The Turlock Fire Department has ordered its first new engine in ages, a rig designed from the bottom up to reduce the risks and speed the response of today’s firefighters.
Officially a rescue pumper, the Rosenbauer America “Crossfire” engine will have a roll and spray feature for fighting a spreading grass fire, a tighter turning radius for twisty streets and courts, and ladders mounted on a sensible central pull-down.
It should be on the road a year from now, making its way to Turlock by late fall after some promotional visits for the manufacturer – part of the deal for remaking the standard rig. It will even get a deep, custom-red coat.
It had been nearly 30 years since anyone rethought the basic, hand-me-down design, said Turlock fire Capt. Mike Harcksen. He teamed with Capt. David Mallory and Engineer Peter Becchetti to come up with the concepts. Rosenbauer salesman Ken Howenstine helped them work through the details.
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The joint effort led to a complete makeover, replacing jury-rigged storage with custom cabinetry, moving heavy lifts to mid-torso height, and expanding cab space for tall men in full turnout gear.
But the new engine’s real selling point is what Harcksen calls the overall cost of ownership. Despite its nearly $600,000 cost, the engine is expected to be cheaper in the long run than the 1999 engine it replaces because of sturdier construction and the Rosenbauer’s use of everyday, easy-to-replace mechanical parts.
Turlock’s current fleet requires custom manufactured parts, so when anything breaks, the department has to order parts from Wisconsin. “It takes up to two and a half weeks – and that was a little stupid exhaust tube!” Harcksen said, shaking his head. Overnight freight costs $1,200, making that option impractical, so older engines have to be coaxed into first-call duty for those weeks until the parts arrive.
“Our reserves are getting a pretty good workout,” Harcksen told the City Council this month when it approved the purchase.
The department budgets for its engines to be on the front lines at its four stations for 15 years, then serve as spares for another five. After that, they are donated to a Mexican fire department or live out their days as the Santa truck. For decades, Turlock fire engines have stuck with 1987 specifications, made for fire stations that principally focused on fire calls.
Today, burning buildings still require lots of gear, but so do car wrecks, freeway grass fires, hazardous material leaks and spills, and rescues from tight spots or high places. When the situation calls for heavy equipment or long ropes, the Fire Department rolls. Here are some of the new bells and whistles designed into this engine:
STRONGER FRAME: Instead of a pumping unit bolted separately to the frame, the engine will be built as a single unit from cab to bed. Extruded aluminum welded to steel I-beams forms the frame, providing better protection against distracted drivers. “You’re starting to see accidents with firetrucks becoming more and more common. People are just not paying attention,” Harcksen said.
As a side benefit, the I-beams provide a space to mount circuit breakers, which are now exposed on a narrow panel, and cording that in older models hangs loose in the compartments, often catching on equipment being pulled out.
ELECTRONIC DIAGNOSTICS: Engine maintenance messages and any problems launch an email to the station, and systems can be remotely checked without calling in a heavy equipment mechanic. Even the steering wheel is “smart,” with air horn, wipers, headlights and siren controls all mounted within easy reach.
LED LIGHTS: Greater visibility, less heat and lower energy use are expected from all-sides mounted LED spotlights that can light up a scene from any angle. The lights replace generator-run lighting.
BETTER CAB SPACE: Moving away from commercial truck seating, the cab will have a taller ceiling, longer leg spaces and wider seats to accommodate firefighters with their layers of turnout gear and puffy cargo pockets loaded with gloves and gear. “The cabs we have now get very claustrophobic,” said Mallory, who tops 6 feet.
A central, sealed compartment will hold sooty turnouts, keeping airborne carcinogens out of the cab until gear can be washed at the station. Better insulation lowers the in-cab noise level so the crew can speak without shouting. Radio traffic means ear gear stays on, however.
PUMP AND ROLL: The older engines have to be parked before the pumps will run, a sensible precaution for one-stop building fires but a problem if the job at hand is a fast-moving grass fire along the freeway. The new engine borrows from wildfire rigs, allowing hoses to run while moving.
LOWER HOSE BED: Rather than jumping up on a platform to tug heavy, head-level hose off the bed, the water tank was reshaped to allow hose to be loaded where firefighters could grab and go, without jumping up and off a narrow platform in heavy gear. That same sensibility moved the heavy auto extrication gear to midlevel, avoiding the lift necessary for low-mounted gear.
LOW POWER MODE: A small generator kicks in to run lights, pumps, air conditioning and other auxiliary gear while the rig is parked. Even for medical calls, that can often be half an hour or longer, making a significant cut in fuel consumption and emissions.
LOCKABLE MEDICAL CUPBOARD: With a paramedic on board, the need to keep emergency drugs and supplies cool and controlled becomes an issue. Turlock crews have the lesser emergency medical technician training now, but industry standards are rising.
CABINETRY: Storage for most-used tools, especially for medical calls, has shifted to the curb side, with a focus on bringing together what is most often used together. The older rigs have shallow storage with tools stuffed in wherever they fit. Grabbing gear often has required moving other gear aside, then dashing to the other side of the rig to get the rest.
“We didn’t want the Keystone-fireman thing,” Harcksen said. In the new rig, deep cabinets with pull-out storage racks hold larger items. A drawer holds hand tools. Less-used items and room for other needs as the Fire Department’s role evolves are on the far side. Closed bins are on the top of the rig, giving a place to store strike-team duffel bags.
“We wanted to maximize every square inch of not only the compartments, but the wheel well areas as well,” Mallory said. Tools and hoses will no longer be attached to the side of the truck, where $80 axes and $600 nozzles are increasing attracting thieves, the men said.
There is even a dedicated spot for the cooler holding the water bottles.