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.

Pumpers as Prime Movers?

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.

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 trailers 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.

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Comment by Lou Angeli on May 23, 2012 at 10:07am

Chris -- Your idea makes a lot of sense however Wilmington is a career department. Their IAFF Local's contract with the city doesn't allow for cross staffing of apparatus.

Comment by Chris Forsyth on May 22, 2012 at 9:05pm

Why can't the 4 man crew from the engine hop onto the rescue and respond? I think almost every volunteer fire department in the United States does a response like this. Then on the initial alarm add an extra engine company. I think that would be better than going and buying three new trailer and outfitting them for "rescue" purposes.

Comment by Bob Callahan on May 20, 2012 at 7:34am

Guess what.......

It's the union that has put the city in this position. Sorry, and I know that what I'm going to say will be unpopular but the city has determined the fire department needs to cut pisitions and the department came up with a reasonable solution, until the union stepped in and forced their hand in another direction.

Comment by JP Desilets on May 17, 2012 at 10:36am

thats just silly, the sort of thing politicians and bean counters think up, and then can't understand why it doesn't work out in real life

Comment by Bill Brierton on May 15, 2012 at 3:20pm

Not only is it a horrible idea, it is a stupid one.  Whoever thought of this has no clue of how the fire service opperates.  It is or will be a disaster waiting to happen if it is implimented.

Comment by Eric Yunginger on May 15, 2012 at 12:51pm

Horrible, horrible idea.  You're going to take a vehicle that is already 30+ feet long, and add another 22-24'?  (18' trailer is 18' CARGO area, plus an additional 4-6 feet for the tongue)  You now have a total package length of nearly 60 feet.  An engine is challenging enough to drive under "normal" emergency circumstances, with the added challenge of a long trailer behind you...the list of things that could go wrong is quite lengthy.  Would these trailers be dollied away from the engine, so for a rescue call, you'd have to back up, hitch, connect all brake lines and lights, and then board the engine and roll?

Comment by M.Christopher Shay on May 15, 2012 at 7:22am

Differant way of thinking but I do not think it is the answer to the issue at hand.  The trailer will be oos more than it is in service.  Weight issues and driver error will play a large factor.  Good luck!

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