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Doing it Right in Rattlesnake - Part IVSpec-ing rigs that meet community standards
BY DAVID DOUDY
This article originally appearred in the December 1999 Issue of FireRescue Magazine. This is the fourth in a series of Fire Department 2000 articles featuring innovative apparatus, equipment and ideas that break with tradition and take a new path to protect the public.
Rattlesnake Fire Protection District (RFPD) covers Elbert County, Colorado, the second-fastest growing county in the United States. Under the leadership of Chief Judy Cooper and Assistant Chief Dale Goetz, the all-volunteer department operates out of three stations that are five miles apart in a largely rural area. In addition to fighting fires, the 32 members run ALS ambulances and perform all transports.
RFPD protects a population of 6,500. The 66-square-mile area consists mostly of grass-covered rolling hills at a 7,000-foot elevation. Homes are exclusively single-family dwellings, some with outbuildings, ranging from 2,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet. Most have basements. They sit on 3-acre, 5-acre or 35-acre lots. The only commercial buildings in the district are the three fire stations and a golf course clubhouse. All four are, or will soon be, fully sprinkled.
Rather than steel and aluminum, RFPD chose a strong, lightweight poly body.
The district has only one fire hydrant. Primary water supply consists of 10,000-gallon to 30,000-gallon cisterns spaced 1.1 miles to two miles apart in built-up areas. One-thousand-gpm electric pumps supply overhead fills. Fill time from the cisterns averages less than 90 seconds.
Until this year, the department ran two triple-combination pumpers with 1,500-gpm pumps and 1,000-gallon tanks, two brush rigs, two 3,000-gallon tenders and a pair of ALS ambulances. All but two roads in the district are dirt. There are no streetlights, curbs or gutters. From most points in this remote area, the nearest school or store is five to 10 miles away. The department runs about two structure fires a year. Mutual aid is about 10 miles from any of the stations.
The entire pump panel sits between the driver and the officer.
With an ISO rating of 9/10 in 1998, the department began to explore ISO fire insurance rating ramifications for the district. Research revealed that district residents paid the highest possible structure-insurance rates. To earn a better rating, the department had to prove it could sustain 250 gpm for two hours while following ISO rules. RFPD set its goal at Class 4 district wide. That rating is as good as some big career departments, like Los Angeles, Houston and New York City, that have Class 4 ratings in areas with hydrants. Achieving a Class 4 rating would improve rates significantly for commercial, homeowners' and renters' insurance. With no increase in population, the district could help residents save more than $300 million in insurance costs over 15 years.
One switch controls the siren and all the warning lights.
The department made ISO rate improvement one of its goals for 1999-2000. Achieving it will give the department the second-best rating in Colorado and the third-best rating in the United States for a department without a water system.
After analyzing area fire risks and defenses, RFPD drew up a simple plan to improve its fire protection services. Rural departments, and any other department thinking of buying new apparatus, can use this process as a guide.
First, determine your goals. RFPD made a list of 10 key objectives:
1. Maintain a volunteer fire force.
After RFPD helped educate area residents on its plan for improvement, more than 92 percent voted to spend the money necessary to update the department's apparatus. In only a few months, the department had ordered three fully equipped rigs.
One big upgrade was the replacement of all first-out engines with tender/ladder service-company compressed-air-foam-system (CAFS) engines. Under the improvement plan, all three stations were slated for identical units running first out. In the United States, the fire service rarely standardizes equipment. At RFPD, however, firefighters can simultaneously perform drills on equivalent apparatus at three stations. In this district, every piece of apparatus is the same. All trucks start alike and pump in the same way. Commonality extends to such details as how nozzles flush and saws start. All firefighters train by the Rattlesnake method.
Choosing a Builder
Initially, the department sent a simple, performance-oriented, generic spec to several apparatus builders. RFPD selected W.S. Darley to build the new units, based on that company's 100-page bid. RFPD wanted trucks that would result from collaboration between the builder and department members. Darley's representatives listened to community needs, whereas most other manufacturers wanted to sell standard versions of their own fire trucks.
Darley agreed to build a simple, easily maintained fire-truck fleet. The company willingly researched ideas and enlisted the help of others in the field to find solutions to problems. Darley threw fire-service convention to the wind to build ideal fire apparatus for the community being protected. It provided top-notch support from its factory.
A 1,500-gpm, two-stage,600-psi-capable pump provides the fire power for each pumper. A hot-shift power-take-off (PTO) driven engagement allows pump and roll at any speed, forward or reverse: The pump engages in motion. The department specked the rigs without side-discharges to help keep its firefighters out of road traffic. Two ungated 3-inch discharges lead to the front and rear of the unit. These discharges supply all attack lines. A 200-cubic-foot compressor lets the unit inject air into the water stream to make CAF and run air tools. With this pump, the department can fill the water tank at draft in 60 seconds using dual hard-suctions.
The 2,400-gallon poly water tank has 10-inch stainless-steel side dumps that can be controlled from the cab. For normal shuttle operations on the roadway, side dumps eliminate the need to back up. The department also specked a 10-inch rear dump that makes it easier to unload when the truck is backed up a narrow driveway. The dump time is 60 seconds. A 16-inch-square manhole fill on the water tank's top accommodates overhead-fill cisterns and eliminates the need to open the dome cover when dumping.
A front-facing thermal imager and two 1,000-watt floods aid night vision. Head-up displays let the officer and driver see the road, through smoke and where the fire is inside the building. Dual VCRs record what's seen.
To deal with flying rocks on unimproved roads, each unit has a complete, 100-inch-wide poly body, which weighs as much as 60 percent less than a comparable body made of steel, and is just as strong. The storage compartment interiors are white poly to maximize nighttime visibility. Poly compartments do not need paint, and they hide scuffs and scratches. The vehicle exterior is white over red, and the wheel wells are black plastic.
Doing double duty: Four color-coded lights on the light mast indicate water level.
Looking at the fire body, you might believe these rigs don't have enough storage compartments. The 12 cabinets contain only 219 cubic feet of space. The department didn't need much internal storage because so many things are stowed ready to go at the point-of-use. The air packs, floodlights, cords, fittings, strainers, tripods, fire extinguishers, entry tools, foam eductors, foam cans, spare bottles, portable monitor, spare nozzles, smooth-bore tips, lift bags, air chisels, air hose, hydraulic hose, Jaws cutter, spreader, rams and Jaws power plant don't occupy compartments. Other items, like the generator, are built into the vehicle frame instead of filling a compartment.
Power PlantWith the advice of the manufacturer, the department chose a mid-horsepower, high-torque engine with low heat output. RFPD didn't need a high horsepower engine for the gently rolling hills and roads in the district. There are no grades to affect vehicle speed. The engine is a 365-hp Detroit Series 60 diesel. The transmission is an Allison automatic with a Jacobs engine brake. The power plant is optimized for acceleration from 0 mph to 35 mph, with a top speed of 65 mph. The engine manufacturer's approval certification ensures that the chassis cooling system is adequate for the task.
Dead space under the pump-suctions houses eight 150-foot reels holding lines that supply electric, air and hydraulic power.
RFPD designed a unit that allows the maximum number of volunteers to participate. Ideally, every member will arrive on scene fully dressed with an air pack on, ready to go. The HME four-door, air-conditioned command cab accommodates seven people and has six air-pack seats, 10 rechargeable lights, radios and chargers.
The cab interior uses blue night-vision lighting. The cab doors, light mast, drop-down racks and compartment-door switches couple to a single revolving light in the cab.
A shore line maintains all the rechargeables, including flashlights, portable radios, portable radio battery chargers, thermal imager, thermal imager battery charger, gas detector and vehicle batteries. It also maintains the vehicle air brake system pressure.
Because temperatures in this district range from 100 degrees to 30 below zero, it's essential to have an effective rehab area as a refuge for firefighters and victims. One look inside at the cab's back wall proves that Chiefs Cooper and Goetz understand that firefighters are their most important resource. A refrigerator and freezer make ice and keep drinks cold, occupying space equivalent to only one seat. An industrial-size coffee maker sits on top of the refrigerator. It has two single-spigot, 1 1/2-gallon, insulated, portable shuttles. With a four-minute brew time, it can produce 1,440 cups of coffee per hour --- and hot water on demand. A microwave oven is located in the raised cab-extension above crew seating. An ambulance-style aluminum cabinet with sliding glass doors stretches from one side of the cab to the other and contains 20 cubic feet of food storage. A 12-gallon insulated poly drinking-water dispenser with an outside-fill connection sits in the overhead, along with hot-and-cold cup dispensers. In the station, a shore line automatically switches to the PTO generator when the vehicle is running.
Extra-low cab-assist steps ensure that all volunteers can climb on board easily in full gear. Fourteen ground-illumination lights flood the vehicle's walking areas and underside with light that promotes safety.
Dual in-the-cab rearview mirrors let the driver and officer see the crew in the seating areas. RFPD did not spec rear-facing air-pack seats, and this area gives them an open, office-type environment that facilitates communication among crew members. A 10-inch, look-down, fisheye mirror permits tight turns because the driver can see exactly where the front bumper of the vehicle is.
Vehicle lettering is reflective to make the trucks more visible at night. Drop-in, reflective panels appear on four sides of each apparatus to allow the department to change unit numbers and rotate apparatus between stations to balance mileage and usage.
To standardize equipment, improve its level of service and earn a better ISO rating, RFPD followed an overall plan. RFPD has shared its experience here to help other communities review their own needs and develop a better level of service too. In future installments of FD2000, we'll look at the balance of Rattlesnake's rigs and concepts.
David Doudy is an 18-year veteran of the Dolores (Colorado) Fire Protection District and is co-owner of Firestorm Construction Company.
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