.

When evaluating additional items to be carried, always note the overall dimensions – especially with larger pieces of equipment such as portable generators, fans and hydraulic rescue tools. Not all apparatus builders note the “clear door opening” for each compartment; however, this dimension is critical for any equipment that must fit through the door opening without having to move or relocate other components. Some departments prefer that all tools and equipment be located within the body and protected from the elements. However, many ladder company operations rely on the rapid deployment of personnel and their respective tools on arrival; therefore, you should consider placing items such as a pressurized water extinguisher, six-foot hooks, irons and other forcible entry tools within easy reach of personnel without having to dive into compartments looking for the right tool. Open spaces on bodies and the rear of cab make a great place to safely mount pike poles and roof hooks for rapid deployment. Other portions of the body such as under the turntable on mid-mount aerial units can also be utilized to store and mount equipment. Be careful not to position large items such as ground ladders that would require personnel to climb up on the body to remove.

Electric cable reels should be positioned so as to not obstruct aerial operation at low angles. Mid-mount tower ladders have been damaged when drivers attempted to operate the device below the horizontal only to find that the lower boom comes in contact with the body, so be careful when specifying the height of body compartments relative to the operating envelope of the aerial device.

Adding compartments, equipment storage boxes, fans, generators or electric cord reels to the top of existing compartments causes a drastic reduction of the tower ladder’s “scrub area.” The scrub area is defined as that portion of the building wall that can be touched by the tower ladder basket. Fire departments are spending the better part of three quarters of a million dollars or more for tower ladders. Much of that money is spent to put the aerial device on the chassis and the associated engineering, so why would you limit the use of the aerial device (the main function of this very expensive apparatus) by turning it into a rescue truck?

Photo by Tom Shand
The Waldorf, MD, Fire Department’s Truck 3 carries a wide assortment of fans and power equipment on slide trays. Note the location of the electric cable reel and portable lights at the front portion of the body. The rig also carries five tool boxes for a variety of applications.

Larger pieces of equipment such as positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) fans and portable generators should be carried low inside the body on slide-out trays to make it easier to lift and maneuver the equipment. Smaller forcible entry tools should be mounted individually on walls or pull-out tool boards in the upper portions of the body compartments. Equipment such as stokes baskets, backboards and long-handled tools will require a transverse compartment or a large rear-mounted storage compartment. The frequency of use and department standard operating procedures (SOPs) should govern the location of the equipment on the ladder company. Units that provide rapid intervention team (RIT) operations should have the required tools such as stokes, spare self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), saw, rescue rope and hand tools all located within adjacent compartments.

Adequate fixed and portable 120-volt lighting should be located on both sides of the apparatus body, with one location designated to hold additional short lengths of electric cord, adapters and portable lights. Wherever possible, all tools and equipment should be labeled to let personnel easily identify the location of all gear and readily identify what equipment is missing after taking up from an incident. Small metal or poly tool boxes can be used effectively to accommodate hand tools, overhaul kits, sprinkler kits, utility kits and many other uses.

The space within the body of an aerial device is some of the most expensive real estate you will ever purchase. Careful planning will insure that this compartment space is arranged logically and that the required tools will be there when you need them most.

The next installment of the Apparatus Architect will discuss the advantages of having different types of aerial equipment in your fleet.

Tom Shand is a firefighter with the Newton-Abbott Volunteer Fire Department in the Town of Hamburg, NY, and a senior instructor at the Onondaga County Community College Public Safety Training Center. He is employed by American LaFrance and is assigned to the Hamburg Facility in the apparatus sales department. Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served for the past five years on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He has consulted on a variety of apparatus related issues throughout the country. For further information access his website at