New DNR fire engines ready just in time

One DNR's newest wildland fire engines recently at the department Tumwater Compound and fire cache
One of DNR's newest wildland fire engines recently at the department Tumwater Compound and fire cache

The first of ten new fire engines built by DNR rolled out of the department’s Tumwater Compound south of Olympia in mid July. These engines will be deployed to several regions of the state as they are completed this fire season. They join dozens of other trucks that, along with crew transport trucks, flatbeds, bulldozers, helicopters, airplane tankers, and a lot more, are key to the agency’s rapid response to wildfire incidents.

The inside story is how some this equipment is being made at a savings. DNR’s fire trucks don’t look like what you see at your local firehouse in most cities. DNR produces its own fire trucks by modifying a standard commercial medium-duty truck chassis, an approach that saves money while improving the end results for the agency.

Designs reflect DNR needs

The new engines replace both DNR’s “H5S”, an Incident Command System (ICS) type 5 fire engines, and the“A1S,” ICS type 6 engines. Both types are used in DNR’s initial attack on fire incidents.

The designs for both versions were developed with extensive input from DNR firefighters and equipment managers. Both versions have been in service since the mid 1980s with just minor modifications.

DNR built its new trucks on a Chevrolet Kodiak medium-duty truck frame. Similar lines are the GMC Topkick, Isuzu H Series, and Ford Super Duty trucks, according to Wikipedia.

 The specifications DNR looked for included:

  • 300 or 330 HP diesel engine
  • Automatic transmission
  • Engine braking
  • 21,000 GVW
  • Double cab with capacity to seat up to six firefighters
  • Four-wheel drive
  • 400 gallon or larger fiberglass tank

The design of fire suppression system (the truck when outfitted with hoses, sprayers, etc.,) combines over-the-counter and custom-designed components. DNR’s Engineering Division’s Equipment Services fabricates the deck, assembles all the components, and then mounts the system on a commercial truck chassis.

Building in-house saves

DNR builds its engines in-house for two reasons: 1) we want the best equipment possible to carry out our fire protection mission and 2) building in-house saves money.

After looking at the designs for wildland fire engines available on the commercial market, it became clear that in-house construction was the best buy as well as the best fit for the agency. DNR’s cost to develop a new engine typically runs about $70,000-$75,000. In comparison, a similar vehicle from a commercial vendor is listed at $84,500.

The custom engine designs produced for the federal agencies are much more complex and expensive to maintain than what DNR needs for its fire mission on 12.7 million acres of forestland, and other terrain.

There are significant savings through bulk purchasing of components through competitive bid and then having DNR’s mechanics assemble the engines during the winter. The mechanics were able to fit in this construction between their routine maintenance of other equipment.

Putting the priority on components of high quality and durability, has brought significant cost savings. Durable major components such pumps, boxes and decks, can be refurbished and continue to be used if they are of high quality to start with. Equipment sub-assemblies such as engines, transmissions, even the chassis, can be replaced when they wear out. For example, on many DNR fire engines the major components, such as pumps, boxes and decks, acquired in the early 1990s are still in service today.

Using a standard design with quality components results in equipment that can be used around the state without the need to train staff on numerous variations of the equipment or to do as many modifications to fulfill DNR’s fire control mission.

The validity of taking this approach is borne out by the fact that many Washington fire protection districts select DNR every year to produce their fire engines rather than accept bids solicited from custom equipment builders.

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