July 2007

Brush Trucks Evolve Into Bigger, Safer Multi-Purpose Vehicles
By David A. Smith

The concept behind the traditional brush truck is relatively straightforward: It’s a rugged unit capable of getting people and equipment – and water – to places a larger engine can’t typically navigate.

For years a four-wheel-drive pickup, often outfitted with some type of small pump, an assortment of hand tools and even a couple of hundred gallons of water, fit the bill. In many ways and for many departments, it still does.

But it’s not the only option anymore. The brush truck has advanced beyond the standby Dodge Power Wagon or the also popular military “deuce-and-a-half” to units capable of doing a lot more.

Those who build the trucks say they’ve seen some trends in recent years:

  • The units are becoming more multi-purpose.
  • New features and designs have helped the units progress.
  • Bigger units are becoming more popular.
  • The units are safer.
  • Installation of CAFS and other foam capabilities are more common.
Just as firefighters are being asked to do more than just put out fires, the same can be said for their equipment. It is also being asked to do more. Today’s engines commonly carry an assortment of rescue, medical and other specialized gear, and yesterday’s standard brush truck is often being asked to do more than just head to the occasional brush fire.

David Horton, product manager at Long Island-based Firematic, agrees. Firematic is a dealer for Pierce, Hurst and MSA products, but since 2001 its Firematic Mfg. Corp. has made its own brush/rapid-attack unit, The B.R.A.T.

He said departments are running Firematic’s B.R.A.T. to medical calls, car wrecks, and Dumpster fires, in addition to brush fires. “It’s nice to have that multi-purpose truck,” he said.

Builders are adding a variety of features that have extended the units’ capabilities beyond those of the basic brush truck.

Firematic’s B.R.A.T. features large, single tires on the rear axle, instead of the traditional dual tires, to provide for better access, Horton said. The truck also features several modular components – such as its extended front bumper, aluminum brush bars, roll bars and cages – that can be replaced should they get damaged.

The truck, Horton explained, evolved from the traditional Long Island “Brush Breaker,” a heavy-duty military truck.

“We had several customers who wanted something smaller,” he said. “They wanted to get in tighter places, but still have the protection.”

Bigger units, built on larger chassis, are also becoming more common, according to those in the industry, particularly because of the vehicles are being used more frequently for multiple purposes.

The bigger trucks have also become safer as designs and capabilities have improved. For example, today’s units are better able to carry all of the necessary equipment on them.

Firematic’s Horton points out that it wasn’t safe to put too much on the older pickup-type brush trucks. “Really, any time you put an amount of water over 200 gallons, they’re overloaded,” he said. “They’re just not meant to carry that much weight.”

As the use of foam has become more commonplace in the fire service, those capabilities have also been added to brush and wildland units, which can stretch the water they carry.

For some, a unit built on a traditional pickup truck platform may work just fine. Others, however, may want a larger vehicle, and still others may want or need more of a multi-purpose unit.

Firematic Supply Co.’s B.R.A.T. has 19-inch single rear wheel and Michelin tire combinations. The single rear wheel configuration helps eliminate blowouts due to branches getting stuck between dual tires. (Firematic Photo)