Thursday, May 10, 2012

Replacing Heavy Rescue With Lightweight Trailers

Pumpers will tow Rescue Trailers to the scene
(Heavy Rescues to be shut down and sold)

by: Lou Angeli

Wilmington, DE (May 11 2012) -- On January 1, 2011, the lone career Heavy Rescue in the State of Delaware was disbanded by the Wilmington (DE) Fire Department, and 17 jobs eliminated, in an effort to cut “tough times” spending in the state's largest city. At that time, the technical rescue mission was handed over to 2 of the city’s Engine Companies (Engine 1 and Engine 3), which were renamed Squads. During a rescue response, the Squad’s 4-person crew would split up, with 2 firefighters staffing the Engine and 2 responding with a Heavy Rescue.

A few weeks ago, an arbitrator ruled that the Wilmington Fire Department's Squad program  violated its contract with IAFF Local 1590 (Wilmington Firefighters) specifically a clause dealing with 4-person Minimum Staffing. The arbitrator instructed the Fire Department to staff every apparatus with 4 firefighters.

In a somewhat bizarre effort to meet the arbitrator’s demand, the Fire Administration has proposed purchasing three (3) 18-foot trailers, which would carry rescue and haz-mat equipment to incident scenes by towing them behind the existing Squad Pumpers (Squads 1 and 3) and the Haz-Mat pumper (Engine 6). The city says that such a change would allow the 4-person crew to remain together on a common apparatus, while at the same time carrying the tools needed for technical rescue.

Fire administration supports their decision saying that the use of pumper-trailers by fire suppression units is “a popular trend” among the nation’s departments. It is true that the concept of using trailers to haul specialty equipment has been around for several years now, however the towing vehicle is never a pumper with a ball hitch, but rather a dedicated vehicle like a Ford F-550 or even a small 5th wheel tractor.

View samples of emergency service trailers nationwide

For the past few days, Wilmington’s firefighters have been walking around their stations as if a huge question mark had been stamped on their foreheads. The decision is not popular among Wilmington’s rank and file, and comments from fire officials nationally leave dozens of questions unanswered.

 Pumper as Prime Mover?

The most common question among many responders is whether Wilmington’s Pierce pumpers were designed to pull 7 tons of trailer and equipment.

”You’re going to have all sorts of mechanical issues with the proposed idea,” says a retired Battalion Chief with the FDNY. “You need air assist breaks, a chassis and frame designed for towing, beefier suspension and tires to take the load.”

An Illinois Fire Chief comments, “They’ll (also) need a trailer which is designed to carry several tons of equipment, one with heavy duty suspension, and  adequate breaking system and a sturdy frame.”

According to a Pennsylvania manufacturer of similar trailers, “We build these for
construction contractors and landscape companies.” He adds, “They were never designed to serve in an emergency scenario.”

The use of a lightweight trailer has practical drawbacks as well. There is no compartmentalization, interior shelving or ability to mount equipment to the walls. The inability to drop a supply line from a hydrant limits the team’s firefighting power to the 500 gallons of water carried aboard the pumper’s tank. 

During a motor vehicle accident -- the city's most common non-fire rescue response -- rescue tools, like the Jaws of Life, will no longer be pre installed as they are on Heavy Rescue units. The jaws, cutters, spreaders and power plant will need to be retrieved from the trailer, set up and tested, thus delaying the rescue operation.

If you Google "fire pumper with trailer" you won't find a single image of a fire pumper with a trailer. You will however find plenty of purpose-built trailers manufactured by companies, which specialize in fire-rescue equipment. You'll also note that they are towed by dedicated prime-movers or towing vehicles.

Incredibly, the most obvious solution to arbitrator's demand seems to escape the mayor and his staff. That answer sits in one of the city’s fire stations – an apparatus which the city already owns -- Rescue-1. Staff it and the city and fire department will be spared the consequences of operating a dangerous system, which has no track record.

 Wilmington's answer: An apparatus which they own!