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Building the Model Rig: a Common Sense Approach

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Its not very often that your suburban or rural community gets the chance to spec out or build a new piece of fire apparatus. Especially in recent years with all of the economic hardship, many organizations have gone through the painstaking process of refurbishing older apparatus to extend their life cycle. Fortunately, my organization was able to justify the purchase of a new aerial device (for all of you die-hard truck guys, I know it's a quint, its a necessary evil in my area) and I was fortunate enough to serve on the impromptu apparatus committee. The truck that is above IS the truck we purchased/are purchasing (whichever stage we are at). Since this truck has been built, many people have asked about our design, what makes it special and how did we come up with it? In this blog I will go over how we came up with our truck and many of the questions surrounding it,  because since it started on the line, this truck has become wildly popular among many organizations looking for a 100' quint. Utilizing a "common sense" approach and being relatively fiscally conservative we were able to come up with a fully functional ladder truck that meets our needs as primarily a ladder, and also as an engine if it should ever be needed.

The New Rig

The Burlington Fire Protection District purchased a 2014 Spartan ER 103' Gladiator Quint from a Competitive Bid/RFP process. The apparatus has the following specifications:

-103' Steel Ladder with a 500 lb. tip load (both dry and wet)

- Illuminated aerial ladder with LED rope lighting in soft blue

- Aerial tip lighting operated from cab to eliminate brow lights

- 4 Person cab with interior storage compartment lit with LED lights

- Hale Q-Max 2000 GPM Single Stage pump with In-Control 300 electronic pump control system, no foam

- 500 Gallon Poly-Tank

- 170' of Ground Ladders (not including a little giant as well)

- Wheel well storage for 11 cylinders, 4 outrigger pads and 2 extinguishers

- 10kw PTO driven generator

- 2 - 100' cord reels

- Hose Storage for 750' (600' carried) of 5" supply line as well as for 200' of 2.5" and 200' of 2"


Determining the Mission

Once it was finally declared that the old ladder (92 Seagrave 100' Single Axle Quint) was no longer able to serve the community and it was time to replace it, the chief sat down with the membership over a series of days, analyzing the job of the ladder company and determining what the mission of the apparatus was to be. For your organization, it is imperative that before you EVER buy a truck, you need to determine exactly what you expect the apparatus to do. We knew that we were replacing a quint with a quint, but we needed to determine was the truck going to be an Engine with Ladder Capabilities or a Ladder with Engine Capabilities?

We determined that we wanted a Ladder with Engine capabilities, the former ladder had only pumped a handful of fires in its 20 life cycle and a majority of pump hours came from annual testing and daily truck checks. It was determined that even though there was not much use out of the pump in its life, that a quint was an absolute must. These two factors helped us determine that there needed to be JUST enough hose to do the job, but also have a decent amount of water and a solid pump capacity. The emphasis was to be put on truck functions and that we needed to maximize the truck company equipment that came with it.

Determining the Type of Truck

After we defined exactly what we wanted the truck to do, we had to get involved with a more specific look at what type of apparatus we wanted. We knew we needed a quint, but we needed to figure out what kind. We had to look at not only what WE had originally, but what our surrounding resources had available. I am a firm believer of not only doing whats best for your community, but for your REGION as well, especially considering that we have very strong mutual aid ties in our area. The chief asked the following questions to help determine the specific ladder needs to the area:

- Light, Medium or Heavy Duty Ladder?

- Platform or Stick?

- Midmount or Rearmount?

When we looked at our current ladder, we only had a 250 lb tip load and that was on a good day, with no water in the master stream and low handrails. We looked at our membership and determined that almost no firefighter in turnout gear with SCBA (including some of our smallest members) would be within the weight range of less than 250 lbs. We know that aerial ladders are build with a minimum of 2-to-1 safety weight range, but safety first! We decided to go to a medium duty (500 lb) weight load ladder that were likely to have a higher rail height. We opted to go with a stick over a platform due to a duplication of resources, our two surrounding communities have 100' platforms and while they may be safer, we may be able to get our truck places that they cannot due to increased aerial load (potentially, you never know!)

When we looked at going mid or rear mounted, we looked at both our current firehouse and our membership and made the determination to go with a rear mount. Due to how our tarmac turns onto the main thoroughfare the angle would likely cause the increased length of the mid-mount to grind on the  road. Also, our members never having driven a mid-mount aerial would create a bit of a learning curve especially in our narrow "downtown" area where they would be well into the next lane with the rear hanging out potentially hitting vehicles. We opted to stay with a rear-mount because of this.

At this point we knew that we were going to wind up with a tandem axle truck, which will be a learning curve for some of our driver/operators, but with OUR needs, it was the best route to go.

Maximizing Efficiency

The big things that stuck out after the "town meeting" of determining our truck was that we needed to create a maximum efficiency ladder. It needed to be able to assume multiple roles, but have it's strengths centered towards "Ladder Work". The following items were posted on the board that stuck out as an excellent approach to our truck:

- Maximum Ladder Compliment

- Maximum Water Tank

- No Foam

- Minimal Hose

-LED Lighting package

-Simplistic Seating

Our current ladder only had a minimal amount of ladders (a 35, a 24, 2- 16's, a 15' A-Frame, and an attic ladder) that were loaded flat and did not provide us with an easy way to deploy ladders, especially with one firefighter. We decided that we needed to ask for a maximum amount of ladders and have placed in such a manner that it would be easy for firefighters to remove them at a moments notice, especially if working alone.

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2- 2 Fly 35' ladders, 1- 28' extension, 1- 20' roof, 1-16' roof, 1- 10' attic, 1-12' attic, 1- Little Giant and 1-14' roof (on bed section of aerial)

After we determined that we wanted a bunch of ladders, we figured we needed to look at the amount of water that we could carry, we figured it would be a long shot but we asked for 500 gallons of water, that way the truck could have a fair capacity if we ever needed to engage it in a firefight and have a reasonable amount of water if we were to lose supply.  We opted for a Hale Q-Max 2000 GPM pump with an in-control 300 system, that the pump would be similar to our 2005 Engines with a pump set up without foam. We opted away from foam  due to the decreased probability that the truck would pump and that it was just another thing that could break.

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Our hose selection was designed to be as little as possible, we only wanted 600' of supply (with 500' hydrant spacing this allows us to get to the nearest hydrant if needed) and 2 crosslays, a 2" crosslay and a 2.5", to be able to start a fire attack if need be but it is not expected to be the equivalent to a true engine company.

The committee opted to go with seating for 4, while the Chief wanted 5 or 6 seats, the committee was quite adamant that the reality of our organization has shown that the most that would ever be on this apparatus is 4 on a good day (I only saw 6 on the previous ladder once, for training). We opted to build a storage shelf in the cab instead to hold tools and EMS equipment that were better stored inside than in vented compartments to be exposed to the elements.

Lastly we looked at lighting, because the world is going LED and the increase in cost of incandescent and halogen lighting is starting to rise, we opted to go LED, its less on maintenance, cost and tends to last longer, so we opted for that route!

No Frills (Sort of)

While we talked, we determined that we didn't want a whole bunch of extra widgets and gizmo's. The more stuff that you put on a truck, the more likely you will have a problem in the future. We decided that we were building a working truck, not a parade truck (no offense to those that build trucks to look good for parades, that's just not a popular thing in our area). We added some LED rope lighting to the aerial so it would be safer to climb at night as well as ran a rocker switch to the cab that powered the aerial tip lights (taken from Tyler Texas spec) so we didn't need a set of brow lights. 

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We also minimized the multiplexing system so that we didn't have a complex brain that would have the potential to go haywire frequently. Realizing that every truck will come with its own individual problems, we just opted to go for the system that has the least components to fail.

Awarding Bid and Grading

After all the information was compiled by the Chief, he determined that the fastest and most fair route to go would be through a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the major manufacturers. Once all of the bids were returned the Chief and the impromptu committee that was developed took all of the information from the manufacturers that turned in bids and compared them to the RFP and placed all of them into a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet took into account every portion of the RFP, including compartment dimensions, ladder and rail height, width of cab, length of apparatus and a significant amount more to ensure that we were getting as close to the exact truck that we asked for. After weeks of calculating, measuring and inputting data we determined to award our bid to the manufacturer that met literally 99% of what we asked for. 

Pre-construction and Inspection

As part of nearly any build the manufacturer and dealer will set up a pre-construction conference where your committee or representative will go and "build" your truck on paper, ensuring that anything that you have built is going to be correct from your RFP or Bid process. Take full advantage of this, as likely the pre-con will be at the manufacturing facility, it provides your members with an excellent understanding of the work that goes into the apparatus being build, as well as ensures that you are getting the product that you NEED.

Also, while you are attending the final inspection, try to set up a time where you can view the truck after dark, it makes a HUGE difference in how you view your lighting package. When we built our ladder we determined that we were significantly under-lit from a scene lighting standpoint, as we discovered many "dead-spots" of scene lighting.

Your Organization

The majority (or all of it up to this point) has been how my department built our truck. While those of us that put the truck together feel that we have built a solid truck, I realize that we built the best truck for US. What we put together may not work for your organization because every area has different needs. Our truck is not likely to work well in the urban area with narrow streets because of its length and turning radius, your department needs to determine whats best for you. 

- Determine the mission of the apparatus

- Determine budget of replacement/refurbishment

- Determine the minimum requirements that you have for the apparatus (tip load, tank size, single/tandem axle, etc.)

- Determine what specifics you want on the truck (Ladder Compliment, amount of hose, amount of water, etc)

- Determine what frills or extras you want on there and consider cost/maintenance

- Determine the number of people that are likely going to be on the apparatus, not how many you want to see

- Analyze organization (will it fit in firehouse, can it leave and return to the station safely, maintenance budget, etc.)

The key to building a solid apparatus for your organization is to take an functional stance when designing an apparatus, namely "what do I need this truck to do, where does it have the ability to go and how can I maximize the efficiency of the vehicle." I see too often that there are many short-sighted truck designs out there, that are built simply because the organization has the money to build what they WANT, yet the apparatus isn't as functional as it NEEDS to be. 


This is solely an opinion piece, and does not represent the opinions of anyone that I work with, merely my own and does not truly go in-depth with the process that was taken to develop our ladder on a step-by-step basis. If I offended you in any way on the approach that my organization or myself took on the development of our apparatus, it is unintentional. This was merely the most efficient way that we were able to build a practical and functional apparatus that suited our needs. Your organizations needs may be VASTLY different than our own, and that is your own right. If there are any questions regarding our truck, that you would like to know, including the specific details please feel free to contact me at the email address listed below. I am always willing to share information regarding my organization and trends in the fire service!



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