What Makes A Good Traffic Unit?


Obviously since this is under the Vehicles Section, this will be all about vehicles.  Each type of vehicle will be examined, and photos of the raw vehicles are on the links - they're pretty good quality so give them a few seconds...

Anything can be a Traffic Unit - even bicycles have been used (before you laugh, think of CHiPs).  That said, specific vehicles have advantages - and disadvantages!

There are certain things you'll want and need.  A heavy-duty cooling and electrical system.  An engine with more than two cylinders.  A limited slip rear end with higher ratio gears (around 4.10) to give you the oomph you need.  Consider thick plastic protective coatings like Rhino-lining.  If the vehicle has a police package or severe duty package, spring for it - in addition to all of the heavy duty stuff they add extra welds and supports.

Van - The workhorse of business, during the 1970s these were used as lovemobiles.  Actually, the conversion van proved that the vehicle is extremely versatile, it's small size (relatively speaking) allows it to fit into tighter spots.  Rear and side entry/exit doors allow access to the interior - some now even have dual side access doors.  At $22K brand new with our kind of options, it's a deal.  Now for the downside - it's smaller than the other vehicles, and you'll need to build or buy shelves.  The emergency lighting presents a bit of a challenge to comply with NFPA, though it's certainly do-able.

Pickup Truck - Where the van was the workhorse of business, the pickup is the workhorse of people.  Pickups may be fitted with tops to keep the weather out, at the expense of restricting access to the rear.  Slide-out drawers are then available to get to the goodies.  An open pickup can carry lots of material; however, the material is open to the weather and to thieves.  Pickups can also be fitted with compartments - get pricing before you suggest this at your FD...

Truck w/utility body - Can you say "Squad 51"?  This replaces the typical pickup bed with an open utility body - things like cones, brooms and stop/slow paddles can be stored in the center, while compartments store the fire extinguisher, tools, flares, first aid kit, etc.  The key to this - and any - utility body is the layout and sizes of the compartments.  Simply put, will your stuff fit?  Rolled-up 4' signs are around 5 1/2 feet long - is there a compartment where these can be stored, and does it have a shelf so you can get to the sign you want without pulling out 6 others before you get the right one?  Is the utility body painted inside and out, or merely primed?  Wouldn't powder coating in and out be even better?  Is the undercarriage undercoated?  Are the compartments lockable and lit?  These come in two sizes - a normal body with single rear wheels, and a heavier model with duals.  How much does the vehicle weigh empty, how much gear do you plan on having? 

OUR FAVORITE - A Utility Van - Also called a Plumber's Van - think of a regular utility body but with a van front end, and a covered utility body.  Yep, it looks like an ambulance!  But what's missing is the extra weight of the cabinetry that we don't need.  These come in two versions - a single rear wheel and duals.  $32K brand new makes this probably the best deal on the page!  The covered top gives you the mounting for an arrow board or a message board.  All of your material is protected from the weather and thieves. 

Cube Van - this is a box with a van front end.  No built-in compartments allow for complete customization for your needs.  The one big drawback is usually the rear step height is too high for people to get inside and get out of easily.  Cheaper initially than a Utility Van; however, you have to build shelves and you don't have compartments.  These can be gotten used from Ryder and U-Haul pretty cheap.  Since it's a big cube, it's usually taller and wider than other vehicles.

Step Van - Think of a UPS or Fed-Ex delivery truck.  Great head room to walk around, usually heavy duty construction, some have shelving already installed.  Be careful on the rear overhang - too long will cause major problems on some of the calls we go out on and places we have to go.  This type of vehicle is not as maneuverable as others listed here, but will handle all of the equipment we use with ease.

SUV - from the small S10 Blazer/Ford Expedition to the Excursion/Suburban.  These vehicles may not pack quite as much carrying room, but they can be had in 4-wheel drive which is a plus on Pennsylvania's well-plowed roads!  SUVs make great second vehicles for Fire Police organizations - especially if you can get one for free from the local police department.

The one vehicle you don't want is a used ambulance!  Most ambulances are already at the top of their weight class before you put the first cone on board.  The interior's designed for medical work, not traffic control, and will need to be modified.  Most FD's think they're doing us a favor when they get a high-mileage, thoroughly beat old rig from some service who was glad to get rid of it.  Ask around - the horror stories abound!  Want something that looks like an ambulance but won't have the problems?  Get a new Utility Van!


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