With the prices of today’s fire apparatus, quick decisions are no longer acceptable as to the mission, function or type of fire apparatus needed to serve the community.
The types of apparatus today include mini-pumpers which are built on light weight truck chassis, midi-pumpers built on medium duty commercial truck chassis, commercial pumpers built on heavy commercial chassis such as International, Peterbuilt, or Freightliner. At the top of the spectrum are the custom pumpers built on heavy duty chassis specifically designed for use by the fire service. These custom fire chassis are either built by vocational chassis manufacturers or by fire apparatus manufacturers. There is an advantage to having a sole source manufacturer who assembles a piece of apparatus from the wheels up. Where the commercial chassis don’t always hold up to the rigors of the fire service, especially in fire companies with high call volumes. Custom chassis are built specifically for the fire service, will withstand the punishment doled out by fire fighters and will see a normal service life from 15 to twenty years. The current price range of fire pumpers runs from just under $100,000 for a mini-pumper up to $600,000 for a combination rescue pumper.
Another class of apparatus is the rescue truck. This is essentially a large tool box on wheels and can run from a rescue type body on a dual wheel pick up chassis up to a 40’ behemoth with all types of rescue equipment. Again the prices range from the low $100,000’s to the $600,000 depending on the size and equipment.
There are tankers or water tenders who’s main mission is transporting water to the scene of a fire. These trucks can be commercial or custom and carry up to 4000 gallons of water. These trucks also run the price gamut from $200,000 and up.
The largest and most expensive class of fire apparatus is the ladder truck. There are straight aerials anywhere from 70’ to 100+ feet, and platforms from 70’ up to 100+ feet. The configuration is based on where the aerial is anchored to the chassis. The ladder truck can be a rear mount with the tip of the ladder extending over the cab, or a mid mount with the aerial anchored to more toward the center of the chassis with the tip toward the rear of the apparatus or the aerial can be front mounted with the tip of the ladder toward the back of the apparatus. The most expensive type of aerial is a tractor drawn ladder with a tiller/driver in the rear that makes it easier to navigate narrow urban and suburban streets. Aerial ladders are priced from the low $600,000 to well over 1 million dollars.
With the variation of types and cost, the choice of apparatus to serve the community should not be done with the flip of a coin. The best way to obtain the best value is to perform an extensive needs assessment. The needs assessment is a planning tool for the purchase of apparatus. The needs assessment requires a facilitator and an experienced planning team to determine which apparatus is best for the fire fighters and the community. What ever is purchased must perform the desired mission or multiple missions. The last needs assessment performed by the Stillwater Fire District was attended by members of the Board, fire officers, members and chief officers, a total of approximately 15 people and lasted about 14 hours over three weekends. Keep in mind that the piece of fire apparatus to be purchased has to perform the required mission for 17 to 20 years into the future. It should be noted that although fire apparatus has the potential to remain in service past 20 years it becomes more maintenance intensive and the cost of parts escalates and very often become scarce.