Just about every fire department in the country has felt a budget crunch in the past several years. Most are trying to do more with less. With regard to apparatus, replacing vehicles way before the 20-year mark or more seems to be the way to go-if you can afford it.
Some fire departments have the luxury of keeping frontline apparatus for 20 years and then putting them into reserve status. Keeping a vehicle in action depends on the workload the vehicle sees in its life span, and most major cities replace apparatus way before this time frame.
However, I am beginning to see a pattern with some local fire districts trying to replace 10- to 12-year-old apparatus that are in good shape to gain a better resale value or refurbing the vehicle to extend its life span.
Elmont Fire Department
One of these fire departments is the Elmont Fire Department (EFD) located on Long Island, New York. The EFD is a larger volunteer fire department located in Western Nassau County, which borders the borough of Queens and the Fire Department of New York. The area served is primarily suburban, with a population of 48,000 in six square miles. The department operates four engines, one tower ladder, one tractor-drawn aerial (TDA), and a spare rearmount. It also operates a heavy rescue and an EMS company with two ambulances out of seven stations. Aside from the usual single-family dwellings, strip malls, restaurants, and schools, it also protects the world famous Belmont Race Track.
The department had its first TDA back in 1926, which consisted of an old tractor and trailer of unknown origin. It had gotten away from this type of vehicle until 2004, when it purchased a new Spartan/LTI.
According to former chief and current department public information officer Mike Capoziello, the department decided to go with a TDA because of extremely tight streets in the older parts of the district, as well as a problem with the dense population of people who park their cars on most streets at night, making it more difficult to maneuver standard double-rear-axle ladders around.
Fast forward to 2015. The department usually tries to replace apparatus every 10 years if possible, according to former chief Brian Schriefer, who was on the apparatus replacement committee. “We try to accomplish this to get a better resale value for whatever we are replacing,” he explains.
The district and committee had a manufacturer look at the 2004 TDA, and the manufacturer thought that the vehicle was in great shape. The committee decided to refurb and save a great deal of money. “We still had to go out for competitive bidding, with Spartan ERV winning the bid,” Schriefer says, “which we were happy with, since we dealt with Spartan previously and like their roomy cabs.”
The refurb involved the manufacturer taking the cab off the chassis. The manufacturer also removed the ladder from the body and cleaned and serviced the aerial. It also rewired the aerial and rearranged cabinets on the body.
“What really made a difference for us was that they shortened the fifth wheel area by shortening the cabinets on the cab and moved up the fifth wheel,” Schriefer says. “By doing this, they made the vehicle two feet shorter and made the truck more maneuverable. The older TDA had a tough time making it down some of our streets. The refurbed ladder-not at all.”
The committee traveled to the Spartan ERV ladder factory in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, several times to see the conversion and had some items changed. “We wanted all of our hooks, cans, and forcible entry tools mounted on the outside of the body to make them easily accessible,” Schriefer says. “They boxed them in on the body so they would meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.” Also, 100-foot hydraulic lines and two Holmatro tool generators were added to the rig so personnel could operate rescue tools if needed.
One unique aspect of this vehicle is that the body is configured so that compartments on both sides of the truck contain the same tools. This was done so that no matter what side of the vehicle the firefighters get off of, the same tools and equipment are available for easy access.
The cabinets and shelves were rearranged and reconfigured so that there is added space for future growth, as you never know what new tools or equipment might come out in the next several years. By being proactive in the design, the department ensured the rig has the added space.
The EFD has been proactive in the refurb of its TDA. The apparatus committee did an excellent job of designing the vehicle for future growth and tool placement and making the truck more maneuverable to operate in the response district.
For all purposes, the department treated this as a new purchase with its forward-thinking redesign, as it should be. The committee was able to travel to the manufacturer’s factory to talk to the engineers and make some adjustments and changes while the vehicle was in the process of being refurbed.
If you have an older apparatus and think you might be able to extend its life, refurbing might be the way to go for your department. However, you have to weigh the cost factor, how long the refurb will extend the life of the vehicle, and if it will meet NFPA standards when completed. Reading NFPA 1912, Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing, is a must before you start the process.
This standard specifies requirements for the refurbishing of automotive fire apparatus used for firefighting and rescue operations, whether the refurbishing is done at the fire department, at the municipal maintenance facilities, or at the facilities of private contractors or apparatus manufacturers.
What does NFPA 1912 address? Detailed guidelines for Level I and Level II refurbishing cover everything from carrying capacity to frame; engine design; cooling, lubrication, fuel, air, and exhaust systems; fire pump; hose storage; water tank; and aerial devices. In addition, NFPA 1912 includes provisions for purchaser and contractor responsibilities, chassis components, personnel protection, and governmental requirements.
You must preplan for the unknown as well. While the vehicle is being worked on, will the manufacturer find added problems that will add to your purchase cost? In the case of a ladder, will an X-ray of the aerial find additional problems that need correcting? Does it have cracked chassis rails, etc.?
Only after careful consideration and investigation can you make a smart decision on which way you are going to proceed with your apparatus refurb.
Spartan ERV TDA Specs