Are Fire Apparatus “Trucks”?

Are Fire Apparatus “Trucks”?

The Editor’s Opinion Page

“Two for the price of one” is an old American sales pitch. But the fire service may soon be faced with a reverse pitch—“one for the price of two”—if the U. S. Department of Transportation has its way.

Current regulations call for a passenger car manufacturer to crash representative production line models to test the integrity of gasoline tanks and associated piping and fittings. Proposals under consideration would extend this regulation to include all trucks.

The Department of Transportation, so far, has refused to admit that there is any difference between a fire truck and an over-the-road freight hauler—or the uses for which they were designed. Passenger car manufacturers turn them out by the millions, so the cost of crashing one car is negligible. But production by fire apparatus manufacturers runs from 10 to about 500 units a year.

Picture if you can a manufacturer crash-testing a $60,000 rescue truck—maybe the only one he has made in a year, or possibly two years. He just won’t do it, of course, and as a result there would be no more rescue units for the fire service. The same reasoning applies to an $80,000 elevating platform or a $35,000 pumper.

If the DOT’s proposal goes through, some fire apparatus manufacturers will just have to get out of the business. Others will have to raise their prices to a point where some fire departments will have to go out of business—small communities have a tough time getting money for fire apparatus right now.

In their all-out quest for “safety on the roads” and their reluctance to admit that there is a difference between a fire engine and a trailer hauling beer barrels, the Department of Transportation is in effect redesigning fire apparatus.

For instance, there is a suggestion that an anti-jackknifing device be installed on the fifth wheel of all semi-trailer trucks. This is great. Having seen semi-trailers sprawled over a number of turnpikes, we are all for it. But the semi-trailer on an aerial ladder truck is something else again. It is designed to jackknife. It has tiller wheels controlled by a tillerman to facilitate this jackknifing.

This is just one proposal that would seriously affect fire apparatus design—and wrongly. There are others, and Dick Sylvia spells them out in his article in this issue.

So far, the fire apparatus manufacturers have been the only ones battling to get the DOT to recognize that fire apparatus are not just “trucks,” that they are specialized pieces of equipment designed to protect lives and property.

Unfortunately, there are only about 45 fire apparatus manufacturers in the United States. And 45 voices don’t have a Chinaman’s chance of getting heard in Washington—even if one is God’s.

But, there are about a million and a half fire fighters in the country. They protect the lives and property of more than 200 million taxpayers (numbers that politicians respect), taxpayers who will eventually foot the bill for some unnecessary and even harmful alterations in the fire apparatus that the DOT blandly classifies as “trucks.”

So, we suggest that the fire chiefs and fire service organizations— along with the taxpayers who support them—should immediately start making themselves heard. Tell your local officials what’s happening in Washington at the DOT. Write to your senator and congressman. It may soon be too late!

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