5 reasons to consider a modular fire truck

While not as popular as in Europe, swap-body modular apparatus have a definite place in the U.S. fire service

There are a couple of realities for fire departments when it comes to vehicles and equipment for emergency responses: fiscal resources are tight and vehicles have to be able to multi-task.

One option could be swap-body or roll-off fire apparatus. Another might be a concept used in European fire services: modular compartmentation.

Swap-body or roll-off fire apparatus use one vehicle chassis that can upload any number of PODs (platform on demand) depending upon the emergency response resource needs. PODs offer fire departments several benefits.

  • A cost effective, flexible solution that requires only one dedicated chassis.
  • The ability to have custom configurations and flexible interior layouts.
  • The capability for easily placing at the best possible location.
  • Less maintenance and service required as they're only used when needed.
  • The capability for multiple means of deployment.

Rosenbauer International (partner company to Rosenbauer America) has been in the business of providing swap-body or roll-off fire apparatus solutions for European fire services for many years.

PODs can be designed as non-walk-in, walk-in, combination or flatbeds. The interior design can include single room or dual room layout. Exterior access can be through either a side or front door using roll-up or clamshell style doors. The vehicle chassis can be outfitted to load and transport PODs using hook lift, airlift or military forklift technologies.

Found in America
Spartan ERV offers a line of PODs in the U.S. that can be configured to meet the extraordinary response resource needs for incidents that include natural disasters, hazmat, heavy rescue, breathing air supply, hose supply, foam supply, mobile command, rehab stations, and mass casualty and mass decontamination incidents

Swap-body or roll-off fire apparatus is not an entirely new concept in the fire service here in the United States. The Fairfax County (Va.) Fire Rescue was using it in the early 1990s for their mobile command post as well as hazardous materials and technical rescue responses. More recently, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments distributed 64 Mass Casualty PODs to departments in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Each of these units contain a complete set of supplies to fully stock or restock a basic life support ambulance, including an AED, backboards, manual cot and stair chair. These PODs can be used in case of a mass casualty incident or other event that requires completely restocking an ambulance.

According to Jim Dunn, regional sales manager at Safe Industries, PODs have been employed by many departments, large and small, in the United States. "When I worked for Seagrave Fire Apparatus, we delivered quite a number of PODs to the Philadelphia Fire Department where they used them for hazardous materials response, MCIs, specialized rescue, and mobile command posts," Dunn said.

Modular design
I've always been a fan of European fire apparatus design because of how it seems to incorporate the capability to carry an array of emergency response equipment in such a smaller package when compared with those in the United States (or maybe it was the thought of driving a fire truck that had a Mercedes Benz or Volvo medallion on the front grill).

Also, European apparatus is pretty impressive when you consider the narrow streets those apparatus must negotiate on a regular basis, both in the cities and in rural areas.

Ziegler, a major manufacturer of fire and emergency response apparatus, developed a modular compartment system for its apparatus. Rather than building the equipment storage space as part of the vehicle's chassis, the side, rear and topside storage compartments are independent components that are affixed to the vehicle chassis.

This is the same concept used in Type III ambulances here in the U.S., where the patient compartment and outside storage spaces, "the box," is a unit independent of the vehicle chassis. When the chassis needs replacing, the box is removed as a unit and reinstalled on the next chassis.

Once the customer's equipment storage requirements are known, these independent components can be custom designed before being mounted on the chassis.

Swing, swivel, slide
This modular approach enables the manufacturer to design and produce storage spaces that provide robust and spacious rotary compartment system that allows for the variable storing of the equipment from the outside as well as from the inside. The fittings are adjustable to hold various types of equipment.

It also allows for primary and secondary equipment access. Pieces of equipment that are most often used are stored on the rotary equipment wall. When this equipment wall is swung-out, the secondary pieces of equipment are more easily reached.

It has low-placed swiveling rugged drawer for hydraulic power unit with spreader and cutter or a generator. The drawer can be placed in various positions for easy and practical equipment handling.

And it has pull-out vertical equipment walls mounted on telescopic guiding rails that run on ball bearings. In most cases, the walls can be equipped from both sides.

Like the Type III ambulance, this modular concept can be used to replace the vehicle chassis and reuse the compartment modules on the new chassis. This could be a real boost in the ability for departments to refurbish their apparatus and save money on apparatus replacement costs.

Instead of traditional refurbishment methods, a new model for refurbishing a piece of fire apparatus would be to remove the modular compartments, bring in the new chassis, and reinstall the module. The potential savings to a department in money spent on a refurbishment and the amount of time the unit is out of service could be significant. 

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