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Exclusive: Walk-in and non-walk-in rescue fire trucks explained


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Each rescue fire truck comes with different specifications, and knowing them is vital when deciding which to use 

There are a number of significant differences between a walk-in and a non-walk-in rescue fire truck. The differences often dictate the functionality of the apparatus, the tools that can be carried on board, and ultimately, the fire truck configuration. 

To compare and contrast rescue types, lets evaluate some of the common facts and information to aid firefighters in the search for the right rescue truck type. 

Rescue fire truck explained 

Technically speaking, a rescue fire truck is a specialised vehicle designed to provide support in rescue operations. However, if you were to ask firefighters the definition of a rescue fire truck, the chances are that each one would give a different response to the last, and that is mainly due to the fact that each rescue fire truck being is as unique as the fire department and community that it serves.  

At Pierce Manufacturing, we often consider a rescue fire truck as a toolbox for the following reasons. Firstly, the rescue fire truck is uniquely sized, shaped and constructed for the tasks that are required. Secondly, they hold the required tools for the types of rescue missions in the community. Finally, the tools that are used are organised so that they meet the needs of the end users, the firefighters.  

Now that we’ve established what a rescue truck is, it is also important to emphasise that a fire truck should be designed based on the specific needs of a fire department and community. Before fire departments do anything else, they must first understand the truck’s mission and then determine the type of rescue that matches the mission. 

Now, let’s look at the comparison between two of the most common types of rescue apparatus. 

Walk-in rescue 

A walk-in rescue fire truck features walk-in open space in the body that is used by personnel. In its simplest form, a walk-in rescue truck features an aisle down the centre of the body, providing ample space for firefighters and personnel to sit and rest at the scene of an emergency. However, modern walk-in rescues come in various shapes and sizes, with compartments, laboratories, command centres, and many more features onboard the vehicle. 

There are many scenarios in which a walk-in vehicle is the ideal solution for fire departments. For example, a walk-in apparatus is ideal for extreme weather conditions and allows firefighters to get out of the elements on-scene. In addition, a walk-in fire truck may be required if the tools your department carries on board are sensitive to temperature or other environmental elements. Lastly, these trucks can be set up for command operations during lengthy emergency calls, allowing firefighters to work at stations and with specialised tools and equipment on board. 

Based on the needs of a fire department, the ‘walk-in’ portion of a fire truck can be executed in several different variations. Access points can include the rear of the vehicle, either or both sides, the cab of the vehicle or any combination of those points. 

A hazmat rescue vehicle, for example, could include a walk-in portion at the front of the vehicle featuring a laboratory designed with an interior fume hood to test chemicals, and chairs and monitors to manage operations. 

A rehabilitation rescue unit could offer maximised interior space that includes very little exterior storage but provides full front-to-back and side-to-side interior working space for seating and many types of features such as restrooms, refrigerators, coffee makers and microwave ovens. A command rescue fire truck could include a conference area with a table, chairs and workstations equipped with telecommunication equipment and monitors. 

Non-walk-in rescue 

Now let’s take a look at the non-walk-in rescue fire truck. A non-walk-in rescue fire truck is the most common type of rescue fire truck, mainly because it offers the most storage, a vital feature for fire departments around the world. When a fire department is faced with many rescue scenarios, it may require a rig featuring several types of equipment to match those needs. In the past, walk-in rescues were often used because they could transport more firefighters to the scene of an emergency. Now that fire truck cabs are designed to maximise every square inch of space, firefighters can sit comfortably in the cab of a non-walk-in rescue, often eliminating the need to ride in the body compartment altogether. As a result, a non-walk-in rescue body can be used exclusively for tool and equipment storage. 

Evaluating the difference 

The difference between walk-in and non-walk-in rescue fire trucks is important for fire departments to understand because it dictates the tools on board, the organization of the tools and the overall function of the fire truck. It’s important to outline the mission of the truck and be very thoughtful when it comes to these questions: 

Key questions to consider 

When deciding which type of rescue you need, it is essential to consider all aspects and ask the following questions. Firstly, how many firefighters will need to travel to the scene?  How many firefighters will be on board the truck? Secondly, what are the firefighters doing at the scene? Understanding the common tasks firefighters complete at the scene of an emergency will dictate if an interior space may be required on the truck. Thirdly, which tools do they need to have onboard the truck? Establishing the tools that need to be on board to successfully manage calls will determine how much storage is required. Keep in mind that just because your old rescue had certain tools doesn’t mean you need to allot space on a new apparatus for the same tools. Determine which tools are required for the types of calls you manage most frequently. The final question to consider is what tools do they use most often? Understanding the tools that are used on-scene will help determine the ideal storage and configuration of a new rescue fire truck. The most important tools should be stored in easily and immediately accessible compartments. Tools that are seldom used can be stored in roof or interior compartments. 

What is the optimal way to access the tools onboard?

As you consider the ideal type or rescue, fire departments must also consider the optimal way to access tools. Part of the planning process should include a discussion of what tools can be safely carried down a ladder, for example, or safely stored and pulled down from a high compartment area. 

Having these conversations with your local dealer can help your fire department narrow down the goals and objectives of a new rescue. These conversations often help support the selection of either a walk-in or non-walk-in rescue apparatus. 

What factors in rescue apparatus purchasing need to be considered? 

Ultimately, a fire department’s goal is to find the right type of truck that meets the service needs of their community, and we are proud to support that mission. 
At Pierce Manufacturing, we often advise firefighters to connect with neighbouring fire stations and learn as much as they can about both walk-in and non-walk-in rescue fire trucks. 

Consider additional elements, like: 

  • The length of your station bay 
  • The role of the fire truck in the existing fleet 
  • Strategic compartment storage 
  • The height of the apparatus and how that influences tool access 
  • Roll-up or hinge compartment doors 
  • Ergonomics and tool placement 
  • Equipment layout options 
  • Advancements in rescue storage 

There are infinitely more options to consider with a new rescue apparatus and there is no wrong or right way to configure a fire truck—walk-in or non-walk-in! 

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