Scott Wiener: SFFD’s Next Fire Truck Fleet Needs to Be More Versatile

The SF Fire Department needs to replace its aging fire trucks soon, and Supervisor Scott Wiener says the department should use the purchase to take advantage of more versatile models that other cities are using to navigate narrow streets.

Photo: Brett L./Flickr

SFFD has fought against pedestrian safety improvements that narrow roadways, claiming that they hinder fire truck access, even though other cities use lower street width minimums, and San Francisco has plenty of slender streets that firefighters regularly serve.

“Our fire trucks should be designed around the needs of our city, not vice versa,” said Wiener.

While SFFD has protested wider sidewalks, officials haven’t targeted much more prevalent obstacles like double-parked cars, and they admit they don’t have a firm grasp on what’s causing recent increases in response times. SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said at a hearing in January that “there could just be more cars.”

“While I and others have disputed [SFFD’s] assertions,” said Wiener, “if the department is concerned, the solution is to take a hard look at truck design.”

Smaller trucks, better designed for tight spaces than most of SFFD’s current fleet, are in use by a station in Bernal Heights, and they’re commonly seen in older cities in Europe and Japan. But SFFD has made several excuses about why it can’t buy more of them. At the January hearing, Lombardi said that fewer American manufacturers are producing smaller fire trucks, that smaller trucks tend not to meet smog standards, and that powerful engines are needed to climb San Francisco’s steep hills.

Regardless, the actual size of fire trucks isn’t necessarily as important as smart design features that allow them to operate within a smaller space, said Patrick Siegman, a principal at the transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard who focuses on emergency vehicle issues. Most of SFFD’s current trucks lack features like a tighter turning radius, roll-up cabinet doors on the sides of trucks (they have doors that swing out), hose pumps on the rear instead of the sides, and “stabilizers” to keep ladders propped up that don’t protrude out as much, he said.

“Some jurisdictions are purchasing equipment that’s not necessarily smaller, but better designed for working in close quarters, for maneuvering in congested traffic and on existing slender streets,” said Siegman.

Siegman noted that Anaheim’s fire department recently bought trucks with hose pumps on the rear, and noted that several European fire truck manufacturers known for making vehicles friendly for narrow streets, including one called Rosenbauer, recently started selling their vehicles in the U.S.

“Certainly, one way or another, the Fire Department’s dedicated to responding to emergencies and will work out a way to do it,” said Siegman.

According to the SF Examiner, about 10 percent of SFFD’s 300 vehicles have been in service for longer than their recommended functional service life of 15 years, and the department would need $28.1 million to replace the 18 trucks, 31 engines, and 20 ambulances it wants to get rid of.

  • BBnet3000

    Would be amazing if San Francisco took the lead on getting some smaller fire trucks that could actually fit on urban streets properly. This could benefit a lot of cities.

  • Ken

    Seems as though it’d be incredibly straightforward to mount dashcams on the existing fleet… if they don’t already exists… and identify those situations that delay response time. I regularly have a chance to watch the engines from Station 11 on 26th street get backed up at Dolores and Cesar Chavez simply because cars don’t get out of their way. I’d bet there are very cases where a marginally narrower/more maneuverable engine would improve the situation much.

  • There are natural gas fire pumpers that are available that could use local, renewable methane called Redeem. http://redeem.cleanenergyfuels.com/ and http://www.firegeezer.com/2010/04/25/natural-gas-powered-pumper/

    This would be huge for local air quality and cyclists. fire trucks may be emission exempt otherwise. It sure seems so when they go by.

    We should also look at Portland that has mini fire truck SUVs that handle their mostly medical calls anyway.

  • Plus fire departments usually blame the need to keep roads too wide on their huge equipment. Wide roads encourage traffic, speeders and danger to children and cyclists.

  • The SFFD presented to us on PSAC (http://www.sfmta.com/about-sfmta/organization/committees/pedestrian-safety-advisory-committee-psac) earlier this year and relayed a lot of the same uninspiring excuses. The overall demeanor of the SFFD seemed, at least to me, to overvalue wide streets and corners (which seem to end up getting double-parked on anyway), while simultaneously undervaluing livable streets improvements that reduce injuries (like bulbouts/parklets/protected bike lanes). This is encouraging that Sup. Wiener is pushing back.

  • I don’t think of cogeneration as “renewable” per se. CNG vehicles can switch over to fracked natural gas just as our biodiesel buses can fuel up on dirty diesel. A little handwaving about budget “realities” is all that’s needed.

  • There are fuel records that are available to figure out if this was happening. Better to be compatible and ready than not to be.

  • Bob Gunderson

    There’s a good punch line in here somewhere.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    Seems to me it’s this: “SFFD Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said at a hearing in January that ‘there could just be more cars.'”

  • A local company in Foster City has developed the first electric heavy duty garbage truck. Chicago has ordered twenty of them.

    http://motivps.com/portfolio/americas-first-all-electric-refuse-truck/

    San Francisco could support the Bay Area economy and work with this local firm to design a cutting edge electric fire truck that would be sized for our streets and easily get up our steep hills. (Electric motors are great in this regard.) The upfront costs for these trucks would be higher, but the substantially reduced maintenance costs of the all electric trucks would pay for the extra investment in 7 – 10 years. In addition we would be helping to develop a product that could be used nationally. (Within ten years most garbage and fire trucks will be electric.)

    Just an idea.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    3/4ths of the SFFD’s calls are for emergency medical, not fire. 99% of those are for hobos with stubbed toes which could have been 1) prevented by basic humane care for the indigent and mentally ill, and 2) treated by any field medic, or possibly an ambulance. Need for the heavy rescue truck is close to zero. Need for the gigantic articulated ladder truck is literally once per year or less.

    True flexibility would be shown by switching to innovative response tactics like two medics on an electric scooter. If al Qaeda can call a 125cc Honda motorcycle as a “steed of jihad” then surely a similar apparatus could serve the fire department.

  • BBnet3000

    This is also the often overlooked benefit of exclusive bus lanes. Theyre an express lane for emergency vehicles to skip a lot of traffic.

  • andrelot

    Medics need ambulance, because they can’t possible haul what a modern ambulance has (from artificial respirators to emergence surgery equipment) on their backpacks, and they can’t possible haul a stretch on a scooter.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Yeah but they can get there and radio for the ambulance in the minority of cases where they need that stuff.

  • Dark Soul

    Great we got a problem that people forgot thats caused by unnecessary wider crosswalks to obstruct Life Savers Department

  • murphstahoe

    Dark Troll

  • Guest

    Irreverent Comment

  • neroden

    Ambulances, even “modern” ones, are small and have no trouble going down narrow streets.

  • neroden

    If they’re not comfortable with all-electric trucks, it’s pretty trivial to build serial hybrids — electric motor, diesel generator — which are just as good at rushing up hills. Electric motors are SO much better at going up hills than traditional gasoline engines.

  • wskrayen

    SFFD’s apparatus are actually better suited to narrow streets than most cities in the US, and to the unique conditions in San Francisco. Their opposition to narrowed streets seem to be greatly misplaced. However the Supervisor needs to do a bit of research before opening his mouth.

    Anaheim’s new Engines were bought with rear mount pumps to increase compartment space for EMS equipment and fit inside older stations. The pump panel is still on the side, so the engineer is still standing in the street.

    SFFD’s newest engine, made by the same company as Anaheims, already have roll up doors. They are already about as short as a Type 1 engine can be, and they are using the narrowest cab width (94″) available.

    Muni’s buses are wider and longer than SFFD’s engines. IIRC Boston FD engines are bigger than the SFFD’s rigs. FDNY rigs are about the same size. SFFD’s tractor drawn aerials (ladder trucks) are much more maneuverable, than Boston and FDNY rear mount aerials, and FDNY’s mid mount Aerialscopes. Ever see how now the streets are in older parts of Boston and NYC?

    Rosenbauser America engines and trucks are as big or bigger than what SFFD is already operating. Also they have been selling fire apparatus in the US since the 90s, and their predecessors in the US, decades longer.

    As for the emissions issue, most European trucks do not meet EPA standards, and can not be brought into the US. Witness the Unimog, that some departments were buying, including the feds. It was withdrawn from the US, because it didn’t meet new EPA standards.

    But the biggest thing is, San Francisco is not Europe. The building construction, fire loads and hazards are not the same, European fire apparatus are designed for their fire conditions and way for fighting fires.

  • Guest94134

    Thank you. I think I just fell in love with somene who is actually educated and not just spewing nonsense. SAN FRANCISCO IS NOT EUROPE. We are also not fighting pedestrian safety but actually just asking people to look up from their phones and look right and left before they cross the street. Something we all learned when we were 5 correct?

  • Guest94134

    Please learn to “sunshine” journals. You will find that you are incredibly (surprised? I don’t think you are! ) INCORRECT.

  • Guest94134

    Again, incorrect. You’re like 0 for 2. Time to sit down. Or better yet sunshine city documents and educate yourself.