The Multipurpose Vehicle Trend

Issue 2 and Volume 5.

The latest fire apparatus industry buzzword: “multipurpose.” And because the economy is wreaking havoc on fire service budgets, these multifunction apparatus probably couldn’t come at a better time. Not only do fire chiefs and administrators have to deal with firefighter layoffs, but many departments are delaying or canceling future apparatus purchases.

In short, doing more with less is the name of the game, which is making the process of designing fire apparatus more daunting. Fortunately, fire apparatus manufacturers are taking the budget crunch seriously, and have their engineers working overtime to come up with new and innovative ideas to save departments money.

The result: a new breed of vehicle that features a shorter wheelbase, larger compartment space for carrying more equipment and lower hosebeds that have a more ergonomic fit for loading and unloading hose on the fireground. Many of these vehicles are rescue pumpers, designed for multiple uses. In some cases they even provide patient transport capabilities.

In this article, I’ll highlight five manufacturers that have brought multipurpose vehicles to market in the past 2 years. Other manufacturers offer multifunction apparatus as well, but these five represent a good range of the possibilities on the market. In addition, I’ll talk a little about pros and cons associated with buying multipurpose apparatus.  

Braun, one the nation’s leaders in ambulance manufacturing, took its vision a step higher with the release of the Patriot. This vehicle is designed with a patient transport configuration and options that include compressed-air foam systems (CAFS), a 200-gallon tank, a 15-gallon foam tank and two 1″ booster reels on each side of the module.

The vehicle is built using Spartan’s Furion chassis and has some notable features, such as the EZ Glide sliding door that allows the ambulance door to slide against the module rather than out into traffic. It has 73 inches of interior headroom and enough space for six crewmembers, plus the required equipment to answer light rescue, EMS and light fire-suppression alarms.

The truck is built using solid body construction, which adds strength by constructing the floor, roof, sides and doors from brake-formed parts with full contact-welded seams.

Crimson’s FRAC (First Response All Call) vehicle is built with a modular design so it can be configured in different ways to deliver multiple capabilities.

The vehicle is currently built on a Ford F-650 chassis and offers different set-ups depending on the department’s needs. The pump module, which is available with a pump capacity up to 1,250-gpm and a tank up to 300 gallons, can be mounted in the middle of the vehicle or at the end. It also has 200 cubic feet of storage space and a CAFS system.

The rescue module offers more than 300 cubic feet of storage with optional hydraulic rescue tool systems and generators. The transport module is designed as a fully functional BLS or ALS ambulance with a cot, EMT bench and medical storage space. There’s also a command module that has a command work station with a secured, centralized operations area as well as storage cabinet options.

The Multi-Vocational Pumper (MVP) built by Ferrara can be used as a standard pumper, rescue pumper, squad unit, RIT unit or heavy-rescue.

The truck can be built on the Igniter, Inferno, Ember and Intruder 2 chassis with a basic 183″ wheelbase or longer, if needed. It comes with a 2,000-gpm Hale Q-Max pump and can have anywhere from a 500- to 1,000-gallon tank. Using a larger tank, of course, will increase the wheelbase and decrease some compartment space.

The MVP features 425 cubic feet of compartment space, which is available in different configurations including  a hazmat compartment; a pump operator and forcible-entry tool compartment; an extrication compartment; a generator and a three-fan compartment; and compartments for airbags, cribbing, ALS, swiftwater rescue, rapid intervention and high-angle rescue equipment. On top of the vehicle are six oversized coffin compartments.

You can equip the MVP with various foam systems, including CAFS, and the unit is available with pump-and-roll capability, a generator and LED scene lighting.

Pump module access allows easy maintenance. Low crosslays, a slideout backboard module, a Stokes compartment and a three-sleeve backboard compartment round out the vehicle.

The RPM (Rescue Pumper Marion) is another unit that can operate as a Class A pumper or rescue pumper. The vehicle on display at FDIC last year was built on a Spartan Gladiator chassis with a Cummins 425-hp engine.

The vehicle is all aluminum with full-depth rescue compartments, a 1,000-gallon water tank and various options for pump size. Other features include a 3,000-watt light tower, a 10-kW Harrison generator, portable winch receivers on all four sides, a rearview camera system, a front bumper extension with hydraulic reel and tool storage, three hydraulic reels and rescue tool storage, a climate-controlled EMS compartment, easy ladder removal, full-width hose storage and low, accessible speedlays with fully extendable roll-out trays.

Hidden cascade bottle storage, an enclosed pump panel and easy access for pump maintenance is included.

Last but not least is Pierce’s entry, the PUC (Pierce Ultimate Configuration), which made a big splash at FDIC in 2008. The new concept is available on all Pierce chassis, including pumpers, rescue pumpers, aerials, rescues and its Contender line of apparatus.

Ergonomic features built into this vehicle include chest-high crosslays, chest-high ladder storage and 8–12″ lower hosebeds. This way, the pump operator is positioned next to hose connections instead of over them.

The trucks feature a new Pierce pump that’s 30 percent lighter than most pumps on the market. An easier two-step pump set-up makes it easier to put the pump in operation. Also included is a dash-mounted, single-touch water/foam/CAFS selection, an enclosed pump panel and 500 cubic feet of compartment space. The tilt cab provides full access to all pump components for easy maintenance.

The PUC also features an options list that includes 500-lb. sliding floor trays, tilt-out shelves, swinging tool boards and reel mountings. The rear of the truck has a fold-out work platform and angled folding ladder to the hosebed and top of the vehicle.

Aluminum construction is standard, with stainless steel as an option.

Pros & Cons
As you can see, all of these manufacturers focused on firefighter safety in their designs. Lower hosebeds, compartments, ladder storage and easy, lower access to crosslays are all attributes that I deem highly important in any modern apparatus. The multipurpose vehicles make it easy because they come with these options standard, and you can choose from a wide variety of other options to configure the vehicles just about any way you want.

But as with any apparatus purchase, there are pros and cons, and before you jump into buying a multipurpose vehicle, you need to decide if it’s the right truck for your department’s needs. So let’s look at a few pros and cons.

Are you going to replace a pumper and heavy-rescue with one of these multipurpose vehicles? Or are you just adding an additional piece of equipment? With limited manpower responding, some chiefs might consider one of these vehicles for a limited daytime response, when rolling an engine and heavy-rescue is prohibited because of a lack of manpower.

Another reason to consider a multipurpose vehicle is the lack of qualified drivers for big, tandem-axle heavy-rescue units. Personnel qualified to drive a standard pumper can drive one of these multipurpose units, providing Class A pumping capability and all your extrication equipment on the scene in one unit. Also, saving manpower by rolling the one unit is probably one of the best reasons to purchase these vehicles.

Ease of maintenance is another big concern. This is especially true if you employ your own mechanic. The tilt-cab and greater access to the pump module that many multipurpose vehicles provide can significantly reduce maintenance costs.

Multipurpose vehicles that provide ambulance transport certainly expand your capabilities in one vehicle, but that can also produce the need to change standard operating procedures (SOPs). If the vehicle has rescue tools and a CAFS line deployed at the scene of an incident, how does it quickly convert to a transport vehicle? Planning is needed to come up with some SOPs to deal with this different type of vehicle and its response capabilities.

Budget is another thing everyone’s concerned with. Although multipurpose vehicles are billed as money savers, in some cases they can cost more than a normal Class A pumper. Of course, you must consider the trade-off. If you’re planning on replacing two units with one multifunction vehicle, you’re definitely saving money. Adding to the cost savings is the ability to respond with fewer personnel.

However, because some of these units do cost more than a conventional pumper, you really have to do your math to see if this type of purchase is functional for you and, most important, cost-effective in the long run.

The Right Fit?
If you’re in the market for a vehicle replacement, whether a light-duty rescue unit with transport capability and CAFS or a rescue pumper, you might want to check out multipurpose vehicles. There is a wealth of information on the Web, where you can download the product brochures and engineering drawings.

Whatever you decide, ensure that you’ve done the necessary preplanning for your community’s needs, and talk to departments that have purchased similar vehicles. With the right consideration before the purchase, you’ll know if a multipurpose vehicle is right for you.