Friday, March 23, 2007

New Heights (part 1 of 2)

New Heights Part 1

Posted on Fire Chief Magazine, By Kent Pauli

Budget constraints and staffing shortages strongly affect trends among all vehicles, including aerial ladders and platforms. Historically, aerials have been used exclusively for carrying forcible entry tools and ground ladders, and they didn't feature prepiped waterways. Today, however, the trend is to put more capability on a single vehicle.

The change has been moving toward having a wide array of standard equipment and an even greater number of optional choices. These choices are driven by firefighters, manufacturers and the National Fire Protection Association, whose constant feedback and ideas always challenge apparatus manufacturers. The latest trends focus primarily on ways to improve firefighting performance, save time and enhance firefighter safety.

Firefighting performance

As with today's pumpers, the firefighting capabilities and performance of aerial ladders and platforms continue to increase. Departments that are specifying new aerial apparatus are requesting increased tip loads and higher capacity, and more powerful water pumps and waterways. Today's most powerful aerials can deliver more than 3,000gpm while maintaining a 500-pound rated load capacity, even in winds up to 50mph. This is a large increase in performance from what was available a few years ago.

Firefighters demand that apparatus are increasingly multipurpose; they want versatile trucks that can respond to a wide range of calls. To meet this need, manufacturers are being asked to offer a wide range of foam capabilities on their aerials. Departments want vehicles with the versatility of foam systems and CAFS, which provide significant improvements in knockdown exposure and safety.

Preconnects and preplumbed hose boxes at the tip are an increasingly popular option for aerials. In this way, the aerial can be used like a standpipe, with the hose connected from the ladder tip, to deliver water or foam exactly whereneeded. Offering preconnected hose boxes at the tip of the aerial gives fire departments added flexibility; firefighters don't need to carry the hose to the top of the device because the equipment is up where it's needed.

With the requirements for increased flow, monitor manufacturers have continued to develop new monitors that can handle the higher flow rates, as well as reduce friction loss for improved performance. As monitors have been redesigned, multiplexing has been integrated into the monitor control packages so that features such as auto-stowing and auto-oscillation can be incorporated.

The auto-stow feature has become very popular with many departments, as this ensures that the monitor is stored to a pre-programmed position for reduced travel length or to protect the monitor, cab and body from damage during aerial cradling. Auto-oscillation allows firefighters to engage the monitor in a programmed sweep pattern. By using this function, firefighters no longer have to continually move the monitor, allowing them to focus their attention on the changing environment of the fireground.

Wireless radio frequency capability for monitor controls is being used more, as well. By incorporating RF technology into monitor controls, the monitor can be moved to adjust the master stream without having a firefighter located at the monitor, which keeps him or her away from potential ground dangers.

As for aerial remote controls, they can be hard-wired to the turntable controls but located at the tip of an aerial ladder or at the pump panel, or they can be wireless RF-controlled. Aerial tip controls, otherwise known as “creeper” controls, allow firefighters at the tip of an aerial ladder to move the aerial in low-visibility conditions, reducing the potential of damaging the tip of the aerial. With wireless remote controls, the apparatus can be set up and positioned, and then operated from a distance to protect firefighters from dangerous conditions.

More information

Knowledge is power, and multiplexed systems offer significantly more information to firefighters and mechanics. The benefits of multiplexed electronics include not only a more reliable system that's easier to troubleshoot, but also increased features and more accurate information, delivered when and where it's needed. When operating complex apparatus such as aerials, the more information and monitoring systems the user has available, the safer the operators will be.

Multiplexed electronics provide more flexibility and enhance safety. For example, many multiplexed systems offer a collision-avoidance system. These systems are designed to continually monitor the position of the aerial. Once the system is programmed, the aerial operational windows are set to allow the operator to position the aerial with confidence, without the worry of damaging the body or cab. The system is invaluable when working off the side of a vehicle for a less experienced or harried operator, who could hit the side sheet of the body and potentially cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. And with the growing popularity of mid-mount aerials, collision-avoidance systems become even more critical because there are fewer zones of below-grade operation in which an aerial can work without causing damage to the cab or body.

Multiplexing provides real-time information on the reach, angle of operation, water flow rate and total water flow capabilities, aerial tip temperature, rung alignment, breathing-air capacity, and cradle alignment. It also offers multiple caution and warning alarms. Multiplexing even can display an active load chart of exact load capabilities at every angle of operation while taking into account whether the aerial waterway is charged and at what angle the vehicle was set up. All of this information is displayed on easy-to-read screens in the platform and at the turntable.

With a multiplexed system, a lot of trouble-shooting can be performed on the display screen or on a laptop or handheld computer. The multiplex systems also allow long-distance troubleshooting and factory support, if necessary, by modem connections. As a result of the ease of troubleshooting and diagnosing problems, the time a vehicle must remain out of service also has been reduced.


Kent Pauli is the aerial product manager at Pierce Manufacturing, Appleton, Wis., where he has worked in various capacities for nine years. He is active with multiple NFPA committees, in addition to serving on the Pierce team that worked toward receiving the Standard of the Canadian ULC-S-515-04, which sets the standard for requirements and performance for all aspects of fire apparatus, including the aerial. He has an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin.

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