Technical rescue teams are being placed into service with many departments to expand the capabilities of fire-rescue and medical response to include confined space rescue, high angle rescue, trench rescue, swift water rescue, structural collapse, damage assessment, as well as weapons of mass destruction preparedness. Each of these areas requires specialized expertise gained through extensive training in different scenarios as well as through knowledge of the tools and equipment required to safely and effectively carry out these missions. The scope of technical rescue operations is ever changing and as a result new equipment and technologies are being rapidly developed to keep pace with the increased demands on this service.
In the Apparatus Architect series we have previously discussed several aspects relating to Rescue Squad apparatus design in Part 23 through Part 26 where one of the overriding principles is to determine the overall mission of the vehicle before setting out to specify a new rescue vehicle. There are some parallels going back into history with the development of rescue company apparatus and the present day expansion into technical rescue services. At the outset many larger departments including the New York City Fire Department placed rescue company units into service with older apparatus that were rebuilt to meet their needs. Rescue Company 1 in New York was organized in March, 1915 first operated with a 1914 Cadillac touring car that was modified by the department shops. Three different versions of these open bodied apparatus were utilized until the first custom built fully enclosed walk in rescue was placed into service with Rescue Company 1 during 1939. So what is the parallel here with respect to technical rescue apparatus?
Even prior to the current economic downturn with our country’s economy fire departments were being called upon to provide more services to their community with stagnant or reduced funding levels. Placing a technical rescue team into service requires a good amount of funding to provide the necessary staffing, training and equipment to support the mission of the team and to meet the needs of the department. The type, size and quality of the vehicle utilized to transport personnel and equipment can vary widely based upon the financial resources available and the internal resources of the department.
Technical rescue units falls under the category of Special Service Fire Apparatus in the NFPA 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus Standard. Depending upon the gross vehicle weight rating the minimum equipment allowance could be a little as 2000 pounds for units up to 15,000 pound GVRW up to 10,000 pounds for trucks with a GVWR over 60,001 pounds. Determining the needed size of your technical rescue apparatus is dependant upon many factors such as:
1. Will the apparatus be staffed on a daily basis and respond to routine emergencies as well as incidents requiring technical rescue expertise?
2. What is the anticipated equipment inventory including the size and weight of each piece of equipment?
3. Will this vehicle be a stand alone unit or will it operate with other support apparatus and companies when needed?
4. Considering the assessment of these questions will the overall needs of the vehicle best met by using a commercial Class 7 or 8 chassis or a custom built fire chassis?
5. Given the equipment payload and staffing levels will a walk in style rescue body or walk around fully compartmented body best meet the needs of the team?
These are just some of the areas that need to be explored prior to setting out to develop a set of specifications for a new piece of apparatus. In Part 26 of the Apparatus Architect (Firehouse-April 2006) we compared some of the differences in chassis components and available options between commercial and custom fire chassis. Commercial chassis offer a wide range of options for wheelbase and axle capacities and can save significant monies over their custom chassis counterparts particularly if the technical rescue unit is going to be primarily used as a support vehicle and the need to carry personnel inside of the cab is limited to four personnel or less. Custom chassis can generally provide a wider range of cab options including extended cabs with different seating arrangements to accommodate just about any configuration. Other safety related equipment such as electronic stability controls, vehicle data recorders and air bags will be more readily available on custom chassis. All of these components and options come at a price, so your department’s apparatus committee needs to be sensitive to meeting the needs and objectives of the apparatus while paying attention to the overall budget for the project.
One of the most important tasks is to clearly not only define the mission of the apparatus but to develop a comprehensive list of each piece of equipment that the technical rescue vehicle will carry. Each piece of equipment should be noted with its principal dimensions and weight. While some equipment such as tripods and repelling gear do not weight a great deal, the size of these pieces can be critical when determining appropriate compartment dimensions and modules to hold this gear within the body. Likewise, pieces of timber and shoring material can add significant weight to the equipment payload. Fixed body components such as generators, air compressors, light towers and breathing air systems must be considered when determining an appropriate size chassis and components to safely handle the anticipated payload.
Once the initial body dimensional design is completed there should be sufficient room in the body and axle capacity on the chassis to accommodate future growth as new equipment is acquired. It is not surprising that with rescue squad apparatus the majority of these units are replaced when there is insufficient compartment space to carry the needed equipment and at times, smaller units can easily become overloaded as heavier equipment is needed. As many technical rescue teams started with a hand me down vehicle or one that was modified to meet their initial needs the deficiencies of these units are generally quickly identified with improvements made in subsequent newer apparatus. A common mistake is to design the new vehicle to meet the current requirements without looking far enough into the future to anticipate changes in equipment and technological advances which can impact procedures and operations. As a minimum approximately 15 to 20 percent of the cube of the body should be left open and available for future equipment expansion and changes.
As with many specialized vehicles there can be a lot of opinions as to how the apparatus should be set up, deployed and utilized to its best advantage. Again, history can guide us here as very few departments were able to get everything right the very first time that they set out to design from scratch a complex rescue apparatus. At times one of the other downfalls of larger rescue vehicles is that the committee will set out to acquire the largest piece of apparatus that will either fit the firehouse or what the budget will allow, figuring that the details of equipment placement, side to side weight balance and component compatibility will all just magically work themselves out. Simply put, your committee should expect a few hurdles during the initial discussions and design of the vehicle. Seek out the advice of departments that are operating in a similar fashion to gain from there experience as well as from apparatus builders who specialize in constructing these types of vehicles.
Most manufacturers have the capability to take your tool and equipment inventory and with the use of CAD drawings can develop a blueprint which will depict equipment locations showing all of the principal dimensions, including areas that would be available for expansion. If your team started operations with an older vehicle the experience gained from using this unit can assist in providing information as to what worked well and more importantly what did not. There should be no shame in making mistakes so long as the learning curve is lessened in the future. The safety of our operating personnel should always be at the forefront of any discussions with respect to the apparatus as well as the placement and utilization of the equipment carried. Training, experience and review of lessons learned will improve the skills and safety for everyone operating with these specialized tools and equipment.
Photos included for use in AA Part 46: All photos by Tom W. Shand