Apparatus Architect: Part 21 – Designing Ladder Company Apparatus

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur discuss 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 safer to operate.


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...


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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.

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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.

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