Fire Department’s New ‘Vision Zero’ Truck

Engine is Designed to Navigate Bulb Outs and Protected Bike Lanes

San Francisco's new truck is designed to turn in less distance. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick
San Francisco's new truck is designed to turn in less distance. All photos Streetsblog/Rudick

Yesterday afternoon, journalists and advocates were given a first look at Fire Engine 13, assigned to the station on the corner of Washington and Sansome in San Francisco’s Financial District. “This fire engine is narrower, not as long, and has a better turning radius,” said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White. “It’s a beautiful piece of equipment.”

During a low-key presser at the financial district station house, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and SFBC's Brian Wiedenmeier talked about the new truck.
During a low-key presser at the financial district station house, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and SFBC’s Brian Wiedenmeier talked about the new truck.

The new engine, one of eight that will be deployed in the city, is ten inches shorter than the old trucks it is replacing, and can make a u-turn in just 25 feet, explained Hayes-White. According to a release from Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office, it was built to adapt to San Francisco’s evolving urban streetscape and Vision Zero goals. It also boasts a screen and cameras that give a 360-degree view to help look out for potential pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile conflicts. Deputy Chief Anthony Rivera demonstrated the screen to Streetsblog–it automatically changes view depending on whether the engine is in reverse, or has a left or right turn signal activated.

This screen, top left, shows the truck's blind spots, and switches images automatically depending on turn signals and if the truck is moving forward or in reverse.
This screen, top left, shows the truck’s blind spots, and switches images automatically depending on turn signals and if the truck is moving forward or in reverse.

The engine also has recessed hose fittings and valves (see photo below). That way, if the driver is squeezing through a tight spot, there’s less chance of snagging on something or someone.

This panel is recessed, so fittings don't snag on things when the truck navigates tight alleys and turns.
This panel is recessed, so fittings don’t snag on things when the truck navigates tight alleys and turns.

The engine cost $533,000 and is expected to last for fifteen years. Fire officials said three are now in service and the remaining five will be delivered over the “next couple of weeks.” They will go first to stations that respond to calls in the densest areas of the city, with the most alleys and narrow streets, such as Chinatown and the Financial District.

Back in 2014, then-Supervisor Scott Wiener called on the fire department to design trucks to fit the city, rather than demanding that streets be designed to accommodate fire trucks. Rivera said the fire department worked with Walk San Francisco and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition on the design. “Sometimes it feels like we are a competing interest, but we are not,” he said.

Rivera may have been referring to tensions between SFMTA and the fire department over building parking-protected bike lanes on Upper Market Street and in the Tenderloin. The department, he said, is also looking to buy more versatile aerial ladder trucks to accommodate parking-protected bike lanes and other street safety improvements. “We’re working on a new spec for an aerial ladder truck … a redesigned outrigger system will go from sixteen feet to fourteen feet.”

“Safety is a value and a priority the SFBC and the SFFD share,” said the Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Wiedenmeier, who also spoke at the event. He added that he hopes the truck will help the city “build the safe streets we need.”

  • thielges

    This is great news. Not so much the truck itself but SFFD’s openness to adapt to changing streets. The electronic enhanced visibility aspects are cool but one would hope that people get out of the way when they see flashing lights and hear the siren.

  • Chim Cham

    I hate the fire department. Everyone who works for the SF fire department is a white cismale who has white privilege. The fire department needs to hire only undocumented transgender immigrants for the next 100 years. I am demand it. Plus the fire department targets youth of color like Mario Wood and shoot them even though he innocently stabbing people. I don’t think the fire department should be issue taser’s

  • spragmatic

    It would be nice if they (the people) do get out of the way, but they don’t. Generally bikes, cars and especially pedestrians challenge the emergency vehicle in just about every aspect. Some people really like to suggest that the big tires on a truck are to make it able to “mount the curb” if necessary, especially at intersections with bulb-outs. In reality, there is usually a line of pedestrians “hanging ten” along the curb who will not move. These new rigs are a good sign that the fire department want’s to do it’s share for maintaining public safety. Now it’s time for the bicycle coalition to listen to the fire department about the protected bike lanes on upper market and in the ‘loin, and stop pressing for decreased public safety in those cases. The protected bike lane in those cases is simply a decrease in the overall public safety in favor of one group.

  • Skip Kirkwood

    People are willfully ignorant at times. Tire size has to do with weight-bearing capacity, not “mounting the curb.” It takes some rubber and air pressure to carry 70 or 80K pounds…..

  • SFnative74

    Big tires actually give the vehicles more clearance when they crest the steep hills in SF. Helps them avoid bottoming out.

  • SFnative74

    Great to see these new vehicles! Public safety is the responsibility of all departments, including the SFFD and the SFMTA. More people die and are seriously injured on the streets from crashes than from fires, so it’s on the SFMTA and SFFD to work together to make streets safer while providing adequate access to buildings.

  • dr2chase

    Only thing I ever see blocking emergency vehicles (near Boston, not SF) is cars. Bikes get completely out of the way, so do pedestrians. I’ve even seen emergency vehicles use the bike path because the road is clogged with cars that can’t/won’t move.

    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXmFA7RQ88A

  • Patrick Siegman

    Thousands of San Francisco residents live on slender streets, with 10 to 13 feet of clear width. For more than a century, we who live on those streets have paid our taxes. For more than a century, it’s been the responsibility of the fire department to respond to emergencies on our streets. Yet for far too long, our Fire Department purchased vehicles that were ill-suited to our existing slender streets, even as other fire departments around the country specified that their apparatus must be specifically designed to work well on slender streets.

    As the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote in 2015:

    “The Fire Department lacks policies to design and purchase fire engines and trucks to
    accommodate traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements or maneuver on the City’s narrow streets.

    The Fire Department does not have a formal policy to consider traffic calming or pedestrian safety improvements when planning for the purchase of fire engines or fire trucks. The Department’s Apparatus and Vehicle Replacement Plan does not address the issue, nor does the Apparatus and Vehicle Replacement Plan discuss vehicle design or features that could accommodate the City’s narrower streets.

    Other cities and towns across the United States also have small streets and sharp turns and have purchased specialized vehicles that can operate in these environments. The vehicles are not necessarily smaller than their counterparts, but are thoughtfully designed to incorporate features that improve their operability.”

    Source: http://sfbos.org/sites/default/files/FileCenter/Documents/51265-Fire%20Trucks.011214.pdf

    We not only need emergency vehicles capable of operating on our existing slender streets, we also need emergency vehicles that work well on streets designed for traffic safety. Remember, according to the most recent available statistics (2014), in California, for every one person killed in a fire, more than 16 are killed in traffic crashes. Nationally, for every one person killed in a fire, more than nine people are killed in traffic crashes.
    —————————————–
    Traffic fatalities in 2014, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812246 )
    United States 32,675
    California 3074

    Fire deaths in 2014 according to the National Center for Health Statistics ( https://www.usfa.fema.gov/data/statistics/fire_death_rates.html )
    United States 3428
    California 192
    ——————————————
    As a community, we have long needed emergency vehicles specifically designed to work well on our existing slender streets and to work well with proven traffic safety measures, such as protected bicycle lanes and modern roundabouts. At last, we’re getting them.
    Thank you to Senator Weiner and all of the other safe streets advocates who urged the Fire Department to change, and thank you to the Fire Department for making this change.

  • Eric McClure

    Nice try, but bike lanes don’t diminish safety for anyone. As @dr2chase:disqus notes, 100% of emergency-responder delays are caused by drivers.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    These are great but the real improvement is in those little paramedic golf carts. It is dangerous to roll out to every drug addict found passed out in the street, in a huge firefighting vehicle.

  • Sean Horan

    Firefighters drive the big engines around because they don’t know the next call they’ll be replying to. One minute a drug addict, the next a structure fire.

  • J the Rake

    The likelihood of structure fires has diminished remarkably in this country. The vast majority of fire department responses now are first aid–be it a drug addict, car crash or slip and fall. Smaller first-aid rigs make much more sense in the equipment mix now–they are quicker and require far fewer people to operate allowing the department to offer more flexible responses system wide.

  • Matthew Martinez

    It would be cool if they actually posted a picture (full) of the truck.

  • Patrick Siegman

    Thousands of San Francisco residents live on slender streets, with 10 to 13 feet of clear width. Laussat Street, shown in the attached photo, is just one of the many slender streets in the City. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ef88cb2f3527e606bbb7a8645e01f6f53a76086ea9c74d2893f5e476e8845baf.jpg For more than a century, we who live on those streets have paid our taxes. For more than a century, it’s been the responsibility of the fire department to respond to emergencies on our streets. Yet for far too long, our Fire Department purchased vehicles that were ill-suited to our existing slender streets, even as other fire departments around the country specified that their apparatus must be specifically designed to work well on slender streets.

    As the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote in 2015:
    “The Fire Department lacks policies to design and purchase fire engines and trucks to
    accommodate traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements or maneuver on the City’s narrow streets.

    The Fire Department does not have a formal policy to consider traffic calming or pedestrian safety improvements when planning for the purchase of fire engines or fire trucks. The Department’s Apparatus and Vehicle Replacement Plan does not address the issue, nor does the Apparatus and Vehicle Replacement Plan discuss vehicle design or features that could accommodate the City’s narrower streets.

    Other cities and towns across the United States also have small streets and sharp turns and have purchased specialized vehicles that can operate in these environments. The vehicles are not necessarily smaller than their counterparts, but are thoughtfully designed to incorporate features that improve their operability.”

    Source: http://sfbos.org/sites/defa

    We not only need emergency vehicles capable of operating on our existing slender streets, we also need emergency vehicles that work well on streets designed for traffic safety. Remember, according to the most recent available statistics (2014), in California, for every one person killed in a fire, more than 16 are killed in traffic crashes. Nationally, for every one person killed in a fire, more than nine people are killed in traffic crashes.
    —————————————–
    Traffic fatalities in 2014, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (https://crashstats.nhtsa.do… )
    United States 32,675
    California 3074
    Fire deaths in 2014 according to the National Center for Health Statistics ( https://www.usfa.fema.gov/d… )
    United States 3428
    California 192
    ——————————————
    As a community, we have long needed emergency vehicles specifically designed to work well on our existing slender streets and to work well with proven traffic safety measures, such as protected bicycle lanes and modern roundabouts. At last, we’re getting them.
    Thank you to Senator Weiner and all of the other safe streets advocates who urged the Fire Department to change, and thank you to the Fire Department for making this change.

  • Casey Hildreth

    Bologna Sandwich.

  • Danny Dietze

    It looks just like the old fire trucks but now 10 inches shorter.

  • They should circle the city streets, because you never know where they might be called to…

  • Casey Hildreth

    Meaning I don’t doubt there are many challenges faced by SFFD trucks and drivers, but claiming public safety decreases due to protected bikeways on the High Injury Network – after considerable study of concerns raised – is a big leap and totally discounts the major benefit they have. It’s like saying the solution for pedestrian safety is to get all the pedestrians off the street.

  • spragmatic

    When the aerial ladder is stuck under the muni wires and cannot be extended and a line of cars prevents it from getting closer to the building (and out from under the wires), then yes, the people who are in that building have been made less safe than the protected bike lane. So actually, yes, the protected bike lanes CAN make the general public less safe in the name of satisfying a special interest group.

  • spragmatic

    The “attack” and “departure” angles give them the clearance for that, not the size of the tire.

  • spragmatic

    If the fire department can’t extend their ladders in a place where, before the parking protected bike lanes were installed, they were able to in the past, then indeed, the parking protected bike lane has endangered public safety. The MUNI wires on Market will keep the aerial ladders in their beds if the parking protected bike lane is built on Market. Maybe we should put a number on it. How many people are you willing to let die in a fire for a parking protected bike lane? Dramatic, and maybe an absurd question? Sure. But there is a solution that doesn’t reduce the general public safety along the Upper Market corridor that will also appease the specific bicycle safety at the same time. A parking protected bike lane isn’t it.

  • spragmatic

    Yes. Get the drug addicts off the street.

  • spragmatic

    20 years ago the fire department was responding to a structure fire each day, sometimes more. Now, it’s responding to about 2 every 3 days. That is not much less.

  • J the Rake

    According to USAFacts there were 1.8M structure fires in 1997. Less than 1.3 two years ago (last available data). 3M in 1980. That’s a huge trend down. According to SF Fire there were 350 structure fires in 2007. 2015 had 186. That’s an even bigger drop than the national stats. My comment was made for a national audience and I stand by my position especially because over the past 20 years the number of structures has grown significantly. No need to send a ladder truck for a car wreck.

  • SFnative74

    Tire size matters also. Do the math or ask the fire fighters who purchase the equipment.

  • Eric McClure

    Please share real-life examples of that actually happening.

  • spragmatic

    Okay. Hey, spragmatic, do the size of the tire matter for going up or down the hills, or matter in the “breakover” angle? “Nope, the rig is designed so that the bumper and tailboard are situated to provide the proper angle of approach and departure, as well as significant enough clearance so they do not high-center. In fact, they use the size tires they do because of the weight rating and “generic” size making it easier and cheaper for the city to maintain it’s fleet.”

    There you go, right from the horses mouth. 😉

  • spragmatic

    Luckily, there aren’t any parking-protected bike lanes in SF that cause this problem. YET.

    However, the overhead wires on many of the streets in SF provide challenges for the aerial ladders on a regular basis. Trees are a major issue too. The short-sighted effort to actually make it worse on Upper-Market and in the Tenderloin is poor planning.

  • spragmatic

    So, since we don’t have as many fires, we shouldn’t be ready in case there is one.

    Since we don’t have as many fires, we shouldn’t have the personnel on hand to extinguish one.

    Also, since we don’t have as many fires, we shouldn’t worry about the people who live in the buildings that will be made less safe by a parking-protected bike lane.

    I see your points very clearly.

  • J the Rake

    Based on this reply you clearly don’t see my points or understand the facts that support them.

  • SFnative74

    I guess there are slightly different answers from different people in the department. I got the information from the Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Equipment years ago. He seemed to know what he was talking about. : )

  • midringrider

    How about smaller vehicles for teh medical emergencies and leave 2 or more people in the fire house with the big truck? Then when a structure fire comes in it can roll and the smaller vehicle can meet them at the scene. Plus how long are you tying up a big truck on a medical emergency?

  • disqus_iSGe7JB4vH

    One of our municipalities is trying out the mini-pumper concept to respond to medical calls, MVCs and “smaller” fires to save wear and tear on their larger apparatus. Guess what? That truck is constantly out of service for repair and the crew is responding out of the larger truck anyway. It cannot handle the demands of the call volume. It’s a noble concept to try and “save money”, and may work for a rual dept. that gets about 5 calls a week, but at $100k less than a 15 year truck, they’re close to spending that in repairs at about 2 years in. Maybe one day the smaller truck will be more commonplace, but it doesn’t seem the technology is there to keep up with the demands. That truck certainly is not going to last 15 years.

    They also respond without lights and sirens to calls deemed “non-emergent” to further save wear on the truck. Still having issues.

  • J the Rake

    It is sad that your town has purchased such a lemon. But the fact that they have an unreliable apparatus does not condemn the idea nor does it prove that it is unworkable. Our small city has a significant border with forests that frequently burn. The urban/wild land forest interface and the dangers it presents to a city of our size requires our department to run rigs that can easily respond and attack forest fires. The department realized that these rigs actually were far better to call out for the more common calls–crashes and first aid–as well. So they invested in more. Response times are reduced as are their staff costs. While there was significant complaints when this was proposed a couple of years ago our results have been positive.

  • disqus_iSGe7JB4vH

    I think there’s a happy medium between the two. Sending “2 guys on a truck” for a first due fire attack is just unsafe- speaking from 15 years experience. I’ve cleared a medical call only to respond to a working structure fire quite a few times. However, I do believe there is room for some efficiency in the fire/EMS model; and I don’t think the concept of a smaller apparatus should be sent to pasture. It’s now a matter the apparatus manufacturers to step up their game to deliver something that will meet the tactical objectives of most FD calls while not becoming a money pit for taxpayers. As the demand does seem to be increasing, I’m sure it’ll happen soon.

  • J the Rake

    I guess the efficiencies come from having a couple of weapons in the apparatus mix within the stations. Our forest interface is almost entirely on our city’s western edge. Five miles east it is desert. Those stations have no need for wild land fire response unless they were for storage/back-up. If all station’s have the bulk of there calls caused by car wrecks and first aid then wouldn’t it make sense that each location have a fire/EMS rig as well as the more traditional units for structure fires? Sure you might have two responders called to the highway wreck then a house fire call comes in but that would be handled by the rest of the station and those rigs? I see the large tankers and ladder trucks in our city and they are both slow, awkward and filled with fire fighters. Having them called out for a t-bone at the intersection seems like over kill to me.

    As to the manufacturers–I haven’t a clue. Our newer quick response rigs seem to be based on h/d Chevy trucks. Probably more margin in those build from scratch units.

  • Smooth Bore Tip

    As a 35+ year Firefighter, Engineer, Engine designer, what a load of BS. All fire “Engines” (Pumpers,Ladders, Rescues, Squads, etc), have recessed pump panels. The Police should have the road closed to protect the firefighters. If cars are driving by/over the hoses, there’s something wrong. If you’re worried about cyclists being run over over by firetrucks, police cars, ambulances, red lights, sirens, maybe their vision/hearing should be checked before they hurt someone.

  • spragmatic

    The SFFD runs the numbers. It turns out that when you evaluate the number of people needed to respond to certain types of emergencies in this city, you come up with the current staffing levels, and current response patterns.

    In San Francisco the bulk of our buildings are multiple stories that do not have elevators. The manpower necessary to haul 3 bags of equipment, a stairchair, and then safely haul it all back down several floors carrying a 200 pound person as well makes it operationally efficient to keep the crew together. A high risk medical commonly needs all of the 6 people that are sent to help. Same for a car wreck, as soon as there’s an entrapment the crew requirements go to a minimum of 6 people. Conveniently, in San Francisco, if you call 911 for a medical, car wreck or other non-fire emergency, you’ll get 6 people.

    Likewise, an understaffed fire engine is useless at a fire. If a report of fire comes in while half-the-the crew is attached to a medical call, the engine probably would not roll anyway. What would be the point of sending a rig that can’t get anything done because it doesn’t have enough people on it? And then you’re paying 2 people to do nothing, since they can’t respond to anything without the rest of the crew. The staffing levels in San Francisco are designed they way they are because of the need for manpower- again, for the unique construction types and density that are not found in most other west coast cities. It is operationally efficient to keep the crew together, and keep them with the rig.

    Perhaps it works in rural america. I wouldn’t know. And I certainly wont be sitting here in the city telling rural america how to do their fire response.

  • spragmatic

    Yes, the article mistakenly points out the recessed pump panel as a new feature. What they missed was the shorter bumper, tighter turning radius, recessed grab handles, shorter tailboard and overall a slightly narrower and shorter rig. It is a successful good faith effort by the fire department to accommodate a citizenry that insists on placing their own personal convenience in front of public safety. Remember San Franciscans, when you say “transit first” you also say “public safety second” (at best.)

  • spragmatic

    It’s likely that their new mini pumper is not a lemon. Once outfitted, most SUV and Light Truck type response vehicles are at or over the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. These are re-purposed civilian vehicles that are not built for the type of use they can/will get in an urban public safety agency. They go through brakes at an alarming rate. They chew up tires. The suspensions aren’t designed for 100% duty at these loads. In short, they take a beating for which they are not designed. This goes the same for ambulances actually. It is common for some of our ambulances and chiefs vehicles to require so much maintenance and repair in 7 years of use that it would be cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one. By contrast, our engines typically last 20 years and some of our ladder trucks are 25 years old and continue to be far more reliable than any of the new light-truck based units.

  • Smooth Bore Tip

    Here’s the question: should we sacrifice fire apparatus for the sake of the idiots that don’t see/hear lights, sirens, and air horns ? Trust me when I say I wheeled a Fire Truck thru an 12 lane 4 way intersection that I didn’t have the siren screaming and the air horns blowing BUT my foot was on the brake just in case that one idiot didn’t see me. So now they have to be careful of people on bicycles?

  • Eric Rodenbeck

    Yes! 95% of the calls that currently have gigantic fire trucks blaring down residential streets could be handled by a paramedic on a scooter.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Check out these much smaller response vehicles that the SFFD operates. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jwbee/22056894496

  • Jeffrey Baker
  • Eric Rodenbeck

    Hey, what are those?! Fantastic; anything to reduce the number of hook and ladder trips…

  • Jeffrey Baker

    If you are basing your argument on what the SFFD does, then you should be aware that the SFFD already operates a much smaller medical response vehicle. See my photo of it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jwbee/22056894496 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f38ba51afd8a8c1c777d2887c09046e15945c34f95cf4d6c7d3c164cc20e1e76.jpg

  • The same is true in San Francisco.

  • crazyvag

    I think the concern was that some bulbouts create turns that are too sharp for existing fire truck’s turning radius. Specifically in tenderloin and North Beach where we get the euphimistic green light curbs instead of bulbouts. It has little to do with seeing or hearing the truck.

    As an aside, narrow trucks will more easily squeeze through traffic.

  • spragmatic

    What do you suppose they use those for? Should those be used to transport sick and injured? Should they be used to transport 2 people ahead of an ambulance at an added cost to the city for those 2 people and the equipment which is neither made for this type of use, reliable enough to be deployed daily and not street legal nor safe to be running in traffic?

  • Smooth Bore Tip

    I’m guessing “bulbouts” and “green light curbs” is a west coast thing? Out of curiosity, what are they?

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