Properly Mounted Equipment Keep Firefighters Safe and Organized

Nov. 18, 2015
Companies making tool mounting systems share tips on how to keep apparatus safe and organized for firefighters

It’s well documented that chaos and lack of organization can often lead to catastrophic, and even fatal mishaps on fire and emergency scenes. One way to calm the confusion and chaos is to have well laid out and organized apparatus.

Fire departments are asked to do more and more as years go by which means more tools must be carried on apparatus. It’s important to keep all those tools readily available and retrievable at a moment’s notice when everything seems to be hitting the fan.

There are companies in the fire service specializing in making tool mounts and tool mounting systems for apparatus to keep tools ready, organized and in good condition, but most importantly to keep firefighters safe.

“Fire deaths can still be attributed to lack of fireground organization,” said Phil McLean, president and founder of Sensible Products, a maker of unique brackets and holders for tools found on apparatus. The company is based in Richfield, Ohio. “Better organization of tools and equipment can help fight against fire deaths.”

Manufacturers Answer Needs

McClean, who has been in the fire service for 40 years, filling every rank from rookie to chief, was a founder of Sensible Products in 1985. The company was born out of a necessity to outfit one of his own apparatus.

There are two other specialty companies in the fire apparatus tool mounting business, Performance Advantage Company (PAC) and Ziamatic (Zico). Like Sensible Products, PAC and Zico have long histories of serving the fire service. All three companies are dedicated to firefighter safety and efficient tool storage and transport.

Ziamatic/Zico was founded by the Ziaylek family in 1958, in Yardley, Pa. In the 1960s, it got into the fire market by making SCBA brackets for fire apparatus which had been carried in suitcase style boxes previously.

Ryan Glover, Zico/Ziamatic’s marketing manager, said the company hasn’t stopped innovating and now has over 1,000 products dedicated to firefighter safety.

“We have brackets for haligans, axes and even things like water coolers,” Glover said. “…Safety is very important to us.”

Performance Advantage Company’s Mike McGuire, a sales and technical support specialist for the company that started in 1992, said it was founded by Dick Young soon after he left the apparatus manufacturing business.

“He asked the question, ‘what does the fire service need,’” McGuire said. “He decided the fire service needed a more efficient and better tool mounting system that was industry specific.”

McGuire added that PAC has been focused on making the best tool mounting systems “for the safety and efficiency of the firefighters”

“We have dozens of unique mounts for the fire service,” McGuire said. “We’re not going to tell you were to put something, but you tell us what you want to mount and where and we’ll tell you how to do it.”

All three companies have mounting systems that can be used on proprietary or generic boards and some brackets and hardware are interchangeable between the three different companies’ board systems.

Sensible Products uses white sheets of HDPE poly board for the base of its tool mounting system. It’s the same kind of plastic used for some water tanks and is used in food service as cutting boards.

McLean, the president of Sensible Products, said the HDPE 5/8-inch board is installed on the back walls of the apparatus compartments. It can also be used as pull out tool boards. Each sheet of plastic is predrilled in a pattern to accept its tool brackets as well as competitor brackets.

The plastic is often installed by the apparatus manufacturer at the time of building, or it can be installed by individual firefighters after delivery and even retrofitted into apparatus what never had previously never had tool mounts.

McLean said his company does complete tool installations on about 25 apparatus yearly right at its factory. It’s a service mostly for local fire departments within traveling distance, he added.

One of the advantages of Sensible Products’ system is no extra holes have to be drilled in the apparatus to mount brackets and mounts. McLean said his boards are pre drilled in a geometric pattern that accommodates a wide variety of mounts which are installed with standard hardware found in local stores. The board also accept mounts and brackets from other manufacturers.

The system affords flexibility as tools are added and subtracted from apparatus or are moved from one compartment to another, McClean said.

Leaning on his fire service experience, as well as his decades in the tool mounting business, McLean said he and his staff can “kit” all the boards and mounts a standard pumper will need with just a phone call. Typically, an apparatus manufacturer will call with some rudimentary specification, and Sensible Products will ship out a complete system that should accommodate the tools found on most engines.

He is also an advocate for organizing equipment and tools by disciplines, like putting all the suppression equipment in one compartment, all the ventilation tools in another and rescue tools in still another. It’s all so a good idea to group all the supplies and accessories with the tools. For instance, having the blades with the saws is a good way to maintain organization on the fireground, as well as keeping the fuel and oil nearby as well.

“Standardizing things and organizing them helps keep everything neat and clean,” McLean said. “Knowing where everything is on an apparatus is part of basic training.” He added having mounts keeps equipment from wandering and getting lost.

Performance Advantage Company also offers a tool board system with some flexibility that allows fire departments to adjust location, or even relocate tools.

PAC has a tool mounting system that is made from extruded aluminum that has a series of tracks and channels. It’s called Pac Trac.

Like competitive products, Pac Trac is “wall-papered” in to the compartments and brackets and tool holders and mounts are bolted on. The tracks allow the bracket to be moved and adjusted with basic hand tools.

“We have a vast array of mounting brackets in our current product line up,” said Tom Trzepacz, PAC’s fire industries sales and training representative. “We also have a variety of generic brackets and adjustable brackets that can be used as tools and the industry changes.”

With 20 years of experience in the fire service, including serving as department chief, Trzepacz knows the importance of mounting tools and keeping them in good condition. Trzepacz said replacing an SCBA cylinder damaged because of improper storage can take up to $1,500 out of the budget in a heartbeat.

Axes not stored properly can become dull and even dangerous, he said. Additionally, well organized and laid out apparatus compartments can prevent tools from being lost at a scene.

“As a company officer walks around the apparatus before leaving, he can quickly see that something is missing so that expensive tool isn’t left at the scene,” Trzepacz said.

NFPA Requires Mounting 

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires that any tools and equipment mounting in the cab or seating areas must be secured with brackets capable of sustaining 9G force and not release the item which it is securing. All three manufacturers have completed third-party testing that confirms their products can meet the standards.

McGuire said PAC has bracket with positive locks using pliable straps that are continuously improved and upgraded as material and science permits. Some of the mounts and brackets, especially those not in the cabs, are simple friction locks that hold items in place with clips.

Customer service is also important with PAC, Trzepacz and McGuire both stressed. The company has developed a classroom setting at its plant in Lancaster, N.Y., and the ability to video conference with customers around the world to assist with the mounting needs.

“We’ll go out in the classroom with a Skype link and talk to the customers and help them solve their tool mounting challenges,” Trzepacz said. “We usually come up with something that works.”

Zico/Ziamatic has a slightly different approach to tool mounting. Glover said Ziamatic has mounts and tools that are often made out of powder-coated cast aluminum or steel that are heavy duty for a variety of jobs.

Items like spanner wrenches, which are most often located on the apparatus body where they are needed, come with cast aluminum brackets that bolt to the bodies, Glover said.

Ziamatic/Zico also has specialized brackets for things like chain saws with reservoirs built in to capture oil and fuel leaks, he said.

The company also has mounting brackets for things like gasoline and fuel cans, as well as shelf-like brackets to hold mixed fuels and aerosol cans, he said.

They also make mounts for rescue tools and heavy equipment. Glover said unsecured tools and equipment can shift in compartments and fall out when compartments are opened.

“You don’t want a 50-pound piece of equipment landing on someone’s foot,” Glover said.

In addition to keeping everything safe, secured and in good condition, Glover said there’s yet another reason for mounting tools and equipment properly and it has nothing to do with either of those obvious reasons.

“It looks aesthetically pleasing when an apparatus is well organized and clean,” Glover said.

So, tool-mounting should be a high priority when specifying apparatus and all three major manufacturers are ready to assist firefighters with their quests to keep their fire engines safe, organized and clean.

About the Author

Ed Ballam

Ed Ballam served as associate editor for Firehouse. He is the assistant chief of the Haverhill Corner, N.H. Fire Department, and a National Registered EMT. He is also a Deputy Forest Fire Warden for the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands. Professionally, he's been a journalist for over 35 years working for a variety of publications, including employment as managing editor of a national fire service trade journal for more than a decade.

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