Ask any firefighter what they consider the ultimate ladder truck, and the most common answer youll get is the tractor-drawn aerial (TDA). As a child living in the borough of Queens in New York, I saw the FDNY respond to fires in my neighborhood with numerous TDAs. For a while, however, it seemed they would become a thing of the past.
Enter the present era of fire service aerial ladders. Although most departments have gone the route of rear-mounts, mid-mounts and platform apparatus, several departments still require more maneuverable vehicles that can navigate tight areas of their response district.
One of those departments is the Gladwyne Fire Company (GFC) of Lower Merion Township, Pa., located 12 miles outside of Philadelphia in Montgomery County, Pa. The small community that we protect is starting to grow, just like other areas outside a major city, says GFC Chief Andrew Block. We have 1,900 residences, with new buildings going up all around us. The new residences also present challenges for fire protection. People buy up existing property and build these larger homes on 1-acre pieces of property, Block says. The newer homes are mansion-like with long driveways and difficult access from the main roads we respond on. The GFC also protects commercial areas and strip shopping centers. Its immediate response area covers 4.5 square miles; mutual aid extends another 5 miles outside the area.
The combination of older apparatus, along with these new response challenges, led the department to purchase a tiller quint.
More for Less
As Block explains, the department first started using a quint out of necessity. During the 1990s, we used our engines as first-out pieces, but because we were trying to do more with less, like everybody else in this day and age, we began using the quint, he says.
But in 2004, it was clear that the old Snorkel the department was using as a quint was beginning to show wear and tear. In addition, it couldnt navigate into some of the tight areas in town. We try to replace our engines every 15 years and the truck every 20 years, Block explains. However, the Snorkel was a 1978 and [by 2006] would be 9 years over the 20-year plan.
As the GFC began planning the replacement apparatus, the choice to go with another quint was clear. In 1992, our township had begun to provide us with funds to purchase apparatus, Block says. The only stipulation was that whatever we replaced, it had to be something similar in operation. So if we wanted to replace the old quint, we had to replace it with a quintnot a problem as far as we were concerned. We also decided to replace one of our older engines at the same time and reduce the number of apparatus we had.
Tilleror Something Else?
Although a quint was the obvious apparatus to purchase, exactly what type wasnt so clear. Our committee decided to look into a tractor-drawn aerial with a pump and water on it, Block says. Three of our members had previous experience with these types of apparatus [tiller quint]. However, it wasnt as easy as we thought it would be to convince our members that this was the way to go.
As a result, the department originally specced out a rear-mount quint. After some investigation, we decided to call in some neighboring departments for a road course drill, Block says. We set up a course with road cones and had departments with rear-mounts and other types of aerials to take part in this operation. One neighboring department, Willow Grove, brought its TDA, and the results were impressive. The truck could bend and weave through the course with ease. We took it around town to some of our tight areas and the outcome was the same, Block says.
Choosing a Manufacturer
Now convinced that a tiller was the way to go, the GFC needed to choose a manufacturer. KME, which was at the time building several tiller quints for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, was an obvious choice, because its factory is located only 1 1?2 hours from the GFC. That provided us with access to their assembly line to go up and look at the construction of the L.A. County units, Block says. KME also has a great deal of experience building these kinds of vehicles. After some discussion, the department decided to go with a design similar to the L.A. County design but without the Severe Service Cab.
As Block notes, the GFC upgraded some design features to make the rig more conducive to its needs. Our specs call for the truck to carry 1,000 feet of 5" supply line, two 1 3?4" lines (400 feet each) and 200 feet of 2 1?2" hose for attack lines. The vehicle also sports a 350-gallon water tank.
The specs began to take shape in February 2005, we decided on the tiller quint in December 2005 and finally ordered the truck in February 2006, Block says. We also gave KME permission to show it around the fire service show circuit for a while. We finally took delivery at the end of July 2007.
Block notes that the GFC is very happy with its KME experience. They were very responsive to our needs and ideas. We visited the factory probably seven times during the construction phase and they were always accommodating, he says.
The choice to go with a tiller quint did require some changes in the department. The GFC had to add a bay onto its fire station to accommodate the TDA, and training also had to change. Not only do we have to train our firefighters to drive a TDA, but we must have tiller man training as well, Block says. Fortunately, the Eden Fire Company in Lancaster purchased a TDA just before the GFC, so GFC members were able to train on the Lancaster TDA before they took delivery of their own apparatus.
Were excited about putting the truck in service, Block says. It will respond first-due in our immediate response area and will be used for mutual aid throughout the county and beyond. The GFCs work is not over; it continues to train and plan equipment mounting in the rig.
Although the GFC chose a different concept for its response area, the proactive planning that took place when its members designed the truck should be a lesson for all. They took time to investigate what others around them had in operation and what would and wouldnt work for them. Only then did they make up their minds to choose this functional vehicle.
Quint Up Close
The GFC's Tractor-Drawn Aerial Apparatus
- KME Predator MFD with 6" raised roof
- 2,000-gpm Hale QMAX pump
- 350-gallon United Plastic Fabricating polypropylene tank
- Superior Tiller Vision
- 10-kW Onan generator
- Two Hannay electric cord reels
- Code 3 warning-light package
- ASA rear camera system
- 500-lb. load tip
- 100,000-psi steel ladder
Gladwyne Fire Company Apparatus
- 1990 E-One engine
- 1992 E-One engine
- 1985 E-One air/light unit built on a Ford chassis
- 2006 Ford F-350 utility truck