By Ricky Riley
We spend a lot of time in our fire apparatus—going to and from calls, area drills, to the store, and just riding the first due. When we look inside apparatus cabs, there are a number of interior options out there. In another recent trip to a manufacturer’s facility, I spent time looking at many of the options available to choose from these days.
In the past, the buyer usually only got to choose the color of the interior and had to use whatever material the apparatus builder normally used as the interior covering. When I was coming up, a typical rig featured simple painted metal with a minimally cushioned seat for the driver and the bench seat for the officer. These were very simple and often very roomy interiors. Of course, this was before today’s big new motors, the EPA emissions guidelines, larger air intake, and all the electronics and vehicle systems that are in today’s fire trucks. But, we won’t get on that topic in this article. Today we’re going to concentrate on the interior finishes and some options for those interiors.
Many years ago builders moved from the simple painted metal, and we began to see interior customization. This customization started with a simple vinyl interior with padding placed underneath that created a nice surface in the rigs that could be easily wiped down. The vinyl came in a number of colors and offered choices to customize the look inside the cab. Depending on the number of runs your department responded to, this was a very nice interior for apparatus. One downside is that vinyl is susceptible to tearing—a concern for cabs stuffed full of equipment and gear, especially when gear is being frequently taken in and out.
I always liked the vinyl interiors, provided the crews took good care of them and kept them clean. These interiors also provided padding to rest arms and elbows on the interior surface for the driver and officer. When we used to put the engine in the crew cab area, it was a lot nicer to have a padded engine cover to rest your arm on rather than the diamond plate one. For you younger firefighters, you will have to ask the senior firefighter about the hot bare metal engine covers.
In recent years, manufacturers have been coming up with newer materials for the interiors. Two examples include durable cross-stitched fabric such as Tuff Tex or Turnout Tuff. These materials are more durable and resist the beating that firefighters give the interiors of their rigs. They still allow for padding, so the cab interiors are not just a painted metal finish, making a comfortable resting area for arms when going up and down the road. With these newer interior materials, we also have the option of antimicrobial and antibacterial fabrics. I recommend doing some research to see what new material will best suit your interior and your function.
A number of high-call-volume departments have gone to an interior that is even more rugged and durable. Instead of the padded vinyl or tough fabric material, they use a bed liner spray in the interior such as a Line-X or Rhino lining. This is a very durable and lasting coating that stands up to the heavy-duty service and numerous calls these departments run. However, it’s a rough surface and has no additional insulation, which the vinyl or tuff fabric material offers. This means it’s a little rough for resting elbows and arms inside the cab. I’m sure with proper design and input by the purchaser, padded arm rests could be accommodated. Another option would be to just throw a turnout coat over the arm rest, whatever works best! This material has started to make its way into departments that do not have high call volumes because of its durability and ease of cleaning.
There’s another option that has become very popular recently in cabs that goes on top of whatever interior you choose. This option is a metal decking mounted over the top of the cab interiors, usually on the engine space between the driver and officer and in the crew cab area on the back of the doghouse. This is a simple, elevated deck used for mounting the numerous radios, computers, hand lights, and whatever else is needed in the cab. This design eliminates the need for departments to drill in to their engine covers and rear doghouses and uses the decking for mounting. Also, the small gap between the decking and the interior surface is a great place to run those ugly wires that accompany all the mounted items. And if we have an overall change in the cab design, we can easily replace the decking and start new again. This is something we could not do if we drilled right into our vinyl, fabric, or tough coating as it would be filled with unsightly drill holes.
There are a number of great options for interiors these days. Before your next purchase, take a look around at your neighboring departments’ fire apparatus and survey the rigs being built by your manufacturer. Plan some extra time to figure out what interior will be best for your department and how well each option will suit your operations.
Thanks for taking the time to read another article from “The Rig.”
RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.