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Wildland Fire Trucks

Reading Smoke Signals: How Firefighters Use Smoke Signals

Firefighters Reading and Understanding smoke signals

One of the most important skills all firemen should possess is the ability to read smoke signals. The ability to read the smoke at any position within the company can help those responding to the incident make better tactical decisions.

Smoke can help first responders determine the fire’s location, growth, toxicity, the direction of travel. In the case of a structure fire, it helps us predict hostile fire events like smoke explosions, backdrafts, and flashovers.  “Reading smoke can tell us what is happening now and, more importantly, what is going to happen in the future,” said author the author of The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson. “Watching how fast it is changing can tell if we have seconds or minutes before something happens.”

Types of Smoke Signals

The art of reading smoke must first start with what comprises the emission.  Smoke is made up of particulates, aerosols, and gases, and has four attributes:

  1. Smoke Volume
  2. Smoke Velocity
  3. Smoke Density
  4. Smoke Color

Smoke Volume

Smoke Volume can provide a useful indication of the location and indicates the amount of fuels off-gassing within an area. The measure of volume is important but unfortunately, it elucidates nothing much other than location. There can be large volumes of smoke with very little fire.

Smoke Velocity

Smoke Velocity is the speed of the smoke leaving the structure.  The velocity is an indicator of pressure that has built up within the compartment. If the velocity of smoke leaving an opening is agitated or turbulent, then rapid-fire progress is likely to occur. In these cases, unless the structure is ventilated and cooled a backdraft, explosive burning of heated gases, will occur due to the improper ventilation.

Smoke Density

Smoke Density refers to the thickness of the emission and how much fuel is laden in the smoke. Optical density refers to how difficult it is to see through the smoke. Thick or optically dense smoke contains a high concentration of particulates and is difficult to see through. The greater the smoke density the more likely a hostile fire event, such as flashover or rapid fire spread.

The thicker the smoke, the more spectacular the flashover or fire spread.  Worse yet due to the concentration, thick black smoke can be an ignitable fuel.

Smoke Color

Smoke Color is the visible shade of the spectrum and tells the stage of the fire as well as helps determine the location of the fire.  Petroleum products, rubber, and many plastics will produce black smoke.  Wood and other ordinary combustibles will commonly produce smoke ranging from light gray to yellowish.  

It’s important to make a distinction that lighter-colored smoke frequently contains a substantial concentration of unburned, highly flammable, and deoxygenated materials.  Under these conditions, the smoke can ignite and create a hazardous and possibly deadly situation for firefighters. When a fire produces dark brown or even black it is an indication that the fire is underventilated and/or it contains an abundance of petroleum products.  

Additionally, brownish smoke will tell you that fire has ignited wood, which usually means that the fire has infiltrated the structural integrity of the building and could provide a collapse hazard. The color of smoke is generally thought of as the most comprehensive indicator of fire behavior.  However, it is essential to remember that smoke color is only one indicator that is a part of a number of indicators used to predict fire behavior and it must be considered in context.

The above signs of reading smoke are excellent tools to have, but they are not all-inclusive. In The Art of Reading Smoke, David W. Dodson stresses that firefighters and incident commanders need to use their best judgment when reading smoke and committing firefighters to assignments. Here are a few tips Dodson shared in the first part of his book:

  • Stop watching the fire. The first big barrier to learning to read smoke is that our eyes are naturally drawn to light and movement, both of which are exhibited by fire. “The fire is the endgame,” Dodson says. “An experienced fire officer looks away from the light.”
  • Know the four characteristics of smoke: volume, color, velocity and density. More importantly, know how to look at smoke and quickly identify it in terms of these characteristics.
  • Thin, black, fast smoke indicates a well-ventilated fire is nearby.
  • Slow, white, dissipating smoke (first thick but thinning quickly) is a sign of steam, and indicates early stage heating.
  • Brown smoke indicates unfinished wood burning. In lightweight construction, this can be a warning sign for building collapse.

BME Receives Tag-On from Cal OES

Cal OES

Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) received a $9.8 million dollar tag-on to produce Wildland Model 34 engines for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). BME will produce twenty-five CAL FIRE spec Model 34 apparatus to be delivered in 2020.

Cal OES coordinates fire mutual aid resources throughout the state of California. The agency responds to a wide range of disasters, making the Model 34 engine a highly important asset.

The BME Model 34 apparatus is built to handle the toughest terrain. Its rugged durability allows firefighters to respond to both wildland fires and provide structure protection in the wildland-urban interface, navigating rough roads and narrow driveways that pose problems for urban pumpers.

BME has over twenty-nine years of experience producing wildland apparatus for state and federal government agencies. BME engines have become essential in the fleets of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the United States Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Interested in tagging on to the CAL Fire order? Email us at sales@bmefire.com or visit our wildland page for more information.

Ad Campaign Highlights the Durability of BME Apparatus

type 3 fire apparatus

Last month we kicked off Boise Mobile Equipment’s 2019 ad campaign. Today marks our second ad in the series, featured in the March issue of Firehouse Magazine. While the first ad highlighted BME’s safety innovations, this month we focus on the durability of our wildland apparatus.

Wildland firefighting offers a unique set of challenges that are very different from structural firefighting. The roads are much rougher in the wildland, if there are roads at all. Wildland apparatus must be designed to handle these hazards when responding to fires in some of the country’s most inaccessible areas. BME trucks are built to withstand the worst the wildland can throw at you, taking you where other vehicles can’t go.

type 4 fire engine, type 6 fire engine, type 3 fire engine

Built for the Wildland

Every detail of a BME wildland apparatus is carefully considered in the context of the environment it will be used in. One of these details is our signature tubular body construction, the feature that makes our engines the safest on the market. The steel framework also increases the apparatus’ rugged durability, allowing it to handle the toughest fire response.

The secret to the body’s durability is in its materials. We build our tubular bodies with strong structural steel that withstands vibration far better than aluminum. The body is then mounted on the chassis in a flexible manner that allows for maximum twist without stressing the truck components. This is an essential part of any wildland apparatus since uneven terrain forces the truck to go through extreme twisting action that it doesn’t encounter on city roads.

Another aspect of BME rigs’ durability lies in their heavy duty doors. While most manufacturers build their fire trucks with roll-up doors, we choose to use formed and welded doors that are better suited for the wildland environment. The doors are attached with piano-style hinges with oversized pins, reducing wear and the amount of dirt that gets in. To keep dust out of the compartments, we dovetail the doors into the body and use neoprene bulb seal. These two inch thick doors are so strong that once a customer accidentally left the overhead doors of his apparatus open and they ended up slicing through five palm trees before they noticed.

Size is also an important factor that determines where a truck can go. Because of the varying kinds of wildland fire incidents, we offer a wide selection of wildland apparatus to tackle any situation. Our most popular build is the Type 3, but we also produce many Model 34s, Type 4s, Type 6s, Tactical Tenders, and Crew Carriers. Our Xtreme 6, an aggressive version of a Type 6, is especially suited for hard to access areas that larger engines can’t reach.

Type 6 fire engine

Peak Performance

We make conscious decisions during every step of the building process to ensure that our apparatus perform to maximum capacity. As BME vice president Larry Segreto explains, “[our] unique body design provides the lowest mounting of the mass of the water tank, maximizing stability for improved high-speed handling, side hill operation, and full use of available water.” We refuse to take shortcuts because we know that lives depend on how our trucks perform in the field.

That being said, accidents do happen and maintenance is sometimes required. That’s why we’ve made minor repairs easier than ever so you can fix your apparatus on the field and get right back into action. Our apparatus are hardwired with very little use of Multiplex systems or Nodes, making them simpler to repair on the go.

Type 3 Brush Truck
Photo by South Metro Fire Rescue

Longer Service Lifespans

Nothing proves the durability of our apparatus more than our customers. Some of our regular customers have large fleets of BME rigs, including the US Forest Service, the National Parks Service, and CAL FIRE. Many of our trucks have been in the field for over twenty years. You can still see BME Type 3s from the 90s responding to fires in west coast forests.

Our trucks have longer lifespans than our competitors because we refuse to take shortcuts. Building the BME way means we put thought into every step of the process, constructing high quality apparatus that get the job done year after year. That’s the BME difference.

New Ad Campaign Highlights the Significance of Safety Innovations

February 1 marks the official launch of our new ad campaign in Firehouse Magazine. This ad, featured in the February 2019 issue, is first in a series highlighting the aspects that make Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) stand out from competitors. We kick off the campaign with the feature we prioritize daily when building our trucks — safety.

It’s no secret that wildland firefighters face a unique set of hazards when responding to a fire. Falling trees, rough terrain, and vehicle rollovers are only a few of the dangers we take into consideration when designing our apparatus. Thanks to our tubular body construction, cab protectors, and enhanced tilt capability, every BME fire truck is guaranteed to get you there and get you home.

The Steel Skeleton

Just as a human body can’t function without a skeleton, and a building can’t stand without a frame, a truck’s body is only as strong as its framework. Most manufacturers in the industry construct their bodies from formed sheetmetal only, leaving it vulnerable to crushing if an accident occurs. That’s what makes BME different. The safety of our nation’s firefighters is our number one priority, so we aim to build the strongest body in the industry.

Our signature tubular constructed bodies are MIG and TIG welded aluminum, galvanneal, or stainless steel. First we start with 2”x3” tubing to form the body skeleton, wrapping it with 12 gauge stainless steel, galvanneal, or 3/16th inch aluminum. This adds a vital layer of protection for firefighting personnel and reinforces the cab and chassis. In the event of a rollover accident, the cab will not be crushed.

 

Proven to Save Lives

On July 15, 2015 a U.S. Forest Service Type 3 was en route to the High Sierra Ranger District in Prather, CA when it was sideswiped by an SUV. It was forced off the road, rolling four times before landing on its side. Since it was a BME-built truck, its tubular constructed body prevented the cab from being crushed and the structural integrity of the body remained intact, resulting in zero fatalities. Nine months later, one of the five firefighters involved in the accident visited our facility to express his gratitude for the tubular constructed body. He believed it helped in saving his and the others’ lives. We were thrilled that our steel framework played a role in his protection.

Rollover accidents don’t always have such happy endings. According to a study conducted between 1990 and 2009, vehicle accidents are shown to be the second leading cause of death among wildland firefighters. The fatality risk only increases when seat belts are not worn, which is sadly not uncommon. That is why we strive to reduce this fatality statistic, building a safer apparatus with tubular body construction.

Photo by California Highway Patrol

Other Safety Innovations

Though our steel framework already greatly increases structural integrity, we are always looking for new ways to improve the safety of our apparatus. That’s why we recently added 4”x4” steel tubing cab protectors to our U.S. Forest Service Water Tenders.

With the fire body protected by a steel framework, we turned our attention to the chassis for our next innovation. Since firefighters spend much of their time in the cab, we added a key safety feature to the chassis to increase occupant protection. Our Water Tenders seemed like the natural place to start, their low bodies making them especially susceptible to rollover damage.

Our 4”x4” steel tubing cab protector has cross-braces that prevent the cab from being crushed level to the tank during a rollover. Its triangulated points, or gussets, provide increased strength and reduce crushing points. The rack is solidly secured to the chassis with triple passed welds, beveled joints, and grade 8 hardware. We also use rubber body mounts to eliminate the vibration caused by traveling over rough terrain or at high speeds.

Another focus of our safety innovation program is the tilt table. We build our trucks with a low center of gravity to allow for a steeper tilt, making them more maneuverable over wildland terrain. While NFPA standards require a tilt of 26.5 degrees, BME apparatus can achieve a tilt of 35.2 degrees. This is just another reason why Boise Mobile Equipment has become the go-to apparatus manufacturer in the wildland industry.

Although we continue to add new innovations, the secret to BME’s superior safety lies chiefly the strength of our material. With options like stainless steel, galvanneal, and 3/16th inch aluminum, you can be certain you’re getting the sturdiest apparatus on the market. Through our collaborative design process, we leave it up to you to decide what materials suit your needs the best. With your safety on the line, we never take shortcuts.

USFS Water Tenders
cal fire model 34 engine tilt test

Keeping You Safe for 20+ Years

Because of the quality that goes into every step of the building process, our trucks have stood the test of time. Some of BME’s earliest apparatus, including a few U.S. Forest Service trucks from the early ’90s, are still in use to this day. Satisfied with their BME trucks’ performance over the last two decades, USFS is continuing to add more BMEs to their fleet.

Other vintage BME models are being auctioned in excellent working condition. Older BME apparatus are quite popular among volunteer fire departments looking for a reliable, cost-effective workhorse. We recently donated a 1980 Western State Pumper to a volunteer fire department in Owyhee County.

Our trucks are built to last because safety is our top priority. Building the BME way means we put thought into every step of the process, constructing high quality apparatus that get the job done year after year. That’s the BME difference.

BME Safety Innovations for USFS Water Tenders

USFS Water Tenders

Safety is a critical aspect when designing any apparatus that will be operating in the urban wildland interface. Although some rigs have seating in the rear, the cab of the truck is where firefighters will spend most of their time when responding to incidents. It’s natural that many of the safety features added to protect them will be on the chassis. The initial structural change was made on the USFS Water Tenders to increase safety and durability. 

Rollovers, collapsing tree branches, and rough terrain are just a few of the scenarios Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) takes into consideration when innovating the design of our fire apparatus. There are a myriad of safety elements incorporated into today’s apparatus to protect firefighters on the line; the most recent innovation was our 4”x4” steel tubing cab protectors and tubular body construction.

Protective Shell for Safety

These fire bodies are MIG and TIG Welded Aluminum, Galveneal, or Stainless Steel.  We start the process with 2”x3” tubing to form the body skeleton and wrap it with 12 gauge Stainless, Galveneal, or 3/16th inch Aluminum. The bodies are built with this type of construction to add safety for firefighting personnel, as well as durability. On our existing Type 3 Engines and our new Type 4 and Tactical Tenders, we have elevated the tube behind the cab to add a layer of rollover protection to our vehicles.  

BME added the very first set of 4”x4” steel tubing cab protectors to the USFS Water Tenders. The water tenders have low bodies and were unprotected during rollovers prior to adding the rack. Each piece was manufactured, welded, and assembled at our West Morris Hill location in Boise, ID. The new USFS trucks (Type 3, Type 3 Heavy and Type 4) will have BME’s signature Type 3 tubular construction. These bodies will protect from both steep grade rolling and high speed freeway crashes.

Triangulated points (gussets) are added both to the cab protectors and steel frame for increased strength and to reduce crushing points. We put emphasis on strength with triple passed welds, beveled joints and grade 8 hardware used to secure the rack to the chassis. Lastly, rubber body mounts are used to eliminate vibration when on rough terrain or traveling at high speeds. 

USFS firetruck headache racks

A Safe Build Cannot Outperform Training

We are proud to serve the fire industry with our wildland apparatus; ultimately, our goal is to design an engine that will get firefighters home safely every time. There is no quick-fix or cure all for roll-over accidents, but with adequate training the likelihood of an accident is reduced. Extensive training for both station and volunteer firefighters is critical in avoiding these tragic incidents in the future. 

Firefighters have enough to focus on while they are doing their job and they don’t have time to question if their truck will work. We build our fire trucks “the BME way” which means tubular bodies, stainless steel plumbing, and heavy duty doors. Our clients know they are getting the best wildland trucks on the market and a great team behind them. We have built thousands of wildland trucks and collaborated with some of the best wildland firefighters, municipalities, and government agencies to build the best apparatus in the industry. We know what works and what it takes to get the job done. 

Custom Builds

BME builds custom fire apparatus to meet your departments needs and constantly innovating to fulfil obligations. We don’t just offer option A or B, but work with each customer to understand their specific needs. Through a collaborative effort, we recommend or create a design that will exceed your expectations. Whether you are a small department, large municipality, or a federal contract, you are important to BME and will never be a just a number.

Sedona Fire District Purchases a Model 34 BME Fire Apparatus

cal fire wildland trucks

Sedona Fire District recently purchased a Model 34 (Cal Fire Spec) from BME through HGAC. At this time we are offering our Cal Fire Spec at an affordable price with Tag-On Opportunities for California Departments and through HGAC for any out-of-California departments wanting this truck. Below is an article published by the Sedona Red Rock News about the acquisition of this BME Fire Apparatus.

“It’s like getting a really great Christmas gift — but one that you have to wait until the following Christmas to open.

By a unanimous vote, the Sedona Fire District Governing Board on Aug. 14 approved the purchase of a new Type 3 fire engine in the amount of $313,405.57. However, delivery of the new truck would be 10 to 12 months from the signing of the contract.

“It’s an apparatus that will carry us for a long, long time,” Chairman Dave Soto said. “It’s definitely a work horse.”

According to a staff report, the district plans for timely replacement of fire apparatus and sets aside funding for the ordering and purchasing of vehicles. The current Type 3, which is assigned to Station 4 in Uptown, has been taken out of service and is due for replacement. The engine being replaced is a 1999 E-One Type 3 four-wheel-drive with 78,100 miles and more than 3,700 engine hours.

The truck was originally purchased in February 1999 for $188,525 with a planned service life of 15 years and was the Oak Creek Canyon fire engine staffed by the canyon volunteers. Fire Chief Kris Kazian said this vehicle has been bumped down in the priority replacement list for several years in the capital replacement plan. Due to the continued and increasing costs of maintenance for this vehicle, it has been taken out of service and is recommended for removal from the SFD fleet, he said.

“We’re replacing a 1999 unit, so it’s run its course,” Kazian said. “It’s see a lot of miles and been a lot of places.”

The report states that failure to buy this replacement vehicle leaves the district without a four-wheel drive Type 3 engine used for both in and outside district wildland fires and may see on average a decrease in the range of $50,000 to $60,000 per year paid to SFD when its assistance is requested. As an off-district Type 3 engine, it has generated in excess of $273,000 of revenue over the the past three years combined.

The manufacturer, Boise Mobile Equipment, has a joint purchasing agreement with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This allows other jurisdictions to purchase from the CAL FIRE purchase order contract through the Houston-Galveston Area Council. The HGAC is a nationwide, government procurement service awarded through public competitive procurement process compliant with state statues.

Sedona Fire Battalion Chief Dave Cochrane said he’s not sure how must SFD will save by going this route but that the pricing for the new fire engine being requested is at a significant savings over trying to purchase this truck as an individual agency.

“We’ve come to the point where we can no longer kick the can down the road,” Cochrane said in terms of the engine’s need. Cochrane said the Type 3 engine holds about 500 gallons and being that it is four-wheel drive, is most often used in wildland and forest fires, especially those being battled in California.

SFD has a second Type 3 engine, but it is two-wheel drive and will stay local. A Type 6 engine, which is much smaller and pays less in terms of a daily rental by other agencies, is out of state with a Sedona crew.”

BME Receives 3 Separate Awards from USFS

USFS fire trucks

In the month of September, Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) has received three separate awards totaling over $15 million for production of firefighting apparatuses for the United States Forest Service (USFS). BME will produce 60 wildland engines for the USFS with an option for a 25% increase.

On the order? Type 3’s, Type 3 Heavy, and Type 4’s; which will be ready for delivery in 2019. These wildland fire trucks will be delivered to multiple locations across 10 western states.

Boise Mobile Equipment is a fire truck manufacturer located in Boise, Idaho who has been servicing the nation’s fire, police, and emergency response professionals since 1990. BME fire apparatuses are manufactured to perform in rough terrain and extreme firefighting conditions. BME is dedicated to providing departments with custom design options, superior craftsmanship, and rugged durability. BME offers various types of emergency vehicles including pumpers, tenders, rescues, Wildland Type 3’s, 4’s and 6’s, and a variety of command vehicles. In addition, BME provides equipment and services to law enforcement with its command vehicles, complete up-fitting, and K-9 units.

Aside from its work with US Forest Service, BME has manufactured fire apparatus for CAL FIRE, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS) and multiple municipal and county fire departments throughout the United States.

Interested in purchasing a BME wildland apparatus? Feel free to email us at sales@bmefire.com or visit our wildland page for more information!

BME Fire Trucks Doors Featured in Firehouse Magazine

apparatus doors

We are proud of the doors we build on our fire apparatus and were recently featured in a Firehouse Magazine article explaining why. Below are some highlights on Larry Segreto’s conversation with Ed Ballam about Boise Mobile Equipments doors.

“Boise Mobile Equipment (BME) an apparatus builder in Boise, ID, with a specialty in wildland apparatus, sells more rigs with form and welded cabinet doors, bucking an industry trend.

Larry Segreto, vice president of BME, said that most of his customers work in very dusty environments and they prefer form welded doors because of the conditions.

“They want doors that work,” Segreto said. “Not to throw stones, but they don’t seem to want roll-up doors.”

Additionally Segreto said BME is “extremely proud” of its doors. He said the company uses aluminum structural tubing for the frame and uses aluminum stress skins on front and back with sheet foam sandwiched between. They also use piano-style hinges with oversized pins to reduce play and wear, Segreto said. “There’s less room for dirt that way,” he added.

As a testimony to the strength of BME doors, Segreto said he once had a customer leave the overhead doors of his apparatus inadvertently open and the doors ended up cutting off five palm trees before being noticed. “Our doors are constructed that heavy,” Segreto said, adding the final door assembly is about two inches thick.

Because of the dusty conditions in which his customers work, BME dovetails the doors into the body and uses a neoprene bulb seal to keep the dust out of the compartments.

“The strength of the door jamb is just as important as the door,” Segreto said. “We want solid framing to the door and we do know that flimsy bodies mean a lot of flex and a lot of popped doors and we don’t want that.”

To read the entire article by Firehouse Magazine please click here.

Escalon Put’s Xtreme Type 6 Brush Truck to Work

Xtreme type 6 brush truck

The very first Xtreme Aggressive Type 6 ever built by Boise Mobile Equipment (BME), was recently added to the Escalon Fire Departments fleet. The Xtreme Type 6 pushes the ability of Quick Attack for emergency vehicles. BME wanted to create a custom manufactured brush truck that could exceed the capabilities of current trucks on the market. This brush truck was being used as a demo unit prior to being purchased by Escalon Fire Department. This brush truck was put into service on July 30 and utilized the same day on a grass and brush fire in Escalon.

The Xtreme 6 recently made an appearance in the Escalon Times along with firefighters Connor Coker and Ron Gur. Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello commented on the departments new truck saying, “Essentially it carries 300 gallons of water and has a smaller capacity pump; it is built for wildland firefighting, it’s able to get to areas that are not accessible to larger engines. It carries hand tools, it has a portable pump so we can get water on site … it gives us a few more options.” Read the entire article here on the Escalon Times website.

We believe the Xtreme Type 6 is a great example of BME’s passion to build fire trucks that are ‘go anywhere’ vehicles. For more information, photo’s, specs and engineering behind this Aggresive truck visit our Wildland Xtreme 6 Page. Ready to add an Xtreme 6 to your department or having question? We can be reached at sales@bmefire.com or by phone at (208) 338-1444. 

BME Featured in Fire Apparatus Magazine

bme featured in fire apparatus

Boise Mobile Equipment was recently highlighted in a Fire Apparatus Magazine article about discharges and inlets. The article discusses the different assortment of inlets and outlets, according to tactical needs on today’s fire apparatus. Below is a quote from Larry Segreto that was featured in the article.
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