Faster, higher, smaller vehicles

Published:  21 March, 2016

The drive to improve efficiency whilst reducing the costs of firefighting is leading to many interesting developments in fire and rescue vehicles and equipment, reports Steve Banner.

The need to improve response times while cutting costs is prompting a growing number of municipal fire fleets to invest in smaller vehicles.

Typically based on light commercials, such as Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter, they may carry as few as two firefighters but can get to incidents more quickly than larger appliances. At the scene, the crew can assess the situation, find a source of water, make sure curious bystanders are kept back, start extinguishing the blaze and, if necessary, call for more support.

The Falck Fire Academy based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands came up with a concept called the Fast Suppression Unit. ‘The FSU firefighters can usually deal with a small kitchen fire on their own but if the entire house is ablaze when they get there then they can inform the control room and summon back-up,’ says Robbert van der Veen, director of the Falck Fire Academy. ‘Furthermore, once they know larger appliances are close by, they can enter the house should they need to.’

Companies, such as Austria’s Rosenbauer, have recognised this need and added smaller, more agile machines to their portfolio. One key characteristic of these vehicles is that they must make maximum use of space on board.

Rosenbauer offers an appliance based on a Sprinter 519CDI five-tonner as part of its Compact Line range.

A tray pulled out from the back can accommodate a pump driven either by the Sprinter’s own diesel engine or by a petrol-powered donkey engine. Suitable pumps include the highly-portable Rosenbauer Fox with an output of 1,600 l/min at 10 bar.

Ease of control is even more important with a small crew, which is where the Logic Control System 2.0 package comes into its own, controlling the pump, the foam mixing system, the generators and the lighting.

In the UK, Pickup Systems has developed the Compac FSU. It too is based on a Sprinter 519CDI and comes with a factory-built steel crew cab accommodating up to five firefighters. Its polypropylene body features lockers and slide-and-tilt drawers to carry tools and equipment safely. And the 800 litres of water in the tank are delivered by a Godiva KP2 pump driven by power take-off from the engine.

 A 9m ladder is stowed on the roof and it is worth noting that the 519CDI is powered by a 190hp 3.0-litre V6 engine with 440Nm that drives through a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox. With that amount of power on tap in a relatively light vehicle, on-the-road performance is unlikely to be an issue. ‘It’s just like a standard fire tender, but down-sized,’ remarks Pickup Systems managing director, John McGauley. ‘It can easily cope with most fires and is also well-suited to responding to road traffic collisions and water rescues. It really comes into its own, however, when attending incidents in areas where access is restricted, such as tight inner-city streets or narrow country lanes.

‘In addition to that, its lower initial price, maintenance costs and fuel economy mean it can be much cheaper than a traditional truck-based fire engine.’

FSUs can also be invaluable when it comes to fire prevention work and visiting schools says Falck’s van der Veen. Once again, sending a small appliance is cheaper than despatching a big one; and the more fire prevention work you do, the fewer the blazes firefighters will have to face.

‘While both of these appliances are five-tonners, FSUs grossing no more than 3.5t are worth considering too, adds van der Veen, also pointing out that changes in the law governing driving licences in some countries mean that younger drivers cannot get behind the wheel of anything heavier than a 3.5 tonne truck without taking a second driving test; and the pool of older drivers with an automatic entitlement to do so is shrinking all the time.

Surely going to an even lower gross weight will mean a loss of onboard equipment and capability? But van der Veen highlights that a lot of appliances carry an excessive amount of kit anyway. ‘If you haven’t used something for the past year or two then stop taking it with you,’ he said.

FSUs clearly cannot cope with every eventually and much bigger pieces of equipment are required to fight major blazes. Indeed, there is an argument that many of the most significant developments in firefighting technology are occurring at opposite ends of the size and weight spectrum.

Last year’s Interschutz show, held in Hanover, Germany saw Magirus promoting what it claims to be the highest turntable ladder in the world in the shape of the M68L. With its seven-piece ladder set it offers a working height of 68m.

It was on show adjacent to the M34L-H heavy-duty turntable ladder designed primarily for corporate and industrial fire departments as well as for National Fire Protection Association clients. The new swivel-mounted 500kg rescue cage can accommodate up to five people and the Magirus Team Cab features a water cannon on the front side of its cage with a capacity of up to 4,000 l/min.

Magirus, which recently saw a change in its senior management, is part of global group CNH Industrial which also owns truck maker Iveco.

Recent successes scored by Magirus include a major order from Chile for 4x4 appliances based on an Iveco chassis complete with a 4,000-litre water tank, a Magirus MPN 230 pump plus a portable pump. Last November, Magirus Lohr, its Austrian division, became the country’s chosen supplier of light firefighting trucks grossing at up to 7.5 tonne for the next three years and heavy firefighting trucks (up to 16t onne and over 26 tonne) for the next five years.

The need to gain more height is something of a theme at Rosenbauer as well as at Magirus.

It has developed the L64, a fully-automatic aerial ladder with a working height of 64m, a fast-rescue elevator that will hold three people and a 300kg-capacity rescue cage. L64 can be fitted with an integrated pump and aerial waterways.

If you need to get even higher, then go to Finland. Bronto Skylift’s high-level, articulated range (HLA) offers a rescue height of up to 112m – the highest in the world according to the manufacturer – with a maximum working outreach of 32m, a maximum safe working load of 500kg and a water capacity of 3,800 l/min. An auto-jacking function allows it to be stabilised for rescue in just 40 seconds says the company.

Last December saw Bronto Skylift owner Federal Signal sign a deal to sell the Bronto Skylift business to Morita Holdings for approximately US$88m (€80m), a move which signals the demise of Federal’s Fire Rescue Group.

Big is not only beautiful, say its supporters. It can be cost-effective too. In the USA, Ferrara Fire Apparatus and US Fire Pump have come up with the Inundator Super Pumper which is capable of reaching almost 21,000 l/min rising to nearly 38,000 l/min when drawing water from a pressurised source.

This awesome capacity is designed to appeal to industrial fire stations eager to fight fires with fewer firefighters and vehicles, so saving money; cost-reduction is a thread that runs through all aspects of firefighting these days. The truck has also appealed to the Guinness Book of World Records; at the time of writing the book listed the Super Pumper as the highest pumping capacity fire engine in the world.

Changes to exhaust emission regulations affect fire appliances in the same way that they affect heavy goods vehicles.

The advent of the European Union’s Euro VI emission rules and the technology required to comply with them has obliged some truck makers to redesign their products. In doing so they have taken the opportunity to make other changes which are not directly related to Euro VI.

Among them is Rosenbauer with the CL range which grosses at up to 13.5 tonnes. In the CL’s case, it means LED lighting, new CAN bus and LCS 2.0 operating controls, ECE R29 crash-testing certification for the cab and integration of the flashing lights into the roof contour.

Even airport rescue and firefighting vehicles are complying with Euro VI these days as airports take every step they can think of to minimise air pollution. That is certainly the case with the fourth incarnation of Rosenbauer’s Panther, which made its debut at last year’s Interschutz.

Other changes include the installation of new extinguishing technology. Two new integrated pumps have been developed, the N80 and N65, along with matching monitors, the RM80 and RM35, and FIXMIX 2.0 E, an electronically-controlled foam proportioning system.

The first of the new Panthers to be supplied is a 6x6 which has gone to Singapore’s Changi Airport. It carries 12,000 litres of water, 1,500 litres of foam and 250kg of powder and is fitted with a 16.5m Stinger extinguishing arm.

The first really big order to be placed for the new Panthers, however, has come from the Airports Authority of India. It is taking 50 6x6s, each with the capacity to hold 10,000 litres of water, 1,300 litres of foam and 250kg of powder. They are scheduled to be delivered by the end of this year. The authority operates 125 airports, including 11 major and 81 regional hubs.

Returning to the theme of height, fire appliances may increasingly work in co-operation with drones capable of flying over major blazes, floods and other disasters. Fitted with 4K cameras, they will be able to stream high-definition video to the operational command centre so that controllers can more accurately assess the situation and deploy resources accordingly.

Appreciating their potential, German fire truck builder Albert Ziegler signed a co-operation agreement at last year’s Interschutz with Chinese drone maker and aerial photography specialist SZ DJI Technology. It enables customers to buy drones individually or in combination with training and support packages, including assistance in gaining the required regulatory approval, appropriate insurance and having pilots trained under a properly certified programme. ‘Whereas drone technology was previously either expensive or inaccessible for first responders, our co-operation with DJI makes it possible for our customers to purchase and utilise state-of-the-art drones for an affordable price,’ says Ziegler CEO, Rene Pol.

Ziegler is making its presence felt in China and appeared at China Fire Expo in Beijing last October in conjunction with Sichuan Morita Fire Safety Appliances, Cuilian China Fire Fighting Equipment Manufacturing and China Fire Safety Enterprise Group.

In the USA, Ford is working with DJI on a plan to enable drones to be deployed from the load-bed of an F-150 4x4 pick-up, again to carry out aerial surveys of disaster areas.

Both firms are encouraging third party innovators to get involved in the scheme which would enable the drone to be launched from the pick-up’s cab using an existing touch-screen on the dashboard. The link to the drone would be through the driver’s smart phone.

Making better use of technology that is already in place helps keep costs under control, a vitally-important consideration in a tough financial climate.

  • Operation Florian

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