Departments are expanding the role of their mini-pumpers in order to save money without sacrificing service.
When one considers that today's typical mini-pumper, introduced to the fire service during the early 1970s, was a just a modern version of the old tactical horse-drawn chemical wagon that was sent ahead of slower steamers, not much really has changed in the application of these small and agile fire apparatus since then — and for good reason.
The configuration of the mini-pumper has been, since its modern introduction, a lightweight, highly tactical and nimble vehicle. Its small pump and tank, as well as limited equipment and crew, could handle most of a department's minor calls — such as car fires and brush fires — leaving pumpers and the majority of the department's firefighters at the firehouse ready to respond to more demanding incidents that require heavier fire apparatus and larger crews.
However, mini-pumpers also are regularly called on to work in conjunction with pumpers in response to larger structure fires. These easily deployed vehicles often are able to arrive on the scene earlier and initiate an interior attack until pumpers can respond, and then back them up. In addition to the mini-pumper's tactical advantages and flexibility, these vehicles also are inexpensive, which enables fire departments to add more fire and rescue capability at a lower cost than traditional pumpers.
For fire departments and municipalities that were hit hard by the economic downturn of the last few years, tighter budgets have driven fire chiefs and city councils to look for ways to cut costs on fire apparatus expenditures — but without sacrificing the quality or capability of the fire and rescue services provided to the community. Today, some fire departments are exploring ways to meet their needs, in terms of both fire service and budget, by increasing the role and capability of the lower-cost mini-pumper.
One such department wanted a new kind of mini-pumper, one that would have fire-suppression capability and equipment nearly matching that of a traditional pumper. This department specifically wanted a mini-pumper that could carry a 500-gallon tank and, more significantly, a 1250-gpm pump. Current mini-pumper configurations, throughout the industry, are typically Type-6 vehicles with 300-gallon tanks and pumps capable of delivering only 100 gpm, to a maximum of 275 gpm.
With this additional "fire power" the new mini-pumper would be capable of playing a more significant role in structure fires, rather than merely suppressing smaller brush and car fires — while saving the department the cost of a new pumper. The design and engineering challenge was to provide this additional capability without sacrificing the agility, responsiveness and economy that long have been the hallmark of this kind of fire apparatus.
Ultimately, the mini-pumper was built on a Ford F-550, 4x4 chassis, with a four-door extended cab, and features a heavy-duty 19,500-pound GVWR suspension to handle the larger payload of tank and pump. The heavy-duty suspension and four-wheel drive also deliver improved handling and stability, while allowing the vehicle to access off-highway roads and two tracks in rough-and-tumble rural environments. And while this mini-pumper now packs a bigger punch in fire-suppression capability, it still has the speed to respond quickly and get in close in situations where larger pumpers often are limited in terms of access.
The vehicle is powered by a 6.7-liter, overhead valve, Power Stroke diesel V-8 engine with a 40-gallon gas tank. The 300-hp engine is capable of generating 660 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm, and provides a 16,000-pound towing capacity.
On top of this compact-but-rugged foundation and powerful drivetrain sits a full-sized 1,250-gpm Hale DSD pump and a 500-gallon UPF water tank — with an integral 17-gallon foam tank — as well as a stainless-steel pump housing and controls that feature HME's Hydra Technology water-delivery system. Room was made for the larger pump and tank by using a pump-and-tank configuration that is closer to that of a traditional pumper, and by redesigning and raising the height of the stainless-steel body. Traditional heights for mini-pumper bodies are approximately 39 inches, but in this case the body height was raised to 57 inches. This provides an additional 18 inches of body height to house the larger pump and tank, and to offer more room for equipment, hose beds and gear.
Several non-traditional mini-pumper features also were incorporated. For example, roll-up doors were used instead of traditional slam-doors, plus other unique shelving and storage solutions created additional space for gear and equipment. Indeed, this mini-pumper provides a generous 139 cubic feet of compartment storage, plus 40 cubic feet of hose-bed storage, along with two crosslay hose-storage spaces located above the pump house.
In the back of the mini-pumper — where the pump, tank and discharge/intake valves ordinarily reside in a Type-6 vehicle — is an additional storage compartment, because the pump house was moved, for greater convenience, to a position behind the cab. In fact, it's where one would find it on most pumpers today. The new position of the pump house also offers more efficiency and access to intake and discharge valves on both the left and right side of the vehicle, and enables the pump controls to be located directly behind the driver on the left side of the truck for fast and easy access.
The 6-inch intake valves on both sides of the truck also allow the mini-pumper to extend its fire-suppression capability by connecting its 1,250-gpm pump directly to an external water source.
While this type of mini-pumper may not be answer for every department that is looking a more economical solution to its fire apparatus needs, creative approaches to mini-pumper design could expand the role of this time-tested piece of equipment dramatically in the future.
Marc Dettman is a freelance writer.