By William C. Peters
The Fire Department of NEW York not only suffered a staggering loss of personnel on September 11 but also had its apparatus fleet severely impacted. A total of 91 apparatus and vehicles were destroyed, and approximately 130 more were damaged.
The following vehicles were destroyed:
- 18 pumpers
- 7 rear mount ladders
- 4 tiller trucks
- 4 tower ladders
- 2 heavy rescue units
- 2 high-rise units1 tactical support unit
- 3 haz-mat tenders
- 1 haz-mat tactical response vehicle
- 1 satellite hose wagon
- 1 field communications van
- 1 mask service unit
- 6 ambulances
- 16 battalion command vehicles (SUVs)
- 23 sedans
- 1 shops repair truck
Because of some “superhuman feats” on the part of the fleet services staff, all companies (except for two stationed in the immediate vicinity of Ground Zero) were back in service using reserve apparatus, spare apparatus, and units that were repaired at the shops in one week.
The first step in getting companies back in service was using reserve and spare apparatus. Twenty-two reserve pumper apparatus were parked strategically in fire stations throughout the city; they are used only for special duty. They are equipped with hose, ground ladders, and suction hose. All other “loose” equipment is stored in metal boxes that are banded closed for security reasons. Because of their availability, the reserve apparatus were quickly outfitted and placed in service. At the time of the attack, there were only reserve pumpers. Future plans include adding ladder trucks and tower ladders to the reserve fleet.
Spare apparatus are “loaners” that are stored at the shops to substitute for apparatus that are out of service for maintenance and repair. Hose and equipment are transferred from the out-of-service unit to the spare unit when it is activated. Some of these units were outfitted and placed in service. In addition, apparatus that were assigned to the fire academy for training were quickly remarked, stocked, and sent out into the field.
In establishing a plan to restore the fleet, the first step was an initial evaluation at Ground Zero. Units beyond repair were picked up by crane and transported to a landfill in Staten Island. Many were burnt, crushed, and unrecognizable. Two even had to be identified by the manufacturer using the axle serial numbers.
The “ambulatory” ones were towed or driven (if roadworthy) to the shops by Fleet Services personnel. Many had no windows; most were packed with dust and debris.
At the shops in Long Island City, Queens, wash-down stations were set up. Each apparatus was completely hosed down, inside and out, with 13/4-inch handlines. A mechanical “triage area” was set up in the street, where a supervisor and two mechanics checked each unit to determine its needs. The units that could be fixed and returned to service most quickly were brought in to the shops first. Those that would take longer were stored in a lot in Maspeth, Queens.
Windows were replaced, lights fixed, pumps and aerials checked and tested, the apparatus was outfitted with new equipment, and it was out the door.
Units were restocked with equipment from the fire department supply room.
Calls were immediately placed to fire service vendors, who responded with emergency shipments of all types of equipment. Replacement hose was in short supply because of special New York City threaded couplings. Personnel were sent to Ground Zero to cut the couplings off buried and destroyed hose and recouple to new hose shipped in from the manufacturers.
According to FDNY Assistant Commissioner Tom Mc-Donald, who heads the Fleet & Technical Services Division, the credit for performing such an outstanding job goes to the shops personnel. They were organized into 12-hour shifts and worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many didn’t even go home; they just rested at the shops and kept on working. Many apparatus manufacturers also helped by sending fire mechanics, parts, and equipment to Ground Zero and the shops.
The second important factor that contributed to a quick turnaround was standardization. Most of the fleet is from the same apparatus manufacturer, so parts such as cab and compartment doors were salvaged from the destroyed apparatus and used on serviceable apparatus.
Some of the apparatus and equipment lessons learned from this incident follow.
•An aggressive apparatus replacement schedule makes it easier to stay current with replacement parts. (It’s a lot easier to get a window for an apparatus that is five years old than for one that is 25 years old!)
•Standardization helped with stocking spare parts and “recycling” parts from destroyed apparatus.
•Having reserve apparatus available for immediate use, with equipment, is essential. Spare apparatus also played a major role in restoring the working fleet.
•Performing preventive maintenance on spares and reserve apparatus on a regular periodic schedule—just as with the first line units—ensured that they were in good condition and ready to be used.
•Keeping the apparatus maintenance “in house” rather than outsourcing resulted in additional personnel and parts being available when needed.
•The skill, attitude, and dedication of the shops personnel were probably the biggest determining factors in getting the apparatus back in service faster.
Donations of new apparatus and support vehicles were accepted from several private sources, apparatus manufacturers, and automobile dealerships. After the Mayor’s Office and the city controller declared an emergency, Assistant Commissioner McDonald ordered $30 million worth of apparatus and approximately $8 million in loose equipment to bring the department’s fleet back to pre-9-11 status.
Given the magnitude of this disaster, the uniformed and civilian personnel of FDNY did an incredible job of restoring the fleet to operating condition in such a short time.
Photos by Steve Spak.
WILLIAM C. PETERS is a 27-year veteran of the Jersey City (NJ) Fire Department and has served the past 15 years as apparatus supervisor, with responsibility for purchasing and maintaining the apparatus fleet. He is a voting member of the NFPA 1901 Apparatus Committee, representing apparatus users. Peters is the author of Fire Apparatus Purchasing Handbook (Fire Engineering, 1994); two chapters on apparatus in The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering, 1995); the instructional video Factory Inspections of New Fire Apparatus (Fire Engineering, 1998); and numerous apparatus-related articles. He is an advisory board member of Fire Engineering and the FDIC and lectures extensively on apparatus purchase and safety issues.