The Apparatus Architect: Part 33 - "Better Call a TO, Baby!"

Nov. 1, 2007
Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur discuss the purchase of a new apparatus as compared to basketball: both need written guidelines that all personnel understand in all positions. But in basketball, you can call a "time out."

There are few things in the fire service that are more dynamic than operations on the fireground. Strategy and tactics are constantly being reviewed and adjusted to achieve a favorable outcome for the personnel operating at the scene of the incident. Any mistakes that are made can be discussed during a post-incident critique and in many cases we have the opportunity to learn from these evaluations and adjust our standard operating guidelines (SOGs) accordingly for the future.

Fireground operations and college basketball have a lot in common. Both require a total team effort to achieve success, both require extensive training and practice prior to the event and both need written guidelines that all personnel understand in all positions. Unlike college basketball, we in the fire service cannot call a "TO" (time out) at the scene of an incident, and from the time of dispatch until we return safely to the station all of our training must take precedence in order to ensure that "Everyone Goes Home."

Purchasing a new piece of fire apparatus requires careful evaluation and planning before sitting down to develop a comprehensive set of specifications. For most fire departments, the purchase of a new apparatus is a long-term commitment. The life cycle for a new pumper typically is 10 to 15 years, with aerial ladder units having a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. With the cost of new ladder apparatus starting around $600,000 and reaching over $1 million for platform units, we need to make the correct decisions early in the process to ensure that the specifications reflect the right combination of components and equipment to do the job properly. Here are recent success stories from departments that in our estimation did everything right in developing the specifications for their new ladder apparatus.

The Hyattsville Fire Department in Prince George's County, MD, operates two engines, a rescue squad and a new Seagrave tractor-drawn aerial ladder from its station. In the past, Hyattsville operated several tractor-drawn ladder trucks dating back to 1962. The department's most recent ladder truck was a rear-mounted ladder that for a number of reasons was not meeting the expectations of the department.

According to Master Driver Mike Monroe, the department's apparatus committee evaluated various types of ladder trucks and determined that a tractor-drawn ladder truck would best meet the needs of the first-due area and allow additional equipment and ground ladders to be carried in comparison to the space available on a tandem-axle rear-mount ladder. The apparatus committee visited several departments that operated tiller units, including Washington, DC, to evaluate different tractor and body compartment designs. Ideas that were obtained during these sessions were incorporated into the final design of the new apparatus.

Truck 1 is a 2006 Seagrave Marauder II unit built on a 155-inch wheelbase with a stainless steel cab and body compartments. The trailer carries 329 feet of ground ladders with ladders banked both inside of the trailer and outboard above the body compartments. This is one area where a tractor-drawn ladder truck has distinct advantages over straight-frame units. In addition to the improved maneuverability and short outrigger stance, the space available on the trailer can be utilized in a number of ways to combine the needed compartment space and ground ladder storage. Truck 1 carries 14 ladders, ranging from a 45-foot Bangor ladder to a 10-foot folding ladder, and is an example of a well-designed and well-equipped piece of apparatus.

The City of Melrose, MA, Fire Department is under the command of Chief John O'Brien and operates two engines and one ladder truck from three stations. The department annually responds to 3,900 alarms in the community of 30,000 within a four-square-mile area. Typical of many New England communities, the city has numerous two- and three-story wood-frame structures on narrow streets with limited points of egress. In the past, the fire department operated a tractor-drawn aerial ladder, but during the 1990s, it was replaced by a single-axle rear-mount ladder truck.

O'Brien visited a number of departments that operated tiller units, including Baltimore and Washington, DC, to evaluate the feasibility of using a tractor-drawn ladder for his department. After careful analysis, the decision was made to design a 100-foot tractor-drawn ladder with a 250-pound tip load and jack spread of 150 inches. The result was the purchase of a 2007 Seagrave tiller unit that carries a complement of ladder company equipment with 215 feet of ground ladders, 12 enclosed compartments on the trailer and a bedpipe equipped with a smooth-bore nozzle. The layout of the compartments on the trailer was designed to allow both extension and roof ladders to be mounted outboard for utilization in tight locations. Additionally, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are mounted outside of the cab to enable personnel to easily don their seatbelts under all conditions.

In the case of both Hyattsville and Melrose, these departments chose to replace older rear-mount aerial ladders with tractor-drawn units to achieve the desired results and improve their ground ladder capabilities. The Rockland, ME, Fire Department is under the command of Chief Charles Jordan and was facing the task of replacing an aging Maxim rear-mount aerial ladder that experienced numerous mechanical problems. After determining that it was no longer prudent to attempt repairs on this rig, the department had its entire fleet reviewed by an apparatus architect, who made recommendations as to the type of aerial device that would best meet the needs of the community. As a result, Jordan and his staff embarked on several road trips to review and evaluate different manufacturers and other departments' experiences with these units.

The department ultimately took delivery of an American LaFrance 93-foot midship-mounted tower ladder. As the department operates three engine companies, there was no need to turn the new tower into a quint, which allowed the apparatus to maximize the compartment space on the body for tools, equipment and ground ladders. The body has 11 enclosed compartments and carries eight ground ladders totaling 176 feet, including twin two-section 35-foot extension ladders. The experience of the Rockland Fire Department resulted in a well-designed apparatus that will meet the needs of the community for many years.

These three fire departments each faced different operational issues with older aerial apparatus and, after evaluating their needs, developed specifications for different styles of apparatus to improve the safety and efficiency for their ladder companies. The next article in "The Apparatus Architect" series will discuss the merits of fleet replacements for different-size fire departments.

TOM SHAND, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and works with Michael Wilbur at Emergency Vehicle Response, consulting on a variety of fire apparatus and fire department master-planning issues. He is employed by Seagrave Fire Apparatus LLC as a regional sales manager. 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 on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He consults on a variety of apparatus-related issues around the country. For further information, access his website at

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