Fighting Fire with Innovation

What all-American neighborhood get together is complete without the prerequisite fire truck? Something for the kids to play on. A chance to meet your local firefighters.

A friend of mine recently attended such a party (complete with shiny red three-day-old fire truck). He walked away with a new appreciation for the engineering and design nuances behind every vehicle—an appreciation that he felt he just had to share with me. Sigh.

But really. It’s pretty darn interesting.

Fire truck innovation is red-hot (sorry) right now, with great focus on improving water efficiency and in-cab communications, as well as the safety of every firefighter on board.

Paradoxically, because of the recent economic downturn, fire departments are also looking to more with less. Manufacturers are designing apparatus that are evermore functional and multipurpose.

Recent innovations. Fire truck manufacturers Rosenbauer, KME, Pierce, and E-One, have all introduced major apparatus innovations within the past two years. A new tilting cab-forward design from Pierce has an open interior configuration that helps firefighters better prepare for unexpected situations as they arrive on the scene. E-One has dramatically reduced the pump area of its trucks to allow for more storage space, including the ability to store an enclosed ladder.

Rosenbauer has introduced new smart screens to its trucks which give the operator more information about aerial operations.

Green technology. The EPA’s emissions regulations together with a push to control fuel and maintenance costs have led major fire truck manufactures to think green.

Rosenbauer’s leading Greenstar idle-reduction technology cuts emissions, fuel costs and maintenance, while KME is working on auxiliary power unit and battery technologies to reduce diesel emissions but boost fuel savings.

Pierce has already delivered a hybrid rescue vehicle to a New Jersey fire department, and recently showcased “green” lithium-ion batteries that replace traditional batteries. Six of the lithium-ion batteries provide up to 150 amps of power for five continuous hours and emit no emissions while activated.

Drivers of innovation. Even with standardization, each and every fire truck is custom-built with features chosen specifically for different situations, geographies and terrain. In addition, manufacturers work hand in hand with firefighters using their practical experience to develop new designs and technologies.

Rosenbauer has identified a set of life trends—such as the increasing hazards of transporting unsafe substances, and the growing complexity of cars and commercial vehicles—that influence the design and manufacture its fire trucks.

The Future. As software becomes predominant in the automotive and heavy equipment industries, fire trucks will become more high-tech and firefighters will be able to interact with and control apparatus in new ways.

There will also be a continued focus on green technologies, and a bigger emphasis on combination vehicles that serve multiple functions, including structural firefighting, EMS, rescue and hazmat.

Image Credit: All ready to go by Zackery Newton on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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