The Apparatus Architect: Part 23 - Designing Rescue Squad Apparatus

July 1, 2005
Tom Shand and Michael Wilbur review rescue squad apparatus and other special service units, as well as discussing the decision of what type of rescue service the department is going to provide.

With this installment of "The Apparatus Architect," we begin our review rescue squad apparatus and other special service units. While some fire departments have operated rescue and special service units for some time, other departments are just getting into the technical-rescue end of the business.

If your department has purchased a new or used heavy rescue in the past, then you might have a good idea as to what works well for your department in terms of apparatus design. On the other hand, if your department has never operated a heavy squad or even a medium-duty rescue unit, how do you know where to start in the process of designing a well-equipped rescue truck?

One of the first things that you need to address is what type of rescue service the department is going to provide. Will the apparatus be used primarily for vehicle rescue and fireground support? Will the apparatus be used to supply lighting and breathing-air support? Will the apparatus be used to support hazardous materials operations or other special technical-rescue missions? These are just some of the questions that your apparatus committee should evaluate in order to develop a detailed list of equipment that the apparatus will be required to carry and deploy in an effective manner.

The amount of equipment, number of personnel and type of onboard systems will all have an impact of the overall design of the rescue apparatus. Some departments make the mistake of thinking that the rescue truck is simply a "big toolbox on wheels" and that you can buy your 22-foot super rescue and then figure out where the equipment is going once the rig is built and delivered. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. When you make a mistake on fitting an expensive piece of equipment on the new rig, you are generally forced to live with the problem for a long time.

The days of buying a new rescue truck, unloading the equipment from the old rescue truck, putting the equipment on the apparatus floor and then trying to guess where it is going to fit on the new rescue truck are gone forever. Why? Because the compartment space on the new rescue truck represents some of the most expensive real estate on the face of the earth.

Take the amount of money you paid for the apparatus and divide it by the number of square feet in compartment space, and your apparatus committee will be given reason not to want to waste any space at all. Careful planning in the design phase can pay big dividends when the final product rolls off the manufacturing line and arrives at the station.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 standard defines special service fire apparatus as: "A multi-purpose vehicle that primarily provides support services at emergency scenes." This description can fit a wide range of support vehicles, and while the 1901 standard can assist the committee in insuring that the rescue apparatus will meet a minimum design criteria, there is a lot of homework that will be required in order to develop a well-designed rescue truck. Also, remember that the NFPA's 1901 standard is only a minimum standard and you should be designing your apparatus to exceed it.

One of the concepts that should be considered during the development of the specifications for a new rescue squad is to visit several fire departments operating rescue apparatus that perform functions similar to what your department may be considering. This gives your committee the opportunity not only to review that department's apparatus and equipment, but you will have the opportunity to "pick their brain" as to what works well versus what things to avoid from a component and design perspective.

The Berwyn Heights Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, located in Prince George's County, MD, has vast experience in operating heavy rescue apparatus. Berwyn Heights initiated rescue squad operations in 1945, when it placed a 1937 GMC panel truck in service and later followed with several Mack custom-built rescue units. Today, Berwyn Heights operates a 1990 Pemfab/Ranger rescue and a 2004 Seagrave/Marion tandem axle unit as Rescue Squad 14. Over the years, the department has operated 10 different apparatus as rescue squads. The department enjoys a well-earned reputation as an excellent squad company and together with its tractor-drawn aerial ladder the station responds to over 3,000 calls annually. The events of Feb. 2, 2002, and the aftermath changed the lives of the members from Berwyn Heights forever.

At about 2 P.M. on that Saturday, Rescue Squad 14 was dispatched to a vehicle collision with confirmed entrapment in the 8700 block of Good Luck Road. The day was sunny with dry road conditions and nothing out of the ordinary up to this point. The squad confirmed its response from the College Park area and while crossing Kenilworth Avenue, a four-lane divided road, the squad went out of control, struck a telephone pole and rolled onto its right side. The crew consisted of Driver Sean Sinon and Firefighters Dan High and Jenny Glazer under the command of Captain Danny McCoy.

The captain notified communications via radio that the squad had overturned and told the dispatcher to make sure that another squad would be sent to the scene of the original accident. Communications sent a rescue assignment of an engine, truck, two rescue squads, medic unit and ambulance to the scene of the accident involving Squad 14.

Fortunately, the driver and the two firefighters were not seriously injured and the arriving personnel on the rescue assignment began to access McCoy, who was still inside the cab of the squad. After removal of the windshield, McCoy was removed and all personnel were transported to the Prince George's Hospital Center. The most seriously injured was McCoy, who required back surgery and was out of work for several months.

Rescue Squad 14 at that time was a 1999 Seagrave two-door cab with a stainless steel walk-in body built by Saulsbury. This squad was equipped with a 12,000-pound electric winch at the front, a 20,000-pound rear mounted hydraulic winch, 35-kilowatt PTO-driven generator, 20-kilowatt diesel generator and an Amkus hydraulic system that supplied five 150-foot hydraulic reels. All personnel were seated and belted, which certainly prevented more serious injuries.

Significantly, the cab, which was built with a steel reinforced bumper, did not crush back into the front seat area, which greatly contributed to the lack of severe injuries to McCoy and Sinon. The fact that all equipment carried inside of the rescue body was properly held in place either inside of compartments or with brackets designed to meet the NFPA requirements also contributed to the relatively minor injuries sustained by the crew.

We as firefighters sometimes like to look down on safety requirements under the false belief that "It can't happen to me"; however, in this case, the proper use of equipment brackets and a well-designed apparatus prevented serious injuries or death for the riding members of Squad 14 on that day.

After the accident, the members of Berwyn Heights had to immediately deal with the injuries to their members and then begin to deal with the longer-term issues of the damaged squad and getting the station back in service. During this period, both the Bladensburg and Kentland volunteer fire departments lent their rescue pumper units to Berwyn Heights in order to provide rescue squad service from the station.

Department members shared a multitude of feelings, including shock, anger and disbelief that these events were indeed real and this was not a bad dream. Over the next few months, the damage to Squad 14 was assessed by both Seagrave and Saulsbury to determine the extent of repairs and working with the department's insurance carrier began to inspect and test the equipment carried on the apparatus.

In the next installment of "The Apparatus Architect," will we cover the events that followed the accident in Berwyn Heights and how the fire company recovered from this tragic event. Appreciation is given to President James Ward and the crew of Squad 14 for providing information and comments that made this article possible.

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 American LaFrance and is assigned to the Hamburg, NY, facility.

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

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