Apparatus Innovations and trends

By Caleb Langer

From cab airbags to remote monitors, the 2003 Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis this past April kicked off another year of innovations for the fire apparatus industry. As always, there were plenty: cab occupant protection systems, new aerial devices, and new body styles. There were many new or redesigned chassis with features like rear-wheel steering, state-of-the-art suspension systems, and improved ergonomics and engine performance.

One could hardly miss these exciting breakthroughs while walking the exhibit hall. Although these introductions were all important to the fire apparatus industry, it was just as interesting and important to observe the little details of the apparatus on the floor. The hall was filled with clever features, the dreams of a forward-thinking firefighter or engineer.

I will share some of the many apparatus ideas presented at FDIC 2003 in addition to some of the current trends seen in the apparatus industry this year.


(1) The popularity of European high-visibility rear striping adopted by a number of Texas departments in the past several years has been spreading. Depart-ments as far away as New Jersey have recently completed total fleet replacements with every new rig featuring this bright idea. (Photos by author.)
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(2) Forward-facing directional lights make for safer apparatus travel on multilane roadways, and flexible rubber housings are available to prevent damage to the lights.
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(3) Low-mounted warning lights on the face of the front bumper help catch the attention of motorists immediately in front of the apparatus or those traveling through intersections.
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APPARATUS VISIBILITY

As always, firefighter safety continues to play a major role in apparatus design. New rigs are designed to be more visible, and trends include improved striping, emergency warning lights, and apparatus marker lights. The Texas-style rear striping that covers the entire back of the apparatus in reflective tape (photo 1) is a low-cost option that makes sense for every department, especially considering the number of firefighters injured or killed on roadside incidents every year. Body-mounted, forward-facing turn signals ensure that motorists traveling alongside the rig on a highway will notice when the operator intends to shift lanes, and some apparatus at the show even featured a flexible rubber housing to make the lights more visible while keeping them from being wiped off the rig (photo 2). Low-mounted warning lights on the face of the front bumper help catch the attention of motorists immediately in front of the apparatus or those traveling through intersections (photo 3).

CAB LAYOUT

One area of special interest was cab layout. There were commercial chassis and custom chassis with two-, three-, and four-door variants and seating capacities from two to 10 or more. A few interesting ideas accompanied each of them, and some departments really took the time to design a truly functional cab.

One quint headed for a town in Indiana deserved an award for best overall cab layout. The cab held six firefighters with five in SCBA seats. Each seat was equipped with a personal flashlight, charged and ready to go; four larger rechargeable lights sat at the back of the engine doghouse. Along with the personal flashlights were a radio and a personal rope bag for every crew member. Mounted to the back wall on either side of the forward-facing seats was a set of irons in NFPA-compliant brackets (photos 4 and 5), and a noise-attenuating headset hung above each seat (photo 6). Hardly a bit of space was wasted in the cab (photo 7), and although there was no bulky medical compartment, it carried a full range of EMS gear. Latex glove boxes were stored in purpose-built brackets instead of being wedged between seats or lost on the floor. A gas meter and other equipment stocked the cab, and firefighters had their choice of easy-to-use red and white night lighting (photo 8).

Seating is another area that has come a long way in recent years. New apparatus seats are being delivered with integral three-point restraints colored bright orange or red. This allows the officer to verify at a glance that all crew members are belted and eliminates confusion with SCBA straps (photo 9). Some departments have abandoned the traditional rear-facing jump seats and have relocated all SCBA seats to the rear wall so firefighters can communicate more easily and visually gather information about the incident while arriving on-scene. Still others have found that spacing three seats across the back wall is a healthy compromise between two center-mounted seats and four seats spanning the entire cab width, which also gives firefighters more elbow room than either of the previously mentioned options (photo 10). Relocated EMS compartments in the space previously occupied by rear-facing seats work hand-in-hand with this configuration (photo 11), and two low-back seats can be centered between these for times when you’re running with an extra-full crew. This choice of EMS compartment location works well with another new trend of inside-outside access compartments.


(4, 5) A set of irons mounted in NFPA-compliant brackets on either side of the forward-facing seats allows firefighters to step off the truck with their basic tools in hand. It is also a safe way to free valuable compartment space.
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(6) A noise-attenuating headset hangs above each seat. When used in conjunction with portable radios, crew members are afforded the advantage of hearing protection and improved communication away from the rig.
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    (7) Creative use of dead space in the cab. Under-seat space is often overlooked, but this department used the space for map books, a gas meter, and other items. Special compartments were even fabricated under the front seats for storage of items such as spare gloves. While this department did a good job in making use of space, note that all items stored inside the cab should be in approved compartments or brackets, as the irons sets were. Loose equipment stored under seats can become projectiles during a sudden stop, collision, or rollover, causing injury or even death to cab occupants.

SCENE LIGHTING

Another large and fast growing but still too often overlooked safety concern is high-intensity scene lighting. This year, more apparatus than ever before were equipped with light towers from six to 40 feet tall with wattages ranging from 3,000 to 12,000. New low-profile light towers are compact enough to fit behind cab light bars but in front of raised roofs or even roof-mounted beside some rear-mount aerials (photo 12).

Despite their usefulness, light towers are often not raised until several minutes into an incident, leaving personnel in the dark and unsafe during initial operations. To solve this problem, many departments are speccing prepositioned floodlighting that can be activated along with a hydraulic PTO generator while arriving at a scene. Although fixtures such as “brow lights” (mounted above the front windshield) have become immensely popular in recent years, it is still somewhat rare to find an apparatus with prepositioned floodlighting on all four sides of the truck. It seems that some are willing to invest $17,000 in a light mast but refuse to make a $2,000 investment and acknowledge that it really does get dark at the front, sides, and rear of the apparatus (photo 13).

The option of prepositioned scene lighting for some departments is as simple as the stowed position they choose for their pole-mounted floodlights; others are making clever use of dead space to mount low-profile light heads in protective recesses (photo 14). As lighting for use away from the truck continues to become more commonplace, ground lights and tripod lights are being preconnected to cord reels, and generator lights are being stored in easily accessible compartment space. Consider protecting nonrecessed lighting fixtures; some sharp-eyed firefighters have taken care to protect their investments (photo 15).

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    (8) Firefighters should have the option of both red and white in-cab night lighting, and easy activation of these lights is a function of sound cab layout. Switches should be designed to eliminate confusion between on, off, red, and white; should be easily activated with gloved hands; and must be in reach of every crew member while they remain seated and belted. A common sense option is to have all in-cab red night lighting automatically activated with the headlights, thus eliminating the need for firefighter intervention. Switches should be designed to eliminate confusion between on, off, red, and white; should be easily activated with gloved hands; and must be in reach of every crew member while they remain seated and belted. A common sense option is to have all in-cab red night lighting automatically activated with the headlights, thus eliminating the need for firefighter intervention.


(9) Three-point restraints integrated into all seats provide a higher degree of firefighter safety, and brightly colored red or orange belts allow the officer to tell at a glance whether his crew members are belted. They also eliminate confusion between seat belts and SCBA straps for the firefighters.
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(10) Many departments have abandoned the idea of rear-facing seats. The seating layout pictured here allows for good in-cab communication and generous elbow room.
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(11) Mounting compartments for EMS supplies and other equipment in the spot previously occupied by rear-facing jump seats makes good use of cab space.
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WATER SUPPLY AND DELIVERY

In addition to deck-mounted monitors, personal blitz monitors are perhaps the fastest growing item in the water delivery toolbox, allowing minimal staffing to rapidly place high-flow streams into operation and gain the upper hand on a fire in the first minutes of an incident. However, take care to use these expensive devices properly. Preconnect them in a prominent spot on the apparatus, and supply them with a line that the crew operating the monitor can advance by itself (photo 16).

Bumper turrets are now appearing on structural apparatus as well as the traditional wildland and ARFF applications. A new generation of lightweight, compact, and high-flowing remote monitors has been introduced, allowing firefighters to knock down car fires or make a blitz attack on a structural fire even before exiting the apparatus. The ideal positioning puts the monitor right at the level of first-floor windows, and $750,000 mid-mounted tower ladders are no longer needed to direct large-caliber streams into storefront windows (photo 17).

Also available is the option of dual large-diameter side suction ports. This feature gives a pumper the capability to perform high-flow drafting operations or make full use of multiple supply lines (photo 18).


(12) A new generation of compact light masts offers unprecedented mounting options. With recent breakthroughs in high-intensity lighting, departments may soon be able to spec these masts with double the output currently offered by their larger counterparts.
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(13) Prepositioned floodlighting on all four sides of the apparatus increases firefighter safety.
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(14) This apparatus uses dead space in the wall of the raised cab roof to mount side-facing high-intensity HIR light heads in protective recesses.
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HOSEBEDS

Supply hosebeds continue to come in every configuration imaginable. Adding one or more dividers to your pumper’s hosebed means the ability to lay multiple LDH lines, a feature that may make the difference at the next major fire. Many apparatus were equipped with enclosed hosebeds to protect the hose and prevent the accidental deployment of supply lines. Careful design and planning must be put into these, however, as a new pumper with a fully enclosed supply bed demonstrated: It already had been marked with dents and scratches where the heavy couplings hit while making the 90-degree downward turn coming out of the bed. A mistake like this will live with the department for the life of the apparatus and compromise performance by limiting hose laying to ultra-low speeds.

Quint hosebeds continue to evolve rapidly. Fire departments cannot seem to agree on a preferred design for these controversial units, as the apparatus at the show proved quite well.

Side-stack style hosebeds are no longer limited to 75-foot quints, and at least one of every type of aerial device, including 100-foot rear-mount ladders, towers, and articulating platforms, featured this design. Despite this fact, some new pumper-aerials are still being specified with hose chutes that offer many points for couplings to snag on or get caught in multiple 90-degree bends (photo 19).

A common problem, especially where preconnect and supply hosebeds are concerned, is the failure to measure equipment before the truck goes into production. This is especially evident with quint hosebeds, where every inch of space is precious. Make sure you know the lay-flat width of your hose before you spec a bed for it, and determine the number of hose stacks you intend to fit across the width of the bed (photo 20).

One hosebed was sized for two stacks of five-inch hose. In an effort to gain more compartment space, the bed was reduced to one stack of hose with a high-side compartment in place of the other stack partway up the length of the bed. As a result, the department lost valuable extra hose capacity, and the shallow compartment will probably never be fully used.

The truck in photo 21 is an excellent example of a well-designed quint hosebed. Equally usable hosebeds were a feature of many other quints on the exhibit floor.


(15) This removable tripod light is protected from flying large-diameter hose couplings by a simple diamond plate hood.
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(16) The use of personal blitz monitors is spreading rapidly. Don’t waste these expensive and valuable resources by leaving them on the running board without preconnecting them.
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    (17) High-flow remote bumper turrets like the one mounted on this pumper-rescue are gaining popularity on structural apparatus. The prime real estate offered by the front bumper makes it the ideal location for such a device, placing it in view of cab operators and right at the level of first-floor windows. Once unused space (with the exception of warning devices), it is now recognized as the optimum location for preconnected lines of all sizes, preconnected hydraulic extrication tools and cord lights, winches, and squirrel-tail suctions.


(18) Dual large-diameter intakes on each panel allow for high-flow drafting operations and ease the use of multiple supply lines.
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(19) Although the hosebed on this quint was a straight shot from front to back, a careful inspection revealed numerous points for hose to catch on the unprotected turntable bottom.
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EQUIPMENT STORAGE AND COMPARTMENTATION

Tool mounting. Custom tool mounting was a feature of many rigs at the show this year. Having the manufacturer mount your equipment for you prevents damage during travel and makes equipment more readily accessible. It also makes for more efficient use of compartment space, and company engineers can lay the equipment out for proper weight distribution on the apparatus.

Various methods for securing tools were shown. Some popular ideas were poly toolboxes for small items (photo 22), webbing to secure larger items like cribbing (photo 23), and pullout tool boards for hand tools (photo 24). Preconnecting and custom mounting of hydraulic extrication tools, a concept once reserved for heavy rescues and rescue-pumpers, is now prominent on apparatus such as quints and pumper-tankers.


(20) This quint features a nice clear hosebed; unfortunately, it was not designed to hold the hose it needed to hold.
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(21) An example of sound quint hosebed design.
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(22) Poly tool bins are becoming more popular to store equipment that does not lend itself well to mounting with brackets.
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(23) Nylon webbing is an easy way to secure cribbing in apparatus compartments.
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(24) Pull-out tool boards effectively organize and mount tools of all sizes.
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Apparatus design committees should not leave tool mounting completely up to the manufacturer, and apparatus specs should require customer approval of all mounting before work commences. Designers should use common sense and take firefighter habits into consideration, either mounting frequently used equipment in plain sight (photo 26) or locating it where a firefighter would expect to find it.

Suction hose storage. Consensus was lacking on a standard method of mounting hard suction hose. Hard suction has traditionally been carried above the high side compartments, secured by metal brackets, but departments that draft regularly have found this to be a hindrance to quick and safe drafting operations. Some departments simply use an easy-release hook-and-loop fastener strap, while others completely relocate the hard sleeves so that personnel do not have to leave the ground to remove them. Preconnected suction hose on the front bumper is becoming more popular now, although front intakes are expensive and have significant friction loss at high flows. One apparatus featured unique cross-mounted suction troughs (photo 27), and enclosed rear access trays were present on many rigs. Fire department members or an outside consultant should thoroughly inspect all apparatus during construction.

Ladder storage. Hydraulic ladder racks remain popular on engine company apparatus, and more manufacturers are designing low-profile racks with “arms” that do not take up the space of an entire compartment (photo 28). Another common design is through-the-tank storage. The designers of the apparatus in photo 29 chose this method and even came up with a simple yet innovative way to hold a slightly longer ladder while maintaining a short wheelbase pumper.

Wheel well storage. Many years ago, some innovative thinker decided to use the dead space in apparatus wheel wells by fabricating a compartment to store spare air bottles. The idea quickly caught on, and we find this feature on nearly all apparatus today. Over the years, the concept was adapted to fit two air bottles per corner, and then three, making the most efficient use of space possible.


(25) Preconnecting and custom mounting hydraulic extrication tools are now used on apparatus such as pumper-tankers and this all-purpose quint.
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(26) Conspicuously mounting frequently used hand tools ensures that your firefighters will remember them in the heat of the battle.
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During this same period of time, however, some apparatus manufacturers began increasing the area between the wheel well and the bottom of the high side compartments or the side of the lower compartments. Three air bottles in a wheel well may no longer be the most efficient use of space. Some modern apparatus could fit as many as six air bottles in a single corner of the dead space around the wheel wells. Because of this, departments should try to use the maximum percentage of wheel well space available on each apparatus, not just store a predetermined number of items in every space.


(27) This apparatus featured low-mounted troughs to store eight-foot lengths of hard suction hose with storz drafting couplings.
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Apparatus on the FDIC 2003 exhibit floor could be found with everything from chocks to fire extinguishers occupying these spaces. There were a variety of examples of wheel well storage (photo 30).


(28) Many manufacturers now offer low-profile hydraulic ladder racks that do not waste valuable compartment space.
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(29) Enclosed rear ground ladder storage is perhaps the most efficient method for storing and deploying ground ladders, and this department even found a way to increase the available storage space while maintaining a short wheelbase pumper.
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LEARN FROM SHOWS


(30) This heavy rescue demonstrates the most efficient use of wheel well area dead space. There is not excessive space between the fender and the surrounding high/low-side compartments, yet it still packs three spare 30-minute cylinders. Slightly more space is still available and could have easily held the same three cylinders in 45-minute versions. Using PVC piping for bottle sleeves allows for flexibility in future equipment mounting.
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When designing your fire department’s next piece of apparatus, your spec committee members should visit a trade show like the FDIC. They should pay attention to new innovations in the details that will make your apparatus functional and safe on a day-to-day basis. In the end, it’s always the details that make or break an operation.

Caleb Langer is a firefighter/engineer with the Hubbardston (MA) Fire Department, where he serves as a training instructor. He works extensively on research and development and capital planning tasks for the department and also serves on the region’s Firefighter Safety and Training Committee. Langer is currently pursuing certification as a paramedic at Northeastern University in Massachusetts.

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