Compact fire trucks: A controversial issue simplified

By Logan Dredske
The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) is welcoming new and compact fire trucks that will allow for more pedestrian-friendly street design throughout the city. The new trucks are a result of a partnership between the fire department, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk San Francisco, and state Senator Wiener. The arrival of the compact fire trucks is part of the Vision Zero policy, which commits the City and County of San Francisco to improve street design to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.
Historically, fire departments have pushed back against street designs that are viewed as favorable to pedestrians. Such streets feature narrow roads that slow traffic by causing drivers to be more cautious, resulting in fewer vehicle collisions with pedestrians. However, these narrow roads make it difficult for the traditionally large fire trucks to complete their wide turns. Fire departments state that as a result of impeding their trucks’ turn radius, emergency response times are lowered.
The batch of new fire trucks that San Francisco will be adding to their fleet are more compact and capable of being driven on pedestrian-friendly streets. According to the SFFD, the new trucks require only 25 feet to make a full U-turn, a substantially smaller turn radius than the current trucks. The new trucks also include safety features such as a full 360-degree camera that covers blind spots, as well as designs that allow firefighters to operate in tight spaces.
Other cities across the nation have experienced similar difficulties as San Francisco. Earlier this year, SSTI highlighted Celebration, Florida, and their issues with fire codes threatening urban street design. In Denver, a dispute over wide lanes for fire trucks has caused new bike lanes to have less protection from vehicles.
Logan Dredske is a Project Assistant at SSTI.