When County Fire needs a new vehicle, it doesn’t just run down to the firetruck dealer and drive one off the lot. Extensive customization goes into a new fire engine, aerial ladder truck, or specialty piece of equipment to match it to the distinct needs of the location it will serve.
“Our fleet is the cornerstone of our emergency response,” said San Diego County Fire and CAL FIRE San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham. “We design and equip high-quality vehicles to serve the vast areas covered by San Diego County Fire. We analyze communities and emergency responses to identify the best type of apparatus to use.”
Several years ago, San Diego County Fire and CAL FIRE established a committee focused on fire apparatus, a term for either vehicles or equipment. The group put together a 15-year plan for new acquisitions and a replacement schedule for the fire fleet. The committee’s main goal is to meet the public’s need for fire and emergency medical services and to buy the best apparatus to help them do that job. The equipment allows firefighters to get to fires more quickly, restock with water less frequently and therefore stay on fires longer.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” said Tim Fitzgerald, Vehicle Coordinator for County Fire. “Obviously our major concern is safety of personnel, but it’s functionality of fire apparatus as well. It’s repair, maintenance, and it’s longevity or potential lifespan of the unit.”
San Diego County Fire and CAL FIRE displayed four custom-built fire vehicles at the recent San Diego Firehouse World Expo. This national conference and trade show is an opportunity for all major fire apparatus vendors to showcase new, state-of-the-art products. Having San Diego County Fire represented with four units at this level of a show demonstrates the caliber of the fire fleet that the agency has built, said Fitzgerald.
The four apparatus on display were:
- A new structural fire engine with a 500-gallon water tank, 1,500 gallon per minute (GPM) pump, and the ability to carry a vast assortment of specialty tools and equipment such as rope rescue gear, extrication equipment, and forcible entry tools. A typical city structure protection engine might have just one kind of specialty tool, and a second engine nearby would have a different set of specialty tools. In the rural parts of the County, it might take some time for a second engine to respond with the right tools, and so this engine carries a broad array.
- A wildland fire engine with a 500-gallon water tank, 1,000 GPM pump, and four-wheel drive to traverse the harsh terrain found throughout the backcountry regions of San Diego County. Typically these kind of engines come with a standard 500 to 750 GPM pump, but County Fire/CAL FIRE modified this engine to have the water come out faster. That makes it more useful for protecting homes or other buildings, in addition to its wildland firefighting capabilities. This is important because in rural areas, a wildland engine is likely to be the first engine to arrive at a structure fire.
- A quick-attack patrol vehicle that is four-wheel drive and holds a 200-gallon water tank and a 20-gallon foam tank. Typically, this vehicle might have a slightly larger water tank of 250 or 300 gallons. But County Fire opted for holding less water to give this vehicle a lower center of gravity, reducing potential for a rollover accident in our hilly backcountry. These vehicles are called quick-attack because if there is a grass fire on the side of the road, they can knock the fire down when grouped with a water tender. The patrol and the water tender can also be used for either soaking a home with water or applying foam to pre-treat a building in advance of a fire while in structure protection mode. The foam is an effective tool because it stretches the capabilities of the water. Combined with 200 gallons of water, the foam and water together act like 800 gallons of water. These quick-attack units fill a major support function for County Fire because there are so many ways to use the units, and they cost less than a structure protection engine. County Fire has a large quantity of patrols strategically located across the County including Jamul, and South and East County. The County Fire patrol program has more vehicles and has been in place longer than other counties and is being duplicated statewide.
- A 103-foot-long rear-mount aerial ladder truck that carries 350 gallons of water and has a 2,000 GPM pump. This truck was specifically designed to carry a vast array of rescue and specialty firefighting and lifesaving equipment. County Fire added the full rescue complement which includes airbags rescue, rescue cribbing and rope rescue. This truck is stationed in Otay Mesa due to the businesses in that area, some of them multistory buildings.
In designing any apparatus and its engineering functions, the committee references a Standards of Coverage Plan and documents specific needs for each community. This type of up-front work allows County Fire or CAL FIRE to focus on the build itself when buying new vehicles and not have to start from scratch evaluating the different needs each time.