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Towing Your Apparatus - 08/01/1998

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Towing is a scary subject. No one wants to even remotely consider the possibility of having to tow a piece of apparatus. However, any fire apparatus technician will tell you that towing apparatus is a reality, and the horror stories will usually follow.



There are many towing myths, and my job is to unravel the myths and get to the truth.

Myth: Electrical components, engines, and transmissions will never fail on any of our apparatus.

The truth is that electrical components, engines, and transmissions do fail. The truth is also that accidents do happen and apparatus does break down.

All tow companies train their operators to tow vehicles with the drive wheels in the air. Heavy fire apparatus is the exception to this rule. Because of the heavy rear-end weight and the extended tailboards, it would be next to impossible to tow them backward. So, to the front we go: hook up, lift, and off we go. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. Lifting fire apparatus without damaging the body and frame necessitates having the proper equipment and special skills. And even with proper equipment and special skills, the possibility of transmission damage always exists. If your department is gifted with a standard transmission, put it in neutral and go. If your department has an automatic transmission, you must make some difficult decisions.


Myth: If you tow a vehicle a few feet with a chain, the transmission will always fail.

The reason this myth persists is that no one wants to take the responsibility for buying that transmission if the little gremlins decide that transmission failure will occur at the same time the apparatus is repaired.

Most fire apparatus built today use an Allison automatic transmission. The reason transmission manufacturers limit towing a vehicle with the drive wheels on the ground is that the driveshaft is directly connected to the rear part of the transmission. The rear planetary gear assemblies in the transmission might be moving while the apparatus is being towed. Each of these assemblies is made up of a sun gear, pinion gears, and a ring gear. The planetary gear assemblies make possible the gear reduction that takes place for the different speeds and reverse. When these planetary gears are driven from the driveshaft end, because of the gear reduction, the rear gears may spin much faster than they normally would. Combine the gears` spinning much faster than normally with the fact that no lubrication is getting to these gears (since the engine is shut off), and let your imagination go wild and picture all these gears flying in every direction. This has been known to happen, but usually only under abusive towing conditions.

To avoid any transmission failures or liability problems, most towing companies observe the transmission manufacturer`s rules about towing. The tow companies are going to insist on removing driveshafts, no matter what the circumstances. This is the way they were trained. It can be very challenging and expensive (in some instances, it can cost hundreds of dollars) to remove drive-shafts, and the possibility exists that the U-joints and driveshaft can be damaged or destroyed. Some designs actually prohibit field removal of the driveshaft.

A word to the wise: Review the section on towing in your transmission manufacturer`s manual. For certain Allison transmissions (you will be able to find this information in your transmission manual for the specific apparatus), for example, as long as the problem is not the transmission, you are allowed to push, pull, or tow the vehicle up to one-half mile at a speed of no more than 10 miles an hour. This is good to know if the breakdown occurs just down the street from the fire station. If your apparatus was delivered without the official manufacturer`s manual, make sure you get one as soon as possible. Find out the specific towing guidelines before a breakdown occurs.

Myth: If a pumper is going to be towed a long distance, the driveshafts must always be removed.

The truth of the matter is that on engines with midship pumps that use a split driveshaft, the problem can be solved by shifting the pump into gear. Placing the pump in gear will satisfy Allison`s requirement that the drive wheels be disconnected with the output of the transmission.

The pump manufacturers were quick to point out that a check of the "pump engage" light would be a good idea. If engine or transmission failure occurs, manual rotation of the front driveshaft may be necessary to help the pump click into gear. The pump manufacturers all agree that no damage would occur to the pump case if towed this way. This also aids in the argument for installing manual pump shifts on new pumpers.

If you are not dealing with a split driveshaft, another way to disconnect the rear drive line is to remove the axles. In some circumstances this may prove to be a lot simpler. The best recommendation I can give is to make a list of your apparatus and decide beforehand the easiest way to deal with your drivetrain.

Sometimes to save time, the tow operator will tell you that if the drive lines have not been disconnected and the vehicle is towed at a reasonable speed and distance (which the tow operator assures you he will do), no damage will occur. I cannot and do not recommend that the apparatus be towed in this manner. To allow towing in this manner would make your department--not the towing company--responsible.


Axle Lift

Because of the heavy weight of most apparatus, proper lifting is a significant part of the towing operation. The sling-equipped wrecker cannot be used on present-day apparatus. The sling equipment uses the bumper to support most of the weight, and bumpers are not designed to do this. Since the axle is designed to carry the load of the vehicle, it makes perfect sense to lift and pull by the axle. It is a real challenge to accomplish this with extended bumpers and the low angle of approach and departure on most apparatus. To lift by the axle, the tow truck must have a longer than normal extension on the hoist to enable it to reach the axle. And chances are that more extension is required to have the clearance needed for cornering and for uneven and bumpy roads.

Another problem is the teeter-totter effect that results when the vehicle is raised so far behind the tow truck`s rear axles. A long-wheelbase wrecker with two or three rear axles is needed to properly tow the average pumper. If you have to have apparatus towed, make sure the right equipment is dispatched the first time so money and time are not wasted when the wrong tow equipment shows up.

Frame Lift

In some instances, lifting by the axles is not going to be possible because of equipment limitations and because the tow operator will want to lift the apparatus by the frame. Chances are that the tow operator is not going to be familiar with the design of the apparatus. In theory, the frame ahead of the front spring shackles no longer needs to support the entire weight of the vehicle. However, apparatus is usually specified and built with pull tow hooks that can "pull the gross weight of the apparatus." So if tow hooks (pull-out hooks) are attached to the frame, this is an indication that the frame is probably substantial enough to support the weight of the vehicle.

Warning: Be very careful of towing in this manner. Never lift the apparatus beyond the frame tow hooks. The apparatus frame beyond this point may not have been designed to take the full load of the apparatus. Never, ever lift the apparatus by using the frame extensions that hold the compartments, bumpers, or tailboards.

Parking Brake

The rear parking brake will have to be released before the vehicle is towed. There are two ways to accomplish this. To release and hold the parking brake off, a constant air supply is needed. The first and simplest way to accomplish this is to supply the air pressure from the tow truck through the air lines and fittings. To do this, the apparatus needs to have an air inlet fitting to the air system. Most apparatus already have this feature, which is used to keep the air system charged at the fire station for those quick getaways. If you do not have this outside fill feature, consider installing one.

If a tow operator does not have the equipment to remotely charge the air brakes, the second option is to pull the parking brakes off with a release stud tool. Review using this tool with a brake mechanic or your tow operator. The tools are different for each brake system, so the tow operator may not have the proper tools. These tools should always be available and stored with the apparatus in case of that unexpected breakdown.

Other Points to Consider

When lifting the front of the apparatus by the frame, the front will have to be lifted so high for front-wheel-to-road clearance that the rear tailboard may not have enough clearance. Proper clearance from the tailboard to the road is mandatory for the crowns at intersections, bumps, or heaves that will be encountered on the way to the shop to avoid damage to the tailboard.

A frame lift will most likely need blocking and special securing because the apparatus will more easily shift and move around while being towed.

Consider locating a flatbed carrier if lift towing is not an option.

A tow truck operator may insist on pulling a driveshaft no matter what the circumstances, because this is what he was taught. If you decide to tow the apparatus with the pump in neutral, consider having ready for signature preprinted release forms that will relieve the towing company from the liability of transmission damage. This is the only time--when specifying this method of towing--that the towing company should be relieved of responsibility for damage.

Meet with the owners of the tow company you prefer to engage to review all your concerns. Review pricing before the emergency; it is sometimes cheaper that way.

A towing contract is a good idea, to record the agreement.

Make sure that fire apparatus is a priority. For example, stress the importance of being able to move a pumper in the winter before the water freezes in it.

Always drain the water from the tank. Reducing the weight of the apparatus by thousands of pounds relieves the stress on the apparatus and the tow truck. Water can always be drained by gravity if the pump cannot be operated.

Always use safety chains, should a hookup or equipment fail.

Use temporary stop and taillights.


Make sure that the tow company you engage has proper liability coverage. Depending on the state in which you are located, accomplishing this may be as simple as making sure that the towing company is properly licensed by the state. Most states require that the carrier maintain ample insurance and be bonded. The towing company must also follow fair business practices to remain licensed by the state. Some states require posting rates (by the hour or by the tow). Check into your state`s laws governing towing companies. Most of the time the Secretary of State`s office will have the answers. If not, you will be referred to the proper office. Be very careful if you have to use an out-of-state towing company or if you cross state lines while towing your apparatus. In some instances, the towing company may have to be licensed in both states.

I have only briefly touched on towing fire apparatus, but many of the same rules apply to smaller vehicles. Different towing equipment will be needed, and the preferred way of towing would be to lift the drive wheels with a wheel lift or car carrier. Since different equipment will be needed for your support vehicles, prearrange for their towing in an emergency also. You may find that you will need a different towing company for different vehicles. n

I would like to thank the following for information for this article: Allison Transmissions, W. S. Darley & Company, Waterous Company, Hale Fire Pump Company, and AAAA Towing in Darien, Illinois.


Article by TERRY ECKERT, a 15-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter and head of apparatus maintenance in the Darien-Woodridge (IL) Fire District and the chief engineer of the Westmont (IL) Fire Department. He has 25 years of experience as a vehicle technician. He is an ASE-certified master automobile technician and master heavy truck technician and an EVT Level 3 master technician. He also has ASE certification in advanced level engine performance. Eckert is a member of numerous professional associations, including the National Association of Emergency Vehicle Technicians (NAEVT) and the Illinois Fire Apparatus Mechanics Association. He is a member of the EVT Certification Commission, where he serves on the Validation Committee and had chaired the E-3 section, and the NFPA Technical Committee on Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications. He was the 1997 recipient of the NAEVT Certificate of Achievement Award.



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25yrs tubegreen.gif said in 2008:

Our town just purchased 2 new large peirce engines and 1 ladder trk. I know they recommend heavy wheel lift only however we dont have the 25000lb wheel-lift and dont want that large of purchase just for those trucks. We have a 30ton Dewalt, 25ton jerr-dan, a v-70 with the Euro-reach and a 35 ton landoll. Anybody tow these with anything other than the wheel-lift and if so where, I would appreciate any feed back you may have.


Silverhawk tubeyellow.gif said:

Most of the fire companies in our area want them carried. We sub it out to a company with several double drop RGN's that are extendable. The one fire company that allows them towed we use one of our 9055's with the tire lift. Strapped and chained.


Woody39 said:

as far as the engines go, you should go to the fd and measure the height of the units they should fit onto your landoll . as for the ladder truck you will also have to go and look at the unit to see where you can hook up. does it have a beam axle? front suction/discharge pipes underneath? can you hook to the frame if the axle is set back far? it looks like your v-70 will be the truck of choice for the ladder truck. I have the wheel lift and am not a big fan of it. I only need it for 1 fire truck in our area all others I can fork either the frame or the axle. all of our depts dont care where we hook as long as we dont scratch the paint. an old pair of gloves does the trick when hooking the frame

Towing4u said:

If they are all pierce units your fire dept. can request the towing procedures from them. They cover the dash, quantom and another. The tak 4 suspensions are nto to bad however it is important to follow their guidelines. On the dash pumper there is a hose that needs to be disconnected on the drivers side. We have 4 tak 4 trucks here and we have towed them all, the ladder truck is not difficult just awkward. Need to find out what pierce units they are and see if they have floats on the front...if they do and have tak 4 suspension, bus lift if out. We tow them by the frames.


Chuck with Noltes tubeyellow.gif said:

Here is the reply from the engineers after doing strain gauge testing/towing without using the wheel lift:
:"Attached is a pic of the components used for towing our truck. Please let
> me know if you know where we can send customers to get these components
> and
> part number if you have them."

We used the width extensions and steer tek forks, they were happy with the pick points, it was the best place that they found for strength and ease of towing. We had our 2530 nomore and wasnt extended all that far. They were coming out with a add on kit to bolt to the area, but I think they are just using the steer tek forks now.



Silverhawk tubeyellow.gif said:

The Pierce unit that Gilbert Fire operates weighs in at 76,000 without the water on it. This is a 3 axle chassis, with 10 tires. Floaters on all wheels. Too heavy and too tall for Landoll type slide axles. Front axle is over 25,000. RGN is the way to go. Front tires are rated at 9,990 max load each. I think (know) they are headed for a blowout in this hot summer heat.


EastTexTower670 said:

Someone might check with Trail-Eze they have a 3 axle slider that is a 50 ton unit. We have 2 3 axle sliders and havent had any problem with weight issues.


Towstany said:

Our City also has them. I have forked them the simular way Chuck shows. The ladder is to tall for a landol.


25yrs tubegreen.gif said:

16,000 on V-70 wheel lift though


the engines we have here have a steel plate between the rails no safe place to hook the frame!!!!!!!!


unknown member said:

Trail-Eze offers a 3 axle, 40 ton Hydraulic Detachable Gooseneck Trailer (TE80DGBUS) made to haul buses, fire trucks, equipment, etc. I know that there is a towing company in the northeast that has hauled the big 76,000# fire truck on the TE80DGBUS.

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hoover said:

Tom had to tow this 05 Pierce for the City of Cocoa last month. Having not seen it myself, I would have to say he did the right thing here. Has anybody done one of these. Let's have your input and suggestions.
Thanks Tommy for the pictures.










underlifter said:

Thats the only way to do them.If ya fork the suspension an cause any marks you'll void the warranty.This is why Jerr-dan now has the 25,000Lb.tire grids.Imagine the big platform ladder trucks with this suspension that have 20,000 on the front end.Lots of fun!LOL



sweiljr said:

Nice job. I have towed a few of these for the Detroit dealer. On the first one it thew me for a loop I had DB81 call Pierce to see what they had to say about towing procedures. There answer was to wheel lift or trailer. The wishbones are hollow and was told would damage if towed on forks. The suspicion is called tac4. A lot of new fire trucks are going to this type of suspicion it makes for better steering and breaking. I did one place to fork the frame but it was to close to the radiator any movement I would have bought a new one. What else are they going to do to make our jobs more fun? While we had the engineer on the phone DB81 asked to see if Pierce would make a hook up point right behind the bumper for towing and he said they were working on something we can only wait to see. Hopefully this will help.Steven Weil jr


DANNY Fernandez said:

hay simmon yes we tow this for the city all the time we tow from rear dump water and wheel lift they are lighter from rear. SMPUMP.jpg

bts3 tubegreen.gif said:

I was told that if you try to fork those on the frame you risk buckleing the cab and frame. Dave (aka Underlifter) would know more about that ( no he didn't do it, lol). He is right down the street from the dealer. He told me, tire lift or trailer only. Anyway, nice job Simon. Very professional


Bighook18 said:

I did this one last year.. It was a 2005..but It doesnt look like it was a Pierce. I think the back ends are very similiar. They are actually lighter from the rear I think once empty (if possible).

Sorry, no hook up pics, but there is a huge crossmember I couldve forked, picked the axle w/ forks or I may have even u-bolted the bugger.. Sorry I cant remember.

Todd Pell


TNTow said:

Wheel-lift or trailer them is the recomendation of most of the chassis manufacturers (Spartan, HME, Pierce, E-One). As far as towing them from the rear it depends on how the body is mounted. Most use an isolated independent mounting system using rubber and springs so the body can flex independent of the frame. The pump housings are also mounted independent of the body by most of the larger mfgs. The independent front suspensions are becoming standard on most trucks over the next couple of years as well as independent rears being considered by some. Spartan is coming out with a 25,000 independent air ride front in addtion to the ones offered now.

If anyone has any questions we are a Spartan and HME service center and dealer for Toyne Fire Apparatus.


nullstowing said:

Our local fire company just got a new rescue it is a Pierce. At the front of the frame itself there are two tow hooks that are designed to hook to for towing. I do not see them on the truck pictured above. According to Pierce all of the units with the Tak 4 (independent front suspension) are supposed to have them.


sweiljr said:

Pierce must have been telling the truth when we talked to them about a 18 month ago about the front tow hook points. Maybe other mfg will do the same and even some truck mfg will make it easier on us. You know trucks don't break down and need to be towed so no need to make it easy to do so lol.Steven Weil jr


wstowing11 said:

I towed a Pierce with this suspension when they first came out a few years back. Went over a 100 miles to bring it back. Was not made aware that it was special or out of the ordinary til I got there. Never even seen the suspension before. Definetely couldn't frame tow, or even get close to anything on the rails, too many hydraulic lines and yes the front is a bolt on. Used my Jerr-Dan 60 ton to fork the suspension bracketry at the flat 1/2 " plates , between where the a arms mount up. I didn't think anything different about the suspension til I saw it on tow411. If I would have known it was such a monster I would have probably shot a pic . I will say it towed fine from where I hooked it , used four chains, two binders to secure it. When I would get @ 25 miles under me I would pull over and check. Didn't even scratch the plates, I think I chained it in place too well.


WM 99887 said:

Something better is coming soon, we just finished testing new hook up points with Pierce. The had strain gauges and the whole deal. Have to wait until its cleared for release.
I have the official tak-4 towing procedures, email me at tower@new.rr.com and I will forward what I was sent last year if anyone wants it.

About the pick point behind or in front of the radiator, someone else was testing, I dont think they paid for it yet? Instead of using fork reducers he used a 6' piece of 2by2 square tube, didnt work.Noltes,
Oshkosh, WI
50 tons of fun.


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Bigtows said:

The other day we were called to tow a 1998 Pierce Dash pumper, We usually put these on our Landoll (But of course it was out of service) We went with our 9055 Century to get it and thought no big deal Just pull the shaft.


WRONG ANSWER all the drive shaft bolts were welded in, every one of them. WE towed it 1/4 mile off the exit ramp to an International dealer to get it fixed there. They wouldn't even touch it. after looking at the truck a little closer it was only a small hose and We fixed the truck in the parking lot just by replacing the hose. I guess my question is has anyone else seen this on any other firetrucks? We have towed quite a few of them and have never seen this before.


Underlifter said:

I'd say it was done by some know it all mechanic who doesn't know what Loc-tite is.I've never seen bolts welded in.Whoever did it should have his tools taken away.


michael212 said:

Why not just pull an axle??? Along time ago a Fire Engine Mechanic mentioned the Pump transfer case deal. I told him to get it in writting from the manufacturer stating it wouldn't hurt the pump, transfer or transmission and they said they (the manufacturer) would not do that. So to make a long one short. The Chief said either pull the driveline or pull an axle. Or put on a trailer.

And for the question? No I haven't come across any welded bolts on a u-joint.sigmichael212.gif
Underlifter said:
We all charge by the hour so why wouldn't we take the time to pull something?I've never had a driveshaft in a fire truck that didn't come right out-even the pressed in type.

Jim Hays said:
I've towed a lot of FDNY's trucks from from Fleet Services to Detroit Diesel. They would always set it to pump for me. The only time I pulled something was on trucks without driveline pumps(tillers, arielscopes, etc).Jim Hays-WM#98752
Moran Automotive & Towing
30 Ton Sliding Rotator
"Death is good to avoid"
Bigtows said:
I was told by the Chief that nothing was ever done to the driveline on this truck, It must have been done by the factory. We now have a wizzer, It will'not happen again.
TNTOW said:
A word of caution on towing with it in "Pump". Make sure the pump is driven by the transmisson shaft. Some trucks are equipped with pumps that will allow them to "pump and roll". These pumps do not disconnect the rear shaft but instead use a regular PTO opening and shaft that is usually hidden where you can hardly see it due to the plumbing and pump. Generally any pump rated at 1250 GPM or larger will be transmission driven. 750 to 1000 GPM pumps can be either but usually are PTO driven and use air shift . Pumps under 750 are 90% of the time PTO driven and use cable or electric shifts.
kentuckytowmnan said:
Same here on fire & vac trucks, put in pump, spin the shaft & tow it.Junior Reinhardt

Jim Hays said:
I always check by sending the underreach in & out with the remote while I watched the shaft
Jim Hays-WM#98752
Moran Automotive & Towing
30 Ton Sliding Rotator
"Death is good to avoid"
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