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New vehicle affects future of Air Force firefighting

by John Burt
Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency

6/23/2011 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Soon Air Force firefighters will have a new weapon in their arsenal. The P-34 Rapid Intervention Vehicle will be in production by late September 2011. The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency here has been the driving force behind this initiative.

"This will be the first firefighting vehicle in the U.S. Air Force to use new ultra-high pressure firefighting technology," said Jim Podolske, an AFCESA firefighting subject matter expert.

This technology, developed and tested by Air Force Research Laboratory officials here, allows the vehicle to discharge a mixture of water and firefighting foam at 1,350 psi. This increased pressure makes the vehicle 3 to 3.5 times more effective than conventional firefighting vehicles and increases the length of time a vehicle can remain on the scene without having to be resupplied.

Mr. Podolske explains, "For example, a 1,000-gallon vehicle that discharges 1,000 gallons per minute yields one minute of firefighting capability at the scene," Mr. Podolske. "With new UHP technology, that same 1,000-gallon vehicle is now equivalent to 3,500 gallons of firefighting capability."

With a capacity of 500 gallons of aggregate firefighting agent, the P-34 RIV will be smaller and more agile than the older vehicles currently in the Air Force's crash response fleet. Built on a Ford F550 chassis with an enhanced front axle, the cab is designed to accommodate three firefighters and their equipment. The UHP turret, mounted on the front bumper, is powered by a four-stage, high-pressure centrifugal pump that discharges 60 gallons of firefighting agent per minute. The turret is designed to be joystick operated by the driver in the cab. The RIV can deploy the UHP turret while modulating around the fire, or from a static position.

The vehicle also has two 200-foot hand lines that output 15 gallons per minute to allow firefighters to perform interior firefighting operations and rescue.

"We can operate the turret and two hand lines simultaneously," Mr. Podolske said. "This new UHP technology can also penetrate a hidden fire or a 3-D running fuel fire without impacting the safety of our firefighters."

At less than $160,000 each, the RIV will replace the authorization for the older P-19 vehicle, some of which have been in service since the 1980s.

"In 2010, the average price tag to replace a 1,000 gallon P-19 was $564,000 each," Mr. Podolske said. "The new 500-gallon UHP truck has the firefighting capability of a 1,500 to 1,750-gallon vehicle at a cost that's significantly less. The Air Force is in the process of buying at least 207 RIVs, which will reduce the age of our vehicle fleet and also help us buy down our vehicle recapitalization rate. That means there is a potential cost-avoidance savings as high as $84 million."

In June, Mr. Podolske along with Air Force vehicle procurement officials, an engineer, and an Air Force special vehicles mechanic will travel to Pierce Manufacturing in Bradenton, Fla. to discuss the RIV production plans.

"We will go through every line item, every specification on every part to make sure the vehicle manufacturer meets the commercial item description requirements for this vehicle," Mr. Podolske said. "From this meeting, the manufacturer will build the first production vehicle. We'll also discuss delivery and training schedules for each installation."

In September, the group will return to inspect the first RIV production model and take it through an exhaustive battery of operational, mechanical and safety tests. Concurrent inspections will also be conducted through a third-party tester.

Once production begins, every Air Force installation is on the schedule to receive at least one P-34s. Fighter aircraft bases and larger bases are scheduled receive multiple units. The first 90 vehicles produced have already been assigned to installations, with the Tyndall AFB Fire Emergency Services Flight receiving the first.

"Over the course of this process, AFCESA will also provide two RIVs to the Special Vehicle Maintenance School in Port Hueneme, Calif., so our Air Force vehicle maintainers can effectively learn how to sustain and maintain these vehicles at the base level," Mr. Podolske said. "We will also develop curriculum to show firefighters how to properly inspect, operate and maintain the vehicle. This is serious business. This vehicle will be in the Air Force inventory for a minimum of 12 years, allowing firefighters to save lives and protect vital Air Force assets."

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