Understanding the Latest & Greatest Apparatus Innovations

I remember the good ol’ days when fire trucks were simple, pump panels were easy to navigate, vehicles were smaller and easier to maneuver, and firefighting involved basic, straightforward operations. Most of us older folks are used to the saying, “All you have to do is put the wet stuff on the red stuff.” And although that approach might still work for some folks, new technology is playing an important role in fire apparatus and firefighter capabilities.

Now I’m by no means a dinosaur when it comes to fire apparatus. I get really excited every time I attend a fire service show like FDIC or FRI, and I’m always amazed by what the manufacturers’ engineers come up with, especially when I can see that firefighter safety is finally on everyone’s mind.

NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, the bible of standards for apparatus design, has evolved over the years. The people who serve on this committee devote considerable time and energy to ensuring that safety is paramount for the firefighters who operate these vehicles.

As far as I’m concerned, although these standards aren’t laws, they should be followed as such. Some departments may choose to have a manufacturer sign off on items that they don’t think they’ll need in the long run. But be very careful if you decide to go this route. The standards were written for a reason–firefighter safety.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most recent and significant apparatus innovations now available–and how they’re making our jobs easier and safer.

Engine Improvements
One of the biggest areas of concern in the past 3 years is the new EPA emissions standards, some of which were presented in 2007; a more stringent standard was presented this year. All have caused manufacturers to pour more money into building new apparatus.

In 2007, we began seeing vehicles constructed with diesel particulate filters (DPFs). Now in 2010, we’re seeing diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) being injected into the exhaust before it comes through the DPF.

Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) is an emissions-reducing technology that uses DEF, a mixture of 68 percent deionized water and 32 percent liquid urea that’s injected into the engine exhaust. The engine exhaust heat reaches approximately 500 degrees, which turns the DEF into steam. At this temperature, other chemical reactions take place, such as the urea degrading into ammonia, which neutralizes the nitrogen oxides (NOx), a smog-causing pollutant and greenhouse gas. Basically, without trying to be a chemistry teacher, what comes out of the exhaust stack is a mixture of simple nitrogen and water vapor.

Most of the engine and truck manufacturers have started using SCR as a means to lower their pollutant emissions. Navistar has been building their 2010-compliant MaxxForce engines with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). The EGR valve recirculates exhaust into the intake stream. Exhaust gases have already combusted, so they do not burn again when they are recirculated. These gases displace some of the normal intake charge. This chemically slows and cools the combustion process by several hundred degrees, thus reducing NOx formation. No urea tanks or additional fluids are needed to operate the engines.

There’s plenty of additional information about EGR and SCR on the Internet, on the engine manufacturers’ websites and in various truck magazines. And this isn’t just for fire service vehicles, but rather any vehicle with a 2010 or newer diesel engine.

Let’s now take a closer look at what some manufacturers are up to these days with regard to new technology.

Crimson has engineered many new patents for its aerial ladder products: the greaseless ladder for easy maintenance, a new travel and rest cradle, the Vibra-Torque mounting system, the patented lift cradle, X-style outriggers, Hydra Load hosebeds, as well as the Smart Hose Load system. It also recently unveiled the new Transformer Pumper, which positions the pump panel and pump closer to the rear wheels, freeing up more compartment space.

Darley and its various divisions have produced new pump modules, CAFS systems, water purification systems and the Darley iStart Panel, which is an Internet-based remote start-up option on Darley pumps.

E-One recently introduced its CR 137, a new 137′ rear-mount ladder, and last year the company introduced its 78′ quint. The Quest cab and chassis became available 2 years ago with additional room and safety features. The Urban Pumper with a low ergonomic hosebed was introduced a few years ago as well.

HMA has developed a new version of its Ultra High Pressure system. Us older (or should I say wiser) firefighters, officers and chiefs remember the old John Bean high-pressure fog systems. Well, this new technology takes that concept to a new level.

Until recently we didn’t have the technology to turn high pressure into a highly effective and transportable suppression system. But now HMA and the U.S. Air Force Fire Research Lab have developed a system that creates miniscule water droplets and delivers them at an extremely high velocity to extinguish a fire by separating the fire from the fuel source, and then leaves a thin foam blanket to keep the fire from reigniting. What’s great is that this concept can be used on ATVs, skid units and full-size custom chassis.

HME introduced the first compressed natural gas (CNG) fire apparatus. We’ve seen this type of technology in buses and some utility vehicles on the road, but not in the fire service–until now. A field-tested Cummins Westport CNG engine has been selected to power the vehicle. CNG engines offer less oil consumption, improved idling, longer intervals between service calls and a lower operating cost per mile. All this is accomplished through the use of clean, domestically produced CNG fuel.

The apparatus features a stainless-steel, high-cubic-footage rescue-style body, a 750-gpm pump, a 500-gallon tank, a CNG generator and a foam system, all mounted on HME’s SFO compact chassis, selected for its maneuverability.

The new Predator and Severe service cab and chassis became available 2 years ago, and a newly styled Predator came out this year, along with a 79′ Legacy AerialCat. Also, KME has a newly engineered ARFF vehicle with many new innovations for firefighter safety. For example, the vehicle was designed with better maneuverability and increased visibility for the one-person operation in the cab.

Oshkosh equipped its new Striker aircraft rescue firefighting (ARFF) vehicle with Pulse Technology. Pulse delivers dry-chemical powder at Mach 1 speed. It propels small packets of powder from the nozzle with enough force to penetrate a commercial-size fire wall, allowing firefighters to take a position farther away from the fire. The dry chemical blooms within the fire envelope, exposing its surface area to maximize heat absorption and extinguishing fires more quickly, safely and efficiently.

Pierce, along with its parent company Oshkosh, has developed a great deal of technology: the TAK-4 Independent Suspension System, Command Zone electronics, the Husky Foam System, front- and side-impact air bags, roll-stability control and a host of other innovations.

The TAK-4 System not only gives the apparatus a better ride, but also shortens stopping distances and has 17″ brake drums for added stopping and load-carrying capabilities.

The side-roll protection system tightens seatbelts, lowers the seats to their lowest position, locks the seat down to eliminate movement and then inflates side air bags and curtains.

Electronic Stability Control monitors cornering and activates when the vehicle’s critical roll threshold is met. It can reduce the possibility of a side roll, monitors directional stability through sensors and compares the actual direction of travel to the intended direction of travel. It can also reduce the possibility of a spinout or driftout, even in poor traction conditions.

PS6 seats offer side-roll protection, lumbar support, self-adjusting ride height, a seatbelt alarm system, double-length seatbelts with dual belt retractors, a large-waist-positioned seatbelt buckle, tongue storage and many other features.

And we can’t forget the Velocity, Impel and PUC designs for all Pierce apparatus.

Rosenbauer introduced its GREEN Star idle-reduction technology (IRT) last year. This technology uses electronic controls to shut down the chassis engine on scene when the fire pump is not engaged. These controls then start the diesel-driven auxiliary power unit (APU), which supports the 12-volt electrical system and provides a minimum 8-kW of 120/240-volt power. The APU is capable of maintaining chassis heating and cooling requirements as well.

The APU uses about one-fourth the fuel compared to the chassis engine, saving fuel costs, lowering emissions and extending service intervals between oil changes and DPF service and replacement.

Rosenbauer’s custom pumper with GREEN Star IRT is available with a 1,500-gpm pump and 750-gallon water tank, as well as a host of other options.

Smeal is offering a great innovation for its quints–an ergonomic hose load (EHL). This is probably the safest method to reload hose because it keeps firefighters from having to climb up onto the hosebed. The EGH makes it really easy to lay hose, as there are no hose chutes for the hose to get hung up on. The EHL holds 1,000 feet of 5″ large-diameter hose (LDH), and a divider is available if you have multiple hose loads.

Sutphen touts its Huck Bolt fastener fabrication assembly process, its mid-mount box frame and platform construction, and its turntable technology.

Even More Technology
By no means does this cover all the innovations currently available from all apparatus manufacturers. Ferrara, Seagrave, Marion and a host of other manufacturers have introduced new products that have improved firefighter safety in the past several years.

One technology you’ll see on newly manufactured apparatus, thanks to NFPA 1901: black boxes. These onboard vehicle data recorders will measure speed, braking and a host of other functions.

Some other apparatus technologies or regulation changes to look for include rollover stability control, Chevron striping, a secondary braking system for vehicles weighing more than 36,000 lbs., electronic tire-pressure-monitoring systems, hydrostatic testing for all apparatus plumbing, visual and audible seatbelt warnings, speed restrictions for apparatus weighing more than 26,000 lbs. and 50,000 lbs., new waterway performance standards, helmet mounting in the cab and load analyses related to electrical needs.

Where to Begin
If you’re in line for a new apparatus, begin your search on the various manufacturers’ websites or, even better, visit one of the many apparatus shows around the country and see the technology firsthand. There’s a lot of information out there. In fact, there were more than 160 changes to NFPA 1901 between the 2004 and 2009 editions. But don’t fret. You can read up on all the changes by purchasing a copy of NFPA 1901 at www.nfpa.org, or go to the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) website (www.fama.org), where you can find a wealth of information.

Final Thoughts
Each year, new ideas and technology seem to invade the fire service industry–a great thing in my book. I can hardly wait for next year to see what the manufacturers come up with to improve firefighter safety.

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