Innovative Rigs on The Street: San Diego's Lifeguard Unit

June 12, 2015
San Diego Fire-Rescue tapped Pierce Manufacturing to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle for its lifeguard unit that is equipped with a crane for cliff rescues.

Among the more than 110,000 calls the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department responds to annually, there are typically 50 cliff rescues. People are attracted to the gorgeous beaches and impressive cliffs along the shoreline. Millions of people visit annually. Unfortunately, a few get into trouble and need help getting back to level ground.

To help with those rescues, San Diego has a lifeguard division in its fire-rescue department that helps with the approximately 23 million visitors who swarm the beaches. Lifeguards performed nearly 5,300 water rescues in the 2014 fiscal year, rendered medical aid to about 4,200 people, responded to almost 300 boating-related incidents and were involved in nearly 270,000 preventative action calls.

Cliff Rescues Pose Unique Challenges

San Diego lifeguards, have been the primary responding agency for cliff rescues since the 1940s. They are trained and certified in technical rope rescue and are forced to work on cliffs that can be up to 300 feet of sheer or unstable terrain. Those cliffs are the backdrops to some of the city’s most popular beaches.

Cliff rescues require specialized equipment. Late last winter, San Diego put into service a very unique and innovative apparatus to help with these rescues. It was built by Pierce Manufacturing and replaces an International-based truck that looked more like a power company’s utility truck than a highly specialized apparatus equipped for technical rescues.

The new lifeguard response unit is built on a Pierce Saber 4x4 cab and chassis with an 18,000-pound front suspension and a 31,000-pound double slipper spring rear suspension.

It’s also equipped with a Wabco ESC/ABS/ATC brake system, CAM brakes, a Cummins ISL 400-hp engine, an Allison 3000EVS transmission, a five-person cab and chassis, Gortite roll-up doors, five 5,500-pound slide-out trays and four 200-pound slide-out and tilt trays. The body and trays are needed to carry all the technical equipment the lifeguards need to not only keep themselves safe, but to help extract victims who might have gotten themselves in a predicament trying to catch some sun or a spectacular view.

Crane Aids in Rescues

Without a doubt, the most unique feature of the apparatus is an IMT model 24/169sl K6 crane installed on the back of the apparatus.

The articulating, knuckle boom crane has a 35-foot reach with a 6,000-pound rated load limit at full extension and a maximum capacity of almost 19,000 pounds at its base, nine feet out from the apparatus. That’s plenty to handle San Diego’s lifeguards and equipment, as well as any victim that might stray into hazardous terrain.

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