West Coast Type 3 Design, Layout and Safety


One of the most exciting things for a fire chief has to be replacing or building a fleet of devices. Years ago, one of my mentors and a great fire chief, Ray Picard of the Huntington Beach, California Fire Department, told me that other than color, “the only contribution a fire chief to design a device should be the budget limit”. However, a good fire chief must choose the right people – the apparatus committee – to pass on this budget to. I have been part of many device committees. Some were good, and some were very, very bad.

In 2021, my agency needed a new type 3 fire apparatus. I knew that the decision the committee and ultimately myself made would affect our agency for at least 10-15 years. Additionally, our decisions would impact the overall effectiveness of crews responding to brownfield incidents and their overall safety while participating in firefighting operations. As a fire chief, you have no greater mission than making sure your staff are safe and have the tools they need to do their job effectively. We all struggle with budgets, but it is the fire chief’s job to find the appropriate amount of funding to ensure those needs are met.

The Savage Apparatus Committee

As our aging Type 3 device, or what is commonly referred to as a brushed motor, neared the end of its lifespan, a group of personnel were brought together to build a new Type 3 device.

I appointed a senior fire captain to chair the committee. The choice was obvious, as he led our Wilderness Division; had 31 years of experience, including a strong nature focus (member of a Type 1 incident management team); and was one of the most wanted security guards in the state of California.

To complete the committee, two engineers, a firefighter/paramedic and a firefighter/paramedic have been appointed.

All personnel had been involved in numerous incidents in the wild, assigned to either a Type 3 initial attack incident, a Type 3 strike team/task force, or a single role working with a device type 3. The depth of knowledge would provide sufficient input to design a solid device.

All staff members had an equal vote, with the committee chair providing a tie-breaking vote if necessary.

We’ve all seen agencies try to reinvent the wheel or put their own spin on device design, only to find they’ve ended up with a huge albatross they’ve had to contend with for decades.

In my career, I’ve seen three agencies buy truck companies that were too big to fit in their firehouse, because the committee didn’t think it through when they designed the device. One agency had to sell the device at a loss of funds – not to mention credibility – and the other two had to make station modifications that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

I’ve always found that when there’s something that works, go for the known, because the unknown might bite your ass off. So when it was time for us to design and specify the Type 3 device, we took a page from the book of common sense. This included reaching out to our partners at CAL FIRE to ask for their thoughts and ideas on the new Type 3 device. CAL FIRE does things very well when it comes to the design and application of Type 3 devices. A big plus is their ability to maintain these devices top-to-bottom in condition at all times.

Also, previously we have found success in cooperation with the City of Los Angeles Fire Department for the replacement of our engines, trucks and rescue ambulances. So, by getting perspective and feedback from these two agencies, with their large fleets and some of the best fleet mechanics in the business, we sought to mitigate future issues.

The heart of Type 3

As for the nuts and bolts of the design, the factors noted below played into our journey. Overall, these factors are common throughout the West Coast, especially in California, for most fire departments that use Type 3 devices, although each department has modifications or changes.

Of course, Type 3 devices are typically used in wilderness settings, but, increasingly, they are also being used in urban settings where homes – increasingly – are in areas with heavy vegetation, such as hillsides and canyons, which can create an urban wildfire.

Type 3 aircraft typically rely on a commercial 4×4 chassis due to the need to climb steep rocky terrain and provide off-road capability when assigned to response teams. Nevertheless, they are manageable.

Type 3 platforms must be able to get as close to fire as possible or into defensive areas of the structure while maintaining stability, vehicle control, and the ability to engage in firefighting operations. fire.

Typically, the GVWR is over 26,000 lbs and the vehicle should be equipped to carry at least three passengers (ideally four).

NFPA standards require a Type 3 engine to have a water tank of at least 500 gallons and a pump capable of a minimum of 150 gallons per minute at a pressure of 250 psi.

Type 3 devices are usually fitted with a power take-off (PTO) pump so the vehicle can provide pump and roll capability: the engineer drives the vehicle while the firefighters run the hoses at the exterior of the vehicle and the fire captain oversees safety and seeks to extinguish fires by moving along a side or roadway.

Our type 3 device and most of those we know of also have an auxiliary pump. It can be powered by a separate diesel engine connected to the pump or by an additional PTO hydraulic circuit with its own pressure regulator.


Since Type 3 devices also operate in an “all-hazard” capacity, maximizing storage is essential.

All four positions on the platform must have a spare SCBA and cylinder.

In the State of California, most Type 3 responses include at least one firefighter/paramedic, necessitating the need for a full cover or, at a minimum, a paramedic line to use in an ALS emergency .

Operating a Type 3 device – and being part of the State of California’s Mutual Aid Program – typically means personnel and the device will be assigned out of town, district or region for 14 to 21 days several times a year. Staff will take a host of items with them to operate for a minimum of 72 hours without support. Therefore, we have ensured that there is room for all structural PPE, off-county bags, a cooler, hygiene kits, MREs, tents, sleeping bags and beds. This is in addition to all the equipment, hose, and wild terrain tools required by the California Bureau of Emergency Services.

Safety and comfort

Safety is a major concern. Most Type 3 rigs include technology to prevent extreme damage in the event of a rollover. In addition, most manufacturers produce devices with enhanced safety features: cabins offering enhanced protection; rear and side cameras for the engineer; rollover indicator alarms; and improved seat belts.

We must also include all the material comforts in the device. It may sound silly, but keeping personnel comfortable is critical to operating effectively during an extended deployment. We want all personnel to have inflatable seats, moderate seat recline capability, USB ports, a strong and functional air conditioning system, cabin space and even Wi-Fi capability.

Small investment, big impact

With more and more homes and developments encroaching on nature, the need for more and more Type 3 devices will become the norm in fire departments across the country.

At our agency, it is not uncommon for personnel to be assigned to a statewide fire or series of fires for 21 consecutive days, only to return and be reassigned within 48 to 96 hours to another 21-day deployment.

Their ability to do their job safely and efficiently protecting people, property and the environment requires a safe operating platform. So when my department’s apparatus committee asks for items such as those noted above, I listen. These may be small expenses in the overall budget, but they pay huge dividends when staff are away from family and the agency for long periods of time.


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