WFC News

Posted: Jun 4, 2013

Deeply Rooted

By Andrew J. Olson,
Corporate Vice President of the
OEM Division, Whelen Engineering

More than 60 years of serving the public with lifesaving products designed, manufactured, and supported by American employees has not changed Whelen Engineering's commitment to grow its business in the United States. Two Whelen plants totaling more than 783,000 square feet create the myriad parts and processes that distinguish a Whelen product. Two thousand actively-used injection molding tools manufacture the thousands of component parts needed daily. The electronics department builds all the circuit boards and electronic assemblies. Machined parts are produced in state-of-the-art automated machine shops located in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Finishing processes include hard coating of lenses, powder coating, and metallizing. Quality control is maintained throughout the entire manufacturing and assembly process, and certified test labs on site facilitate product development and shorten lead times. This unique manufacturing initiative allows Whelen to respond to the needs of its customers, many of whom require "just in time" delivery in these challenging economic times. Walk through the Whelen plant, and you see in action the commitment of a company dedicated to strong and steady growth, strictly on American soil.

Design Team

With the largest staff of design engineers in the industry, Whelen has maintained a reputation of innovation, responsiveness to customer needs, and commitment to quality. A strong partnership with OEMs on new vehicle design and product integration plus stringent control across the manufacturing floor means products built for the long haul. Support continues with sales and service departments here in the United States and around the world and extensive factory training at the Whelen facility.

LED Evolution

The introduction of LED technology in 1996 may have caused the greatest impact on emergency lighting in recent years, although it was also quickly accepted. Solid state LED technology was suitable for the rough, day-to-day environs of emergency vehicles but it posed many challenges, even to Whelen's team of engineers to capture the intense bright light and harness it to satisfy the infinite sizes, requirements, and applications of the LED product line.

Four years ago, Whelen brought the benefits of LED technology to the white light market, replacing quartz halogen and HID lighting products. Along with compartment lighting, aviation landing lighting, and a full line of illuminating products, this led to developing the Pioneer™ and Pioneer Plus™ Series super-LED floodlights, spotlights, and work lights. With models from the tiny Nano™ three-diode work/scene light, up to Model PCP3 20,000-lumen combination flood and spotlight, Whelen offers a wide range of models to suit the needs of its customers.

There are also mounting options and pole assemblies to support them. Using the Pioneer Pole configurator, customers design the exact Pioneer product they require, including the mounting bracket and pole necessary. This built-to-order light is assembled at the plant, shipped complete, and ready to mount to the vehicle.

"Rotating" LED Lightbar

At the 2013 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), Whelen introduced the Rota-Beam™ family of products, including the Delta RS "rotating" solid state lightbar. These individual beacons and lightbars were developed in response to the fire market's continuing loyalty to the longer dwell time of the rotating beacon. Rota-Beam offers the sweep of the rotator but also provides all the long lasting, state-of-the-art benefits of LED lighting. There are no motors to wear out, no moving parts, and no noise.

From the original Rota-Beam invented by George Whelen more than 50 years ago, this product exemplifies the passion of a co

Read more
Posted: Jun 4, 2013

Fleet Replacement Challenges Equal Opportunities

Brian Brown

A sound vehicle and maintenance replacement program is important to all government agencies of all sizes. Be it a volunteer, a combination, or a career department, reliable vehicles and equipment in appropriate working order are essential to providing all public services to communities in a professional and timely manner. Fire, EMS, wildland, aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF), and hazmat apparatus and equipment that break down frequently because of age or excessive use will lead to an interruption in service from the agency to the community.

Although a sound preventive maintenance program is a key component to managing a fleet, my last article covered the challenges we all deal with on a daily basis of keeping our fleet operations in the black or, as most of us say, "keeping our heads above water." Some of the key elements included shrinking budgets, economic downturns, and performing regularly scheduled preventive maintenance while doing more with less. In addition, I briefly covered the topic of managing aging fleets.

Now it's time to dig deeper and to be prepared to answer some tough questions when evaluating your fleet's overall replacement performance. Remember to know your fleet and run it like a business. The more you put into your fleet, the more your business responds to cost savings information, reduced downtime, operating cost, and overtime.

The goal of this article is not only to identify things that your department already does well, is already in the process of improving, or already recognizes needs to be improved, but to review the current and past practices of your department and make suitable recommendations for improvement going forward.


If your agency already has a fleet replacement plan in place or is willing to adopt/create one, it needs to be validated. Without a viable and comprehensive replacement program, managers will be unable to recognize apparatus and equipment replacement in a timely manner. The lack of basic replacement guidelines will cause them to overlook the optimum time at which apparatus needs to be replaced. What I have discovered is that the majority of the time this is an area that has been neglected by many departments and cities for many years. The support from upper management is vital to implementing a fleet replacement plan. Certainly, good working equipment contributes to positive employee morale. All of these factors combine to make a first class fleet operation and replacement program that fits well in the manager's tool kit.

Granted, the challenges we all face include shrinking revenues; budget cuts in the fleet and support areas; increased demand for service; increased state mandates; National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, (2007 Ed.), mandating more annual testing; and an aging fleet requiring possible readjustments. Readjustments to the fleet throws in a nice twist as the units that were initially planned for replacement are now kept and reallocated in another division/bureau that "feels" it truly needs it. These units now experience increased maintenance costs, reduced resale value, and increased downtime.

Starting Point

To begin, at what age do you like to replace vehicles in your fleet? The fact that a vehicle has reached its replacement age or threshold doesn't mean it automatically gets replaced. Some wear out quicker than others, which may be a sign of the assignment, the intensity of use, and how the end users take care of the vehicle. However, some vehicles may need to be replaced sooner because of the extreme wear and tear-hence, the reason a comprehensive replacement program is instrumental in the budget planning process to determine specifically which units should be replaced. Such a process sets a guide

Read more
Posted: Jun 4, 2013

In the Eye of the Beholder

Todd Rishling

Every year, rescue professionals are tasked with rescue and recovery efforts in aquatic environments. If the victim presents on the surface, a large part of the rescue/recovery effort is directed through visual sight. When the victim submerges, the rescue/recovery effort uses an entirely different approach. Most rescuers who work in the aquatic environment are well aware that visibility underwater is often limited. The diver must be methodical in the search effort. One step forward on the line tender's part or one bent arm from the diver during the sweep can lead to a "miss" of the object. Those simple alterations in a search pattern will miss the target, which then will give false confirmation to the area being searched. The question at the end of a dive should be, "Can we be 100 percent confident that the area we searched is clear of the object?" All too often, we can't be 100 percent confident in saying that we are 100 percent confident, simply because we really are not as divers. This article will talk about how to incorporate sonar operations during water rescue and recovery incidents. We will also discuss a few of the more common types of sonar units in my area.

a recovery operation conducted in Northern Illinois by MABAS Division 4/5 Sonar Team
(1) This is an image of a recovery operation conducted in Northern
Illinois by MABAS Division 4/5 Sonar Team. A "marker cage" has
been placed next to the body for reference as the Marine Sonics side-
scan sonar unit is towed in a parallel pattern, later to be cross
referenced by a perpendicular pattern. The image's detailed definition
allows for easier object identification.
(Photos by author.)

Sonar Usage

Using sonar technology in water rescue and recovery is not a new idea. In fact, for many years, some type of sonar device has been instrumental in high-profile drowning cases. Many of us have seen wrecks, underwater formations, and other objects on sonar images. Many of us have improvised and used a "fish finder," a drop single-beam sonar type of unit that has been around for years, as a recovery tool.

Some may ask, what is sonar? Sonar stands for sound navigation and ranging. There are two types of sonar technology-passive and active. Passive sonar is essentially listening for the sound made by vessels. Active sonar is emitting pulses of sounds and listening for echoes. Sonar is not new; it has been around since the 1490s, when Leonardo da Vinci placed a tube in water and could detect the sound of a passing vessel. From then on, the use of underwater detecting devices sprung forth, leading to the technology we have today. Worldwide use of sonar technology takes place in everyday activities such as oil drilling, environmental exploration, archeological detailing, and public safety.

For the purpose of this article, I will cover three devices used in my area and their implementation across the state of Illinois in the mutual aid box alarm system (MABAS) allocation and distribution system. I will highlight some of the success stories, evaluate the challenges, and look toward the future.

Kongsberg Sector Scan Sonar unit
(2) This image is from the Kongsberg Sector Scan Sonar unit. The search
was for a missing ice fisherman who fell through on a large lake the night
before. On the day the sonar team responded, it set up in an airboat and
traveled out to the last seen point. On the second drop of the sonar head
Read more
Posted: Jun 4, 2013

Apparatus Purchasing: Grading Engine 41

Bill Adams

The 2013 trade show season is underway, and apparatus pundits are rushing to print the latest and greatest innovations in the fire truck world. Recent articles heap praise on those manufacturers who can cram ten pounds of fire truck into a five-pound space. Equal admiration is bestowed on fire departments that spec multifunction apparatus to the next highest, longest, widest, heaviest, and most expensive level. It happens every year. You seldom see an article complimenting a simple straightforward single-purpose apparatus design. You never see a follow-up commentary on a rig that's been in service for a couple of years: "Hey, Chief, how's that design working for you? Would you change anything? Buy one like it again?"

Apparatus commentators are seldom explicit in expressing personal likes or dislikes. And, they never disagree, challenge, or take issue with a rig's design, accoutrements, or intended function. This article will.

Readers, please take note: This is not a criticism of the manufacturer, the fire department, or how either operates. It's irrelevant who wrote the specs, who built it, who bought it, and what it's made out of. It's an outsider's personal analysis of some features of a pumper from operational and spec-writing perspectives. Maybe it'll help the next department when writing specifications for a new rig.

Engine 41 was designed as a primary attack pumper whose sole function is to establish a water supply and put wet stuff on the red stuff. It was not designed to serve double duty as a rescue, tanker, squad, service, salvage, or ladder company. You can't get much more basic than that. Its response area can be characterized as an older congested northeastern municipality with narrow streets, narrower alleys, and approximately 13,000 residents packed into fewer than two square miles.

Basic Design

The truck replaced an older pumper of similar size with open jump seats. The new rig, less than 29 feet long, has a short 168-inch wheelbase-only six inches longer than its predecessor. It has a six-person custom cab, 500-gallon tank, 2,000-gallon-per-minute (gpm) rated pump, preconnected truck-mounted monitor, and traditional body style with high left-side and low right-side compartments. At first glance, it looks like a ho-hum "plain Jane" vehicle. A closer look shows it's a compact, hard-hitting, versatile, and functional piece of apparatus well suited to fulfill its intended mission.

Main Hosebed

When delivered, the main hosebed was loaded with 1,000 feet of five-inch large-diameter hose (LDH) and 1,200 feet of three-inch double-jacketed rubber-lined (DJRL) hose. A 600-foot dead load of 2½-inch DJRL was carried beneath a 2½-inch preconnect. There's more than 150 cubic feet of space in the bed-five times the minimum required by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus-for 2½-inch or larger fire hose. It easily accommodates the aforementioned hose plus four rear preconnects. And, it's not full yet.

There is no issue with the quantity and size of supply line carried. That's the department's business. I favor large hosebed capacities. However, it could have been configured to allow a walkway to facilitate loading. A walkway in the main bed makes the troops' lives easy. Easy is good.

Everyone likes low hosebeds. An "L" shaped tank keeps the bed less than four feet from the tailboard. And, it's almost 40 inches deep. It looks good, but looks can be deceiving. Most firefighters have about a three-foot wing span. How easy (or hard) will it be for firefighters on top of the rig to lean or reach over the top of a couple of hosebed dividers and access the bottom of the bed? That could be problematic if you have a couple of short-armed firefighters trying to load single-stacked hose into a 40-inch-deep bed.

Read more
Posted: Jun 3, 2013

Be in It to Win It

By Chris Mc Loone

I don't pretend to understand the reasoning behind every revision that comes down the pike from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). I don't always agree with them, but none has ever made me angry enough that I really get a chip on my shoulder about it. And, I realize that revisions are made in the name of safety.

There are some in the fire service who would have you believe the NFPA is our enemy when it comes to many things-that it makes all sorts of rules that we must follow when specing apparatus or purchasing equipment, adding all sorts of costs to the final price of an apparatus. The contrary is true, and a few recent events reinforce this for me.

Not the Enemy

First, the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board recently met and, during the meeting, talk turned to the NFPA. The conversation revolved around how there is good, solid equipment available to the fire service, but often it comes at a premium price if it is NFPA-compliant.

Bill Peters, a voting member of the NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Apparatus, committee stated that there are some who think the committees are in cahoots with the manufacturers, but he decried that premise. In the case of apparatus, he went on to say that no apparatus manufacturer wants to build extra costs into an apparatus and reminded the group that it's not always the NFPA adding costs. In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caught most of the grief because of the costs involved with 2010 engines.

Second, I sat in at the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers' Association (FAMA) spring Technical Committee meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, FAMA President Harold Boer mentioned that NFPA 1901; 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus; and 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances, are currently in the revision process. Based on 2012 numbers, which indicate the market has remained generally flat, he challenged committee members to "be careful when we propose these new standards not to add significant cost to the trucks and see our market go down further. If there's a problem, let's address it. If not, let's have a recommended guideline." See more about the Technical Committee meeting in this issue.

Third, at the Technical Committee meeting, Ryan Depew, the NFPA's staff liaison to the technical committee on fire apparatus, gave a presentation on the NFPA's new system for standards revision participation. In a nutshell, it has never been easier for us to participate in the standards revision process. The NFPA is transitioning from paper to electronic submissions. To that end, its Web site has been optimized to accept electronic comments on standards revisions. What many may not realize is that you don't have to be a member of a standard's committee to participate. Anyone can comment. And, the NFPA encourages it. What's more, we all should be doing it.


The NFPA process allows for a comment period. Anyone can comment on proposed revisions to a standard, whether you are a member of the committee or not. Committee members will review all comments and decide whether or not to incorporate them into the proposed revisions. It will also note why a comment makes it into the revision or doesn't. It goes without saying that comments like, "This is a dumb idea," are not going to make it very far into the process. Substantiate why you think a proposed revision needs to be adjusted.

The key is participation. The fire service solves more problems at the "kitchen table" but for some reason is not always ready to participate in the standards revision process, choosing instead to decry the revisions once they come out. The public input period for the first drafts of NFPA 1901, 1906, and 1917 closes on July 8, 2013. There's still plenty of time for you to be a p

Read more

Search News Articles