The Fire Apparatus Manufacturing sector has been in the doldrums since the mandated EPA engine and emission changes in 2007 and the national economy tanking starting in 2008. For decades the market share for the fire apparatus industry was about 5500 fire apparatus produced and sold each year and that number did not vacillate only about two hundred to three hundred trucks per year for the pervious thirty years until 2008. Over the next six years the apparatus industry at its low was producing about 3300 trucks per year a decrease of about 40%. So with this dramatic down turn their were very few research and development dollars available to invest in the apparatus industry and the few dollars that were available had to be used to redesign cabs to accommodate the EPA mandated engine and emissions changes. To apparatus buffs and the fire apparatus manufacturing sector there has not been much to cheer about until now. As the Apparatus Architects Tom Shand and myself have always and will always be neutral about specific Fire Apparatus Manufacturers in short there are any number of Fire Apparatus Manufactures that can build great fire trucks. So with that said Pierce Manufacturing at the recent Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) unveiled a new single axle 107’, 750 pound tip load, 500 gallons of water quint marketed as the Ascendant. Although there are several new innovations and five patents pending that does not necessarily tell the whole story. To a point it is not what Pierce did but how they did it that is most important and only the tip of the iceberg as it relates to all aerial apparatus moving forward in the fire apparatus manufacturing industry.
One thing has changed consistently since the 1950’s Fire Apparatus have gotten bigger, heavier and faster than they have ever been. With aerial apparatus they have really gotten much bigger, much faster and much, much heavier. During fleet evaluations we ask the host fire chief many questions. Among those questions are how many drivers do you have for your two 190 inch wheelbase nominally sized engines twenty two, how many drivers chief do you have for your mid-mounted aerial tower quint twelve and how many drivers do you have for your tandem axle pumper tanker 3000 gallon tank top heavy apparatus six. When I joined the volunteer fire department in my town there were nineteen drivers on the drivers list, seventeen of those drivers had CDL’s (commercial driving license) and thirteen of those drivers actually drove commercial trucks to make their living. How lucky were we. Unfortunately that is simply not the case today. In short the apparatus manufacturers have done too good of a job. With 24000 pound front axles, 35000 pound single rear axles and 60000 pound tandem rear axles the apparatus industry has outpaced the Fire Departments ability to recruit, train and properly and safely operate these large heavy fast vehicles under an emergency vehicle response conditions. For career departments it is difficult and for volunteer departments with limited personal with limited time to commit to the necessary training in some cases it becomes almost impossible. The reality is that well trained, experienced and qualified apparatus operators that understand heavy trucks are worth their weight in gold and are in very short supply.
Finally someone in the apparatus industry that understands the fire service, the customers has design a heavy duty ladder that is much lighter than anything here to fore every built yet stronger and longer all on a single axle chassis. The Ascendant has five patents pending including ladder design (Innovative gusset design), lightweight turntable, outrigger design, pedestal and torque box, and overall configuration. Finally to get a group of fire truck engineer’s to think outside of the box and not be satisfied with the status quo[MW1] is refreshing to say the least. Every nut, bolt and part put on the truck was weighed before for it was assembled. The result is a 107’ long ladder , 750 pound tip load quint that carries 500 gallons of water and an NFPA truck compliment of 115’ of ground ladders all on a chassis that is 39’2” overall length and 11’5” overall height.
What does this mean for the fire service that bigger is not always better. That if the technology exists to build out this much weight on this particular truck than this is going to carry right across the board to all aerial apparatus that Pierce builds and then eventually to all aerial apparatus manufactured. Can you imagined what is now an 82000 pound mid-mounted aerial tower with an 18 foot jack spread turning into a 64000 pound mid-mounted aerial tower with a jack spread of 14’ the possibilities are endless. The future looks extraordinarly bright for anyone that is going to be purchasing aerial apparatus.
The Apparatus Architects
By Michael Wilbur and Tom Shand
Firehouse Apparatus Supplement