Apparatus advances

Plenty of bells and whistles available but budgets dictate what departments can buy
October 31, 2007
Written by James Careless
apparatus_1To Canadians, Iqaluit (population 6,184) is the capital of Nunavut. But to Iqaluit Fire Chief Gregory Jewers, Iqaluit is a challenge. The reason: Thanks to its isolated location, the IFD is alone no matter how big the fire. "There's no one out there to provide mutual aid," Chief Jewers explains. "We're on our own."

This is why the IFD, comprising 19 staff and 25 volunteer firefighters, is so pleased to have received its new Smeal pumper. "It's got a 400 hp headend engine and a 1,000 gallon UPS polytank," Chief Jewers says. "The pumper also has a 1,500 imperial gph Watrous pump and an onboard CAFS [Compressed Air Foam System]." Jewers adds that, "Our local government fully appreciated our need for this pumper, so we had no trouble getting them to fund it."

The Iqaluit Fire Department is one of many across Canada that are buying new apparatus either to replace aging equipment or to keep up with expanding populations. In addition, sales are being driven by compliance with updated NFPA standards, at least by those departments that can afford to comply.

"With the introduction of Annex D, which calls for the replacement of all apparatus 25 years old and older and new NFPA safety guidelines, many small rural departments are finding the costs of acquiring a new apparatus rising out of their budgets," notes Dale Hawes, U.S. sales rep for Fort Garry Fire Trucks in Winnipeg. "Most reputable manufacturers want to meet or exceed NFPA standards and this does add to the final sales price of the truck. In addition, EPA emission standards are becoming more stringent and are increasing the cost of an average chassis."

So what are Canadian fire departments buying, and why? "Canadian departments take a more utilitarian approach to buying equipment, in comparison to U.S. departments," says Jeff Resch, Pierce Manufacturing's vice president of sales. "There are not as many bells and whistles on Canadian trucks and it doesn't matter if the department buying is in the city or country."

Lethbridge Chief Brian Cornforth agrees, to the extent that his department focuses on buying "the usual pumpers" and other well-defined pieces of equipment. However, keeping things simple does not mean not keeping up with the times. For instance, "The new articulating platforms and the new technology out there offers higher payloads and more versatility, which is what we are looking for," Cornforth says.

According to Dave Purdie, general manager of Carrier Emergency, the E-One dealer in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, even with the lower U.S. dollar, what gets built onto apparatus is still dictated by budgets.

"This means we often end up building whatever the department can afford, rather than what they would like to buy," adds Harvey Goodwin, co-owner of HUB Fire Engines in Abbotsford, B.C.

That's true, says Len Garis, chief in Surrey, B.C., and budgets aren't getting much bigger. In his case, "B.C. and Canada is experiencing one of the strongest economies seen in the last 30 years, [but] unfortunately this has not translated into a windfall of new tax dollars for local government." This means continued tight budgets for Surrey Fire Service, with new money going to "soft services" such as recreation and social issues.

Firefighter protection is a top priority in Canadian apparatus purchases. "We want ergonomic hose beds so that firefighters don't have to climb up onto the trucks," says Jeff Carlisle, regional fire chief for the Fort McMurray Fire Department. "We want fully enclosed cabs, so that firefighters don't have to drive through -40 C cold on their way to and from the scene."

Safety is a priority in other parts of the country too.

"This year, one of our trucks had a serious rollover that we never want to repeat," says Roger Zanettin, director of apparatus for the Windsor Fire & Rescue Services. "That's why we're going for side-roll protection packages, seatbelt tensioners and stability warning systems."

Fort Garry Fire Trucks is seeing an increase in chevron and reflective stripping at the rear and on doors of apparatus to increase the visibility of trucks while on the side of highways, says Hawes. Meanwhile, "to reduce injuries caused by firefighters climbing on top of apparatus, many foam system manufacturers are offering optional foam tank fill stations at the pump operator panel to fill a foam tank from a foam pail.

Then there's high tech. "Many departments are ordering cutting-edge items from LED lights to onboard computers, electronically controlled valves and more CAFS systems," says Harvey Goodwin of HUB Fire Engines.

Out on the incident scene, "Firefighters seem to really like thermal image devices, higher end protective clothing and combat boots, and CBRN equipment," says Surrey's Chief Garis.

Finally, modular apparatus systems are popular with Canadian departments. "The current trend in customer demand is a movement toward walk-around rescue, with separate command post modules . . . and a trend towards pumper rescues from straight triple combination pumpers," Hawes says. "The movement in rescue models is to keep firefighters away from the equipment on rescues."

The complexity of these requirements underlines how much more sophisticated firefighting has become over the years. Buying the biggest and most powerful pumper is no longer enough. To do their jobs properly, fire departments have to purchase apparatus incorporating cutting-edge fire suppression, safety and communications equipment. They also have to understand the basics of apparatus construction and capabilities to get the equipment they need for the right price.

Mindful of this, apparatus manufacturers are providing much more pre-purchasing information to departments than they did in the past.

"Education in the form of presentations and brochures describing the manufacturing process and desirable features are helping the fire chief to streamline the department's specifications and maintain a quality and productive apparatus well into the expected 20- to 25-year lifetime of the truck," explains Hawes. "A reputable manufacturer is able to supply specifications to a fire chief almost immediately," he adds. "Leasing programs are available that can defer the costs over a period of time."

Despite tight budgets, Canadian fire departments are pushing ahead with their apparatus purchases, with an eye to enhancing firefighter safety, vehicle capability and overall fire suppression effectiveness.

The good news? Thanks to the weak U.S. dollar, "there is no better time to acquire equipment," says Chief Garis. "Most of the large-ticket items are valued or influenced in some way by the strength of the U.S. dollar . . . The last quint I purchased was 15 per cent less than ones purchased four years ago."

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