Chassis Update

Firehouse® Magazine asked manufacturers of fire apparatus chassis to describe for our readers the latest developments in the industry. The following reports were provided by the manufacturers.

American LaFrance Freightliner

Photo by Firehouse Staff
American LaFrance Freightliner

The new American LaFrance Eagle is a worthy heir apparent to the 162-year-old American LaFrance heritage of classic styling, innovation and superb quality. Its development combined the world-class resources of Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz to ensure that this chassis would represent the apex of fire apparatus performance. Just look at the flowing lines, the bright metal and the luster of the paint. Notice the outstanding fit-and-finish, starting with the smooth closing, tight-fitting doors the result of a highly tooled cab structure incorporating modern design and manufacturing techniques, many pioneered by Freightliner.

The wide offset steps and wide opening doors of our refined entry system lead to one of the most spacious interiors ever designed for custom fire trucks. The driver commands superb visibility, thanks in part to one of the lowest doghouses in the industry. Beautifully organized gauges and a unique Officer Information Display put all the right information right before your eyes.

With four cab configurations (134-inch and 148-inch CBC in flat or raised roof models) and a huge array of seating and other interior options to choose from, the Eagle's interior can be perfectly tuned to your needs.

No one works more closely with body builders to streamline and simplify the body installation process. From our own factory-installed single- and two-stage midship pumps to customized component placement, you'll benefit from less need for rework and no compromise to vehicle integrity.

Finally, American LaFrance Eagle owners can take full advantage of Freightliner's unequalled commitment to total customer support from 24-hour-a-day corporate and dealer operations to leading-edge systems and software that benefits every phase of ownership from chassis specification to service.

HME Inc.

If your fire or emergency service operation is looking for a vehicle with multiple or special response capability, would you be interested in a performance-oriented, custom chassis to put under that unit?

Photo by Firehouse Staff
HME Inc.

Say you want a rescue or squad unit, a type II or III ambulance, a utility command unit, a brush/wildland fire attacker or a first-response vehicle with rescue, water tank and pump capability as well. Would an affordable, lightweight, custom chassis be of interest?

Would you prefer to purchase a custom chassis, built by a well-known fire apparatus manufacturer with over 75 years of experience, rather than a standard commercial chassis on which to build your unit?

And wouldn't it really get your attention if the custom chassis cost less than a mass-produced, commercial chassis?

Well, meet the latest chassis from HME, the SFO Lite. Along with a host of quality features, the SFO Lite boasts the brand-new ISB 275 Cummins dedicated fire apparatus engine as standard. Package it all at a base price under $68,500 and you'll be certain to get a lot of attention for this custom truck.

The heritage of this new vehicle is HME's successful SFO custom fire apparatus chassis. The SFO, which stands for Short-Front-Overhang, is the only chassis that offers 45-degree angle of front wheel cramp. This advanced steering design makes SFO the shortest turning radius vehicle among comparable length fire apparatus.

With the introduction of the SFO Lite, HME Inc. expands on these exciting features to create a dependable, lightweight chassis specifically designed for other types of emergency response vehicles.

The SFO Lite can accommodate a variety of bodies and configurations. With a 31,000 Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, the SFO Lite is remarkably strong and versatile.

By using lighter-weight frame rails, and through removal of extra-heavy-duty suspension components, HME engineers were able to create a chassis that is adaptable and efficient. Yet they retained engineering specifications, design and componentry that the fire and emergency service demands of rapid response vehicles that get repeated use.

Power for the SFO Lite comes from the all new, fire and emergency service specific Cummins ISB 275 engine. This new engine packs power for emergency vehicles like none before it.

The ISB 275 delivers optimum vehicle acceleration for emergency vehicles which are geared for maximum required road speed. This HME and Cummins combination makes the SFO Lite a virtual hot rod among emergency vehicles.

The ISB 275 uses a new engine design platform called the Interact System. It combines sophisticated electronic engine controls with high-pressure fuel injection and high-strength componentry to make the turbo-charged engine a total performance package.

The Cummins power plant is coupled with the Allison MD3060(P) five-speed transmission with electronic controls and PTO option. All this drives the SPICER J-190S rear axle with a 5:11 to 1 ratio.

Although top speed is electronically limited to 66 mph, this ground-pounding performer produces exceptional acceleration.

A four-wheel driver version of the SFO Lite is rumored to be testing at this time. The 4 x 4 version should be ready for introduction later this year.

In the world of emergency service vehicles intent on gaining the attention of those around them is the norm. The SFO Lite is certain to set new standards for multiple use vehicle chassis as it gains the attention of those around. That attention will become especially intense when an SFO Lite dusts the others enroute to the emergency scene.

KME Fire Apparatus

The challenges facing an individual or spec committee in choosing a chassis are more complex and technical than ever before. This is due to new NFPA requirements and the ever increasing variety of technological advances that have occurred in custom fire truck chassis.

Some issues that need to be decided before buying a fire truck include:

  • Number of passengers.
  • Expected longevity of the unit.
  • Anticipated tasks of the unit.

Debates about horsepower requirements are as old as fire truck committees and engines themselves. "How much is enough" can become a volatile issue during the chassis procurement process, as this is something that the fire department will generally have to live with for the life of the vehicle and can also substantially affect the price of the vehicle.

Photo by Firehouse Staff
KME Fire Apparatus

"There are more options for horsepower and models than ever before," states Bruce A. Nalesnik, chassis sales engineer at KME Fire Apparatus.

He states further, "The trend toward electronically controlled engines has all but been completed, with only one frequently used engine still remaining as a mechanically controlled engine. The majority of our transmission installations are now done with electronically controlled transmissions also." KME offers a full range of diesel engines approved for fire truck application, from 250 hp to 525 hp.

Once all of the needs and requirements of the chassis have been determined, an analysis of the manufacturers under consideration should be done.

Does the manufacturer produce their own cabs? Do they have their own upholstery shop, driveline assembling and balancing department? Do they completely assemble the entire chassis at one location? Are they producing a 100% NFPA compliant chassis and provide documentation to prove this? When I need warranty and service questions, will I know exactly who is responsible?

If you want "yes" to all of these questions, then KME should be your fire apparatus manufacturer. They pride themselves on being a total manufacturer, producing many items that other manufacturers have to source out, which can cause delays in the production process and present problems with warranty and service issues.

KME is a producer of custom chassis for pumpers, rescues, tankers, aerials and now with the introduction of their tiller, tractor chassis have been added to the lineup.

Safety requirements have made anti-lock braking system (ABS) standard, along with a secondary braking system such as engine brakes, driveline retarders, or transmission retarders. KME has expertise in all these installations.

The KME Excel chassis, introduced in 1996, is a completely redesigned tilt cab chassis.

"This chassis represents our commitment to the future," states Nalesnik. Inside and out, this chassis was designed to be firefighter friendly and sensitive to the needs of mechanics.

Exterior cab features such as lower cab entry, improved front corner visibility, heavy duty paddle latches and various raised roof options are offered. Interior enhancements such as a custom formed dash assembly with marine grade gauges, custom formed door, engine enclosure and overhead panels, combine to provide an ergonomically designed interior for maximum comfort and function.

Many of the features of the new Excel cannot be readily noticed but are just as valuable, such as door side impact tubes, dual outboard cab tilt latches, improved window regulators, and improved insulation for heat and sound reduction. The electronics are centrally located and feature solid state components. Also featured is an engine enclosure that will accept any engine offered by the fire apparatus industry today, thus avoiding the problem of certain chassis only providing certain engines. With the Excel you get a premium cab with all of the new standard items but you can still be price conscious at the same time.

"The fire truck of the future will be multidimensional," states Nales-nik. He further states, "Because of manpower and budgetary restraints, customers want more out of their truck they want to use them as rest areas, command posts or for emergency transport of injured personnel." The chassis of the future will have to serve several needs or it will cease to be competitive. KME chassis are custom engineered; they have a strong background in military and custom fire truck chassis and are committed to the future development of tomorrow's fire truck.


Photo by Firehouse Staff

Today's firefighters look for two key features in the fire trucks that they choose: a powerful engine and driver comfort. Navistar is moving in the right direction by fulfilling both needs in the International 4900 fire truck, which features a more powerful 320-hp diesel engine and larger "stretch" crew cab that adds comfort and allows for easier entry and exit.

International also offers the most powerful engine ever available in a 4900 fire truck the proven International 530 diesel engine, with ratio of up to 320 hp and full electronic controls. The extra horsepower not only gives the truck more power on the road but it also allows a water pumping rate of 1,750 gpm, making the engine an outstanding choice for emergency use. The engine is also now available with an optional alternator of up to 270 amps, and to help with secondary braking, an Allison transmission retarder is available with the 530 engine in many 4900 applications.

Designed specifically to accommodate firefighters using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), the stretch crew cab is offered in a new 148-inch-long, 80-inch-wide version that offers more clearance between front and back seats, as well as a comfortable 57.25 inches of head room. And even though the design allows crews to exit and enter one of the most spacious cabs in the industry more quickly, the extended cab still allows for an effective turn radius and excellent weight distribution.

Also, for the many switches that are required in emergency service vehicles, Navistar offers an additional six- or 10-position switch mounting plate that can be conveniently located on the dash in lieu of the cup holder. Other features of the International 4000 Series trucks include:

  • GVW ratings of up to 56,000 pounds.
  • Tight turn capability and standard power steering.
  • Maximum serviceability with a hood that opens 80 degrees with only 40 pounds of effort.
  • Reliability with a warranty for five years or 100,000 miles.
  • Factory installed and warranted front driving axles.

Navistar International Corp., with world headquarters in Chicago, is the leading North American producer of heavy and medium trucks and school buses. The company also is a worldwide leader in the manufacture of mid-range diesel engines, which are produced in a range of 160 hp to 300 hp.

Randy Oetting, Navistar marketing manager for fire trucks

Spartan Motors Inc.

Photo by Firehouse Staff
Spartan Motors Inc.

Spartan Motors Inc., headquartered in Charlotte, MI, is a world innovator of custom chassis, leading in the engineering and manufacturing of the foundations for the fire truck industry. What makes a Spartan custom chassis unique is that each one is engineered and built specifically for its intended end use, providing a perfect fit and balance to the body.

The company operates with approximately 500 full-time employees in nearly 300,000 square feet of manufacturing and office capacity at its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, MI.

The following six custom fire truck chassis series are offered through over 48 OEMs nationwide:

  • The "Advantage" fire truck chassis and cab is priced to provide an alternative to a commercial chassis which typically features less standard features and available options. The Advantage chassis is Spartan's first product designed to compete directly with the commercial market without sacrificing the added flexibility, quality and end-user orientation of a custom-built fire truck.

Features include the Cummins C8.3 300-hp or 325-hp diesel engine coupled with a full range of MD3060 Allison transmissions.

  • Spartan's custom engine forward "Metrostar" fire truck chassis offers several tilt cab options and features Cummins C8.3, 300-hp, 325-hp and up to the M-11 320 and 350-hp diesel engines. Your choice of power also includes the Detroit Diesel Series 40 330-hp engine. The Allison MD3060 and MD3066 transmissions are available on this premium chassis.
  • Spartan's mid-engine custom "Baron" fire truck chassis and cab is powered by your choice of the Cummins M-11 320-hp to 450-hp diesel engines or the Detroit Diesel Series 60 430-hp diesel engine. Couple this with the wide range of Allison MD3060, MD3066 and HD4060 automatic transmission and you have a powerhouse of a vehicle.
  • The custom rear-engine "Silent Knight" fire truck chassis and cab features Cummins C8.3 320-hp to 400-hp diesel engines or the Detroit Diesel Series 40 330-hp engine. The Allison MD3060, MD3066 or HD4060 transmissions are available on this premium chassis. One of the most unique features is the full air suspension adding to the life cycle of the vehicle and comfort for the driver and crew.

The rear engine together with a three-gear transfer case and air suspension front and rear produces the quietest, smoothest, best riding and handling fire truck chassis in the industry.

  • Spartan's most popular custom fire truck chassis, the engine forward "Gladiator," has set world-class standards for over 20 years. This unit leads the Spartan chassis and cab line-up and features Cummins M-11 350-hp to the powerful 450-hp diesel engines with the option of the Detroit Diesel Series 60 350-hp to 500-hp engine. This coupled with the Allison HD 4060 or HD4060PR transmission provides the power that meets the most demanding call. The standard features and available options seem almost endless.

John R. Gaedert, director of corporate communications, Spartan Motors Inc.