The Apparatus Architect: Part 3 - Gathering Technical Information

Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur discuss how an apparatus committee should gather information and specifications for new apparatus.


Now that your apparatus committee has been formed and you have begun the task of determining what type of equipment is required, you now should begin the task of gathering technical information from a variety of resources to expand your knowledge in the critical areas that will impact the design...


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Now that your apparatus committee has been formed and you have begun the task of determining what type of equipment is required, you now should begin the task of gathering technical information from a variety of resources to expand your knowledge in the critical areas that will impact the design of the apparatus.

If you have followed some of the concepts that were mentioned in Part 1 of this series, you already have an idea as to where the committee should begin. While there is no right or wrong way to begin this part of the process, it is important that all members of the committee understand the importance of gathering this information and participate in the process.

Many apparatus committees do not even know what kind of truck they want or, more importantly, what the departments really needs - i.e., a pumper, tanker, pumper-tanker or a specialized combination unit. In some instances, the well-meaning but uneducated apparatus committee takes over and ends up with a pumper-tanker-aerial-rescue truck all rolled into one unit. This apparatus has a little bit of everything, but from a functional standpoint is not very good at anything. For many individuals this is the fun part of the process as the group will have the opportunity to travel to observe newer units, visit and participate in trade shows and interview manufacturers representatives about their products.

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Photo by Tom Shand
In simpler times, apparatus pump panels were generally standard and there were not many variations. Fire departments had to purchase what was available for the most part, be happy with it and make it work.

Each of these areas will require careful research and you need to have your questions prepared, to enable you and the committee members to obtain the necessary information for the group. Let's look at each of these areas to see where the time you spend to evaluate these components will be of benefit to the department.

Fire equipment trade shows are scheduled at various points around the country during the course of the year. Traditionally, the first few shows each year are when the apparatus manufacturers and the component suppliers unveil their latest equipment and innovations. Apparatus builders, in particular, will try to show newly delivered units, some of which may be fully outfitted with hose and equipment. This can be particularly valuable when designing a rescue-engine or heavy squad as your committee can look at what other fire departments have designed to meet their needs.

When attending a show, it is helpful to bring along a 35mm or digital camera to enable you to photograph the significant compartment layouts and designs that you wish to record. At some of the larger shows there may be representatives from the fire department displaying their unit with their apparatus. This will provide your committee with a unique opportunity to ask the fire department about the apparatus and get some direct feedback about the effectiveness of their design.

Trade shows offer an excellent opportunity to talk with the various apparatus manufacturers, including some of their engineers who design the equipment. Manufacturers will often have their senior managers and engineers staff the displays at trade shows to handle customer questions and service issues on a personal basis. Many manufacturers of components such as fire pumps, valves, warning devices, generators and foam systems will display their hardware; this is a significant opportunity to interview these people to discuss their products and how they may be integrated into a piece of apparatus for your department.

Viewing apparatus at trade shows does, however, have a few drawbacks. First, most apparatus manufacturers tend to show more complex units with numerous options that will show their overall capabilities. These larger units, while impressive, may not be exactly what your department is looking for, but they will generate some conversations over the relative merits of some components. Second, the trade shows are not the place to price compare among manufacturers. Advertised or quoted prices are relatively meaningless, as it is unlikely that your department will specify a unit identical to one being displayed by the manufacturer.

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