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A red and white aerial fire truck designed for urban fires drives under a yellow steel bridge on an asphalt road.

Searching for the right aerial fire truck for an urban environment?

To support the needs of an urban community, and if applicable, mutual aid in a neighboring city, fire department purchasing representatives have many apparatus options to consider. This blog outlines a detailed discovery process to use as you begin your search, including:

  • Understanding the challenges of urban firefighting
  • Establishing fire truck buying criteria
  • Completing a city assessment and infrastructure review
  • Determining ground ladder needs
  • Completing a fire station evaluation

What Are the Challenges of Urban Firefighting?

A dramatic photo shows one of the challenges of urban firefighting; an old brick building is aflame as an elevated aerial platform fire truck sprays water down, sending plumes of smoke into the sky. Every community has a unique set of firefighting challenges to manage, and urban fire departments often face some similar circumstances, including:

  • The prevalence of high-rise and multioccupancy buildings means firefighters must have the right types of trucks and equipment on board to manage these unique fire scenarios. Although high-rise fires are infrequent, they are labor-intensive events that require special tactics, tools and knowledge.
  • High population density with a mix of residential and commercial properties in the same areas present significant logistical, management and safety threats.
  • The size and complexity of interior spaces in urban environments is quite different from other types of communities and can present significant firefighting challenges.
  • The enclosed nature of the hazard area is more prevalent in urban environments where there is often limited and sometimes difficult access to the fire area.
Understanding the challenges a fire department faces can help determine the right fire truck buying criteria, outlined in more detail below.

Learn more about small and urban fire departments and see truck examples from each in this blog.

Establish Your Fire Truck Buying Criteria

: A red and white fire truck is parked in front of a large office building with a blue sky background. Setting out to purchase a new fire apparatus is certainly no easy feat. From understanding the fire truck buying process to investigating consortiums and other funding opportunities, fire department representatives must navigate through many complex steps.

Establishing the fire truck buying criteria is a critical step that should come early in the purchasing process. This starts by understanding the mission of the truck:

  • What types of calls will the first-out truck respond to?
  • What type(s) of equipment is needed on the truck?
  • Why additional support may be required (Example: running the foam system)

Once the mission of the truck is understood, identifying the type of truck to support the critical needs is required. Is a tiller required to navigate tighter streets, cul du sacs and traffic congestion? Would a smaller aerial fire truck suffice? Would a quint satisfy all requirements?

Complete a City Assessment and Infrastructure Review

A red and white urban aerial platform fire truck extends its ladder with scene lights turned on in a condo complex at dusk.In addition to understanding the types of calls a new fire truck may service, it’s also important to consider the geographic and infrastructure make-up of the service area. Completing a city assessment and infrastructure review is a great place to start.

Take the time to drive around your community with a little bit of a different perspective—evaluate the overall geographic terrain and look for height restrictions, including overpasses, railroad bridges, power lines, overhead obstructions and large trees.

As you survey the fire truck service area, be sure to evaluate the existing infrastructure and buildings in detail.

Infrastructure Considerations

A red urban aerial fire truck is driving on an asphalt road in front of a building with a bell tower and a blowing American flag. Take time to review the infrastructure in your fire department service area to get a sense of the required truck capabilities and avoid any surprises in the buying process. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Street configurations. Review the street configurations in the service area to help determine if a new apparatus needs a shorter wheelbase, rear mechanical steering, shorter rear overhang or a tighter turning radius.
  • Height restrictions. Be sure to review height limits on overpasses, railroad bridges, power lines and other overhead obstructions.
  • Greenery and foliage. If the service area has a large tree canopy, an aerial with a platform may not be the best choice. Review the greenery and foliage around the service area to ensure the aerial device can reach where it needs to go.
  • Street set up areas. Outrigger configuration and spread are important considerations when you purchase an aerial device. An aerial with a short jack feature or a narrower outrigger spread may be necessary to set up in narrow streets and alleys.
  • Traffic patterns. Understanding how traffic flows through the service area can help determine the truck type and size required to meet the community’s needs.
  • Slope and grade. Understanding the slope and grade of the local roadways will ensure the apparatus you are selecting can be set up in the necessary locations. It’s also important to consider any rivers, bridges, overpasses, cliffs or drainways that may require below-grade operations.
  • Ground ladders and uneven terrain. In some instances, uneven terrain can make it difficult to use ground ladders and an aerial device may be a safer choice. Survey your community to determine any uneven areas that would make ground ladders difficult to use.
  • Horizontal reach. Horizontal reach capabilities are critical when a set back is large. Understand the building set back in your service area to help determine the right apparatus choice.
  • Vertical reach. Choosing an aerial device requires an understanding of vertical height requirements to improve effectiveness in ventilating and rescue operations.

Building Considerations

A red aerial ladder fire truck is driving down an asphalt road with parked cars and two-story shops lining one side of the street. Urban environments can look very different from city to city and even within the same jurisdiction. Understanding the building considerations in a fire truck’s immediate service area, or mutual aid service area can dictate the ideal type of truck and configuration. Below, we outline several building considerations worth evaluating before you finalize your fire truck design.

Residential Districts

  • Accessibility. The type of building and the level of occupancy may dictate whether to choose a ladder or platform truck. A platform can offer higher water flow capabilities for faster knockdown and to quickly get a firefighter on the roofline for ventilation. It can also perform rescue operations more safely.
  • Age of buildings. Older homes and buildings are typically constructed of heavier structural members that provide longer burn times before collapse. Newer construction materials burn faster and may place firefighters at greater risk during interior attack operations, justifying the capability of an aerial device to provide fire suppression from an elevated master stream.
  • Types of architecture. Certain types of residential architecture present a much greater challenge for ground ladder accessibility. Steep roofs, metal roofs and multiple roof lines are examples of an aerial device providing much safer access for firefighters during rescue and ventilation operations.

Commercial Districts

  • High occupancy buildings. If your community has densely populated multi-story buildings, you will need an aerial device with higher tip loads to help evacuate many people.
  • Retirement facilities and hospitals. Hospitals and facilities serving senior citizens contain people with special requirements that may preclude ground ladder rescue. An aerial platform is an ideal tool in these situations to provide safe and secure rescue operations.

Industrial Districts

  • Chemical plants or refineries. Some departments require large water flows because of the potential for large-scale chemical or refinery fires. Aerial units designed with larger diameter waterways and increased flows are required. The aerial device will be designed to accommodate the increased water and nozzle reaction forces.
  • Industrial manufacturing. From paper mills to food production, fire suppression in manufacturing facilities requires high water flow capabilities.

Don’t Forget Ground Ladder Considerations

A red and black tiller apparatus is turning in a cul du sac in a residential block with greenery in the foreground and houses in the background. Whether a fire department is considering a quint or non-quint aerial device, additional consideration needs to be given to ground ladder requirements.

NFPA 1900 requires a minimum of 115’ feet of ground ladders on an aerial fire apparatus.

If a new apparatus is a quint, NFPA requires a minimum of 85’ feet of ground ladders. Due to housing and building construction, some departments may have special ladder requirements or specify an ISO ground ladder complement. Be sure to discuss ground ladder special requirements with your fire truck manufacturer.

Complete a Fire Station Evaluation

A red and white aerial fire truck is parked in a fire station bay showing the height restrictions and why a fire station evaluation is important before purchase. Don’t forget about the importance of evaluating your fire station! You need to make sure that any new fire apparatus will fit within the restrictions of your firehouse.

Here is a quick checklist of items to review:

  • The height of the overhead bay door may dictate the height requirements of a new apparatus. If a department is located in a cold-weather climate, keep in mind that ice and snow on the apron may reduce the station door clearance. Consider the angle of approach and departure in your truck design. The angle and length of aprons will impact the overall height when entering and exiting the firehouse door opening as well as other low hanging obstructions within the firehouse.
  • The turning radius and tail swing required to get the unit in and out of the station needs to be verified. Narrow streets, sidewalks and other obstacles can make it difficult to get in and out of the station. 
  • The overall length of the station bay can limit the length of a fire truck.
  • The fire station floor structure needs to be strong enough to handle the weight of the fire truck you select. Be sure to evaluate the weight limitations in the building code.

Learn More About Urban Firefighting Aerial Fire Truck Advancements

A red and white tiller fire truck with blue stripping and letters is driving on a road in front of large glass office buildings. Pierce Manufacturing is dedicated to providing educational information to fire departments and committee representatives throughout the fire truck buying lifecycle.

If your fire department is interested in learning more about types of aerial devices, take a look at these additional resources:

If you have any additional aerial device questions, please reach out to your local dealer or post your question in the comments below!
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Topics: Manufacturing

About Pierce Manufacturing
Pierce Manufacturing Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation [NYSE: OSK] business, is the leading North American manufacturer of custom fire apparatus. Products include custom and commercial pumpers, aerials, rescue trucks, wildland trucks, mini pumpers, and homeland security apparatus. In addition, Pierce designs its own foam systems and was the first company to introduce frontal airbags and the Side Roll Protection system to fire apparatus. To learn more about Pierce, visit

About Oshkosh Corporation

At Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK), we make innovative, mission-critical equipment to help everyday heroes advance communities around the world. Headquartered in Wisconsin, Oshkosh Corporation employs approximately 17,000 team members worldwide, all united behind a common purpose: to make a difference in people’s lives. Oshkosh products can be found in more than 150 countries under the brands of JLG®, Hinowa, Power Towers, Pierce®, MAXIMETAL, Oshkosh® Defense, McNeilus®, IMT®, Jerr-Dan®, Frontline™ Communications, Oshkosh® Airport Products, Oshkosh AeroTech™ and Pratt Miller. For more information, visit

®, ™ All brand names referred to in this news release are trademarks of Oshkosh Corporation or its subsidiary companies.

Forward Looking Statements

This news release contains statements that the Company believes to be “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements other than statements of historical fact, including, without limitation, statements regarding the Company’s future financial position, business strategy, targets, projected sales, costs, earnings, capital expenditures, debt levels and cash flows, and plans and objectives of management for future operations, are forward-looking statements. When used in this news release, words such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “intend,” “estimate,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “should,” “project” or “plan” or the negative thereof or variations thereon or similar terminology are generally intended to identify forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other factors, some of which are beyond the Company’s control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. These factors include the Company's ability to successfully integrate the AeroTech acquisition and to realize the anticipated benefits associated with the same; the risks associated with international operations and sales, including compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act;  the Company’s ability to comply with complex laws and regulations applicable to U.S. government contractors; cybersecurity risks and costs of defending against, mitigating and responding to data security threats and breaches impacting the Company; the Company’s ability to successfully identify, complete and integrate other acquisitions and to realize the anticipated benefits associated with the same; and risks related to the Company’s ability to successfully execute on its strategic road map and meet its long-term financial goals. Additional information concerning these and other factors is contained in the Company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this news release. The Company assumes no obligation, and disclaims any obligation, to update information contained in this news release. Investors should be aware that the Company may not update such information until the Company’s next quarterly earnings conference call, if at all.

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