Size matters: Smaller apparatus provide function and economy

One option to meet shrinking budget and roster constraints is the rapid response vehicle, the lighter, cheaper and swifter cousin of the engine


Perhaps you've heard this before: A camel is a horse that was designed by committee. I always get a chuckle whenever I hear it — and then spend the rest of the day trying to get those two images out of my head. 

The same case could be made, both figuratively and literally, when describing the Type I engines employed by fire and EMS departments in the United States.

Many departments have broadened the scope of operations — adding response to EMS, hazmat, and tech rescue incidents to their fire suppression role. Yet many of those departments have done little to ensure that their service delivery vehicle matches the new mission. They've added equipment for those new tactical operations, and specified new apparatus with more compartment space to carry it all. 

The result has been a dramatic increase in the overall size and weight of the typical Type I engine that is the service-delivery workhorse for most departments. Truth be known, many of those vehicles are probably rolling down the road are likely overweight.

These fire service behemoths, with expensive price tag, low fuel mileage and high operating costs are becoming a fiscal liability for many agencies. Fire chiefs are increasingly hard-pressed justifying the purchase of a $400,000-plus piece of apparatus that is primarily designed for only about 3 percent of the incidents it will respond to over its lifecycle, that is, the big fire.

Rapid response
Rapid Response Vehicles are not a new phenomenon. Departments across the country have experimented with using smaller vehicles — ranging from four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs to small- and medium-sized vans. These are primarily for EMS responses, but also for calls where sending a Type I engine is a case of overkill.

Those departments were probably focused on reducing the wear and tear on those expensive Type I engines and reducing their fleet operating costs. They likely gave little thought to creating a new vehicle type that was designed with their current mission in mind.

As public sector spending cuts are restricting budgets, fire chiefs and fleet managers are looking for the best cost-effective solutions to maximize efficiency and productivity, as well as help towards achieving their carbon-reduction goals.

New look RRV
This new genre of emergency vehicle bears little resemblance to earlier versions of RRVs — medium-duty truck chassis with utility bodies or pickup trucks with a covered cargo bed. And they bear only a token resemblance to most mini-pumpers in service today.

Apparatus manufacturers are building these new RRVs using newer truck chassis such as those found on the Ford F-550 extended cab and crew cab (both with 6.4-liter turbocharged diesel engines), GMC Yukon, and Toyota Hilux — the Hilux is very popular in Europe. These models typically offer:

  • Gross Vehicle Weight: 7,720 pounds (3,500 kg)
  • Payload: 2,755 pounds (1,250 kg)
  • Water Capacity: 50 to 150 gallons (200 to 600 liters)

For fire suppression, a RRV can be outfitted with a Compressed Air Foam System to provide big apparatus fire power in a small apparatus package. The CAFS capability can come from a built-in system, a slide-in system, or several portable CAFS delivery backpacks.

Today's RRV resembles a well-designed computer: small package, many pertinent applications, easy to use, and easily upgradeable.  

Build-a-truck
In order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of a RRV, a department should begin with the end in mind. Decide what tactical operations you want to accomplish with the personnel and vehicle. 

Then decide what equipment must be carried on the vehicle to support those operations. Finally, take those specifications and find the manufacturer who can turn your vision into the right vehicle. 

Safety is a key issue. Rapid response vehicles, travelling at above-average speeds to reach an incident need to have equipment securely stowed to prevent damage to both goods and personnel in transit. RVV manufacturers have the expertise to design an equipment storage system that enables both the safe storage of equipment and the most efficient use of every cubic foot of compartment space.

A good example comes from The Bott Group, which manufacturers and supplies workshop equipment, in-vehicle equipment and workplace systems. Bott designed a RRV for the Derbyshire (U.K.) Fire & Rescue Service using Mitsubishi's L200 4x4 pickup as its platform.

Bott used Bott Vario — its proprietary modular steel and aluminum racking system — to provide a durable, safe and lightweight racking system that reduces vehicle weight. The system provides two specific locations for breathing apparatus storage in the design and includes two individual sliding platforms, installed in the rear of the vehicle. 

The inclusion of the platforms ensures a flexible solution, which assists fire service personnel to access equipment or to load and unload without unnecessary reaching or lifting. It also provides for modular upgrades to the vehicle as the department's needs change or equipment is replaced.

The key is to work closely with a vehicle conversion specialist to ensure that all aspects of the vehicle, including gross and axle weights are operationally compliant.

Tactical operations
This configuration of personnel and equipment can get to and extinguish the small fire while it's still small. How many fires does your department respond to that are controlled with 100 gallons of water or less? How many fires involving small structures like storage sheds, detached garages, dumpsters, automobiles, and other small-scale incidents?

For a rapidly growing fire, it means more prompt arrival of a fire officer who can conduct a size-up, formulate an incident action plan and begin fire spread prevention — protecting exposures with compressed air foam prior to the arrival of additional resources. One of my mentors taught me that in many cases the critical factor for a successful outcome is to get eyes and ears on the fire, get that initial incident action plan up and running, and get resources into the right tactical position from the start.

For EMS responses, the RRV can deliver two or three care providers and the equipment necessary to manage the typical EMS call that involves one or two patients. 

By employing RRV technology, departments can find that a single vehicle can fulfill a number of tactical roles, and be future proofed, if they include possible changes in equipment, technology or usage as part of the design process.

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