Will current apparatus trends continue into 2020?

An apparatus consultant weighs in on the big question


I recently posed the question “Will current apparatus trends continue into 2020?” to fire apparatus subject-matter expert Jim Lyons, owner of J. Lyons Fire Consultants, and his immediate response was, “Most likely, yes!” – and from there we began discussing what this means for fire departments and manufacturers alike.

Robert Avsec: What’s at the top of your apparatus trend list?

Jim Lyons: Battery-powered tools and equipment became popular several years ago, and their acceptance by fire departments was slow at first, but in 2019, the doors seemed to bang open. Several of the major equipment vendors are putting research dollars into new, larger and longer-lasting rechargeable batteries.

Some customers are specifying permanently mounted ladders on the back of apparatus as a safer means of accessing the hosebed or upper storage compartment areas.
Some customers are specifying permanently mounted ladders on the back of apparatus as a safer means of accessing the hosebed or upper storage compartment areas.

Holmatro Rescue Tools has perhaps seen the most increased interest by fire departments that are looking to purchase battery-powered rescue tools. With their own proprietary 6.0-amp battery for their EVO 3 Cordless Rescue Tool line, they now offer the longest continued run-time of any rescue tool on the market today.

RA: When a fire department truck committee is specing their next truck, how does the increased focus on battery-powered equipment influence their decisions?

JL: The mobility of battery-powered rescue tools – unrestricted movement and distance from the response vehicle – is huge, as opposed to being tethered to a hydraulic line. A basic 10-kW hydraulic generator, wiring, circuit box, digital readout gauge, and a single hydraulic tool reel could ultimately cost as much as $30,000 and takes up a lot of valuable space.

Space is a premium on any fire apparatus. I have seen a dramatic shift away from on-board generators in 2019 and related components (e.g., hydraulic reels, electric cord reels, traditional hard-wired tripod lights) in favor of battery-powered products. Battery-powered tools will continue to become a popular item, and I believe we will continue to see fire departments specifying fewer on-board generator systems for new fire apparatus.

RA: What’s a big trend in fire apparatus safety?

JL: Frontal- and side-impact air bags. These items continue to be demanded by fire departments in 2019. Air bags became required for cars and light-duty trucks in the U.S. in 1998, yet there is no mandatory standard for over-the-road trucks, commercial vehicles and fire apparatus.

But in the past few years, several apparatus manufacturers have started offering front-impact, side-impact and side rollover air bag systems as an option in their custom cabs. There are still a few manufacturers who feel these systems are not justified due to their construction designs. That is no longer going to be valid point. Regardless if a fire apparatus cab manufacturer feels that frontal- and side-impact air bags and rollover air bags are necessary, this item is now being customer-driven.

More fire departments, districts and municipal agencies are requiring vendors to include frontal-, side-impact and side-rollover air bag systems. Many customers I have spoken with feel that air bags systems provide an added measure of safety – and all feel it is worth the additional cost.

RA: What’s another safety trend?

Fire departments are asking for more basic safety items – wider stepping surfaces, fold-down steps, extra handrails – beyond the minimum requirements of NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Some customers are even going as far as stating “no folding or bolt-on steps,” instead specifying permanently mounted ladders on the back of apparatus as a safer means of accessing the hosebed or upper storage compartment areas.

Departments are also specifying more emergency lighting, above the minimal standard, on all sides of the vehicle. And more reflective striping, specifically on the edges of all pull-out trays, tool boards and drawers in the body compartments, so when the body compartment doors are in the open position, the vehicle still has reflectability.

Departments are specifying more reflective striping, specifically on the edges of all pull-out trays, tool boards and drawers in the body compartments.
Departments are specifying more reflective striping, specifically on the edges of all pull-out trays, tool boards and drawers in the body compartments.

RA: What’s trending in fire suppression features?

JL: Fully electric monitors/deck guns have become very popular because they negate the need for a firefighter to climb up on top of the engine compartment and manually operate the monitor and possibly falling or slipping and suffering an injury.

Most fire departments I work with want to keep firefighters off the top of the truck at all costs. A slip on an icy step 10 feet up on the top of an engine can be catastrophic for a firefighter and result in long-term disability. The amount of money that these fully electrically operated monitors/guns cost is a fraction of what insurance costs could escalate to for an injured firefighter.

RA: What’s big on the apparatus maintenance side?

JL: Corrosion-resistant coatings. It’s always been my experience that it’s typically not mileage that retires a fire truck. The more common reason is corrosion damage, especially in areas of the country where corrosion from salt is more likely to happen. Places like coastal areas and regions with severe winter climates where the roads are being treated for ice and snow for several months out of the year.

RA: Hasn’t corrosion protection for fire apparatus been done before?

JL: Yes, but corrosion coatings were sprayed on wet, were extremely thick, and could take days to adequately dry. They mostly proved to be difficult for mechanics working underneath the chassis, as the coatings needed to be removed in some cases for maintenance work to be completed.

Now the best practice, especially in these corrosion-prone areas, is fast becoming the application of the protective corrosion coatings directly to the chassis frame rails.

Sutphen was one of the first manufacturers to introduce coated chassis frame rails. Their process features a green zinc coating that resists the effects of ocean salt air and road ice melt chemicals. It’s now standard on every chassis and has proved to be an effective barrier.

Ferrara Fire Apparatus introduced their offering around 2013 calling their coating F-Shield. Not only did they coat the chassis frame rails, they also offered it the cross members, air tanks, fuel tanks and straps and spring hangers.

RA: We’re seeing more fire apparatus with little or no chrome on the exterior, why is that?

JL: Fire departments are specifying the same corrosion protection on those external chromed items, such as the bumper, engine radiator grill and side mirrors. The phrase “black out package” is now commonly used to describe when a customer wants their truck totally without chromed items on the exterior.

The phrase 'black out package' is now commonly used to describe when a customer wants their truck totally without chromed items on the exterior. (Photos/Jim Lyons)
The phrase 'black out package' is now commonly used to describe when a customer wants their truck totally without chromed items on the exterior. (Photos/Jim Lyons)

RA: So is that one way a department can save some money on the next truck they purchase?

JL: Not really. The public and some fire service people may think chrome is the expensive stuff on a truck, but the black-out package typically costs more than the traditional chromed items.

RA: Really! Why is that?

JL: It’s the protective coatings and the additional labor needed to apply them. Many manufacturers now offer some versions of corrosion-resistant coatings, and I see no less demand for this being requested by the customers located in the rust-prone areas in the future.

RA: What’s a sustained trend that you’ve seen?

JL: I think one of the biggest apparatus trends in the last 8-10 years, and one that I believe will continue into 2020, has been the rise in popularity of the multi-purpose apparatus. Some of the more common offerings include the MVP pumper by Ferrara Fire Apparatus, the PRV (Priority Response Vehicle) by Toyne Fire Apparatus, the PRO offered by KME, eMAX offered by E-ONE and the Transformer by Spartan ERV.

RA: What’s a driving force behind that trend?

JL: “Doing more with less” seems to be a common theme in town and city halls across the country. Delayed adoption of state budgets, the federal government shutdown in the spring of 2019, a growing amount of taxpayer watchdog committees reviewing budgets and equipment purchases have forced many fire agencies to sell two or more apparatus and buy a new single multi-purpose vehicle. Having one multi-purpose vehicle being able to response to different types of alarms seems to be some of the driving factors for this niche vehicle.

RA: What’s a “takeaway trend” for our readers?

JL: I have seen a very large uptick in used fire apparatus sales in 2019. I think this is mostly due to a decline in fires overall, communities with flat budgets, and taxpayer watchdog committees on the alert for major municipal purchases all over the country.

The ability to secure well-maintained used fire apparatus was better in 2019 than any other time in recently memory. With fire departments consolidating fire apparatus –selling two existing trucks and buying one new multi-purpose truck – the used truck inventory is high.

Editor's Note: What trends do you expect for fire apparatus in 2020? Do you agree with Lyons' predictions? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at editor@firerescue1.com.

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