How to buy a mobile incident command post

Consider these four emergency mobile command posts vehicle types to see what best fits your needs

Updated Oct. 11, 2018

Today many localities are finding that a mobile command post (MCP) is a must-have asset because of events like natural and man-made disasters, large-scale structure fires, urban-interface and wildlands fires and criminal acts resulting in multiple casualties.

These types of emergency events often get a multi-agency response that can include fire and law enforcement from local, state and federal emergency response agencies. The modern MCP can provide the incident commander with the tool needed for communication, coordination and control.

Mobile command posts come in a variety of sizes and configurations.
Mobile command posts come in a variety of sizes and configurations. (Photo/Greg Friese)

Choosing the best mobile command post

Mobile command posts come in a variety of sizes and configurations that rival that of passenger motor vehicles and light trucks; they can range from small to extra-large and everything in between.

But small in size doesn't mean small in performance. Even the smallest MCP can come packed with features to assist incident commanders and staff because of the continued evolution of communication and information sharing technology.

One of the first choices to make when planning for an MCPs is whether to go with a motorized or a towed version. Motorized MCP vehicles are very popular for many departments seeking a MCP capability.

Non-vehicle command posts are manufactured as trailers to be towed, as well as platform-on-demand or swap-body modules, that enable a department to maximize a vehicle purchase. One vehicle can serve several operational functions depending upon an incident's resource requirements.

Here are four options to help determine what best fits your needs.

1. Van-styles

Small van-type MCPs are constructed using a commercial van chassis, similar to those used for a Type II ambulance. This style of MCP is well-suited for smaller organizations and communities where the need for a MCP is less frequent, but still exists.

The small size makes this an attractive option for many small departments because of their drivability and handling characteristics. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Econoline vans are two popular chassis that are being used for MCPs.

Another version is similar to the Type III ambulance where the van chassis and cab are used, but the cargo area is removed and replaced with a command post module. This model can allow for a greater amount of cubic footage for the MPC's operational area.

The step-up van — think delivery trucks like those used by FedEx and UPS — is a popular option for departments looking for more operational space for the command area while still using a commercial truck chassis.

An example of the chassis used for this size MCP is the Freightliner MT-45 or MT-55 chassis. The MCP can be constructed within the confines of the existing cargo area or the cargo area can be omitted and the command module custom built for the chassis.

2. Truck chassis

This category of MCP is generally built upon a commercial truck chassis and range in length from 26 feet to 37 feet. An example of truck chassis used for a 26-foot model would be the Ford E-450 with a GVWR of 14,500 pounds.

For longer models, a manufacturer might use a chassis such as the Freightliner M2 diesel, with a GVWR of 25,500 pounds, or the Ford F550 or F650 diesel chassis with GVWRs of 24,040 pounds and 25,999 pounds, respectively.

3. Motor coaches

These MCP big boys can be up to 45 feet long and 102 inches wide; they have a look similar to a municipal bus or really big RV. They can be equipped with several operational slide outs that can provide more interior working space once the vehicle is on scene.

The motor coach-style MCP is often the choice for:

  • Larger communities or jurisdictions where there's greater frequency of use by several public safety agencies and multi-jurisdictional responses.
  • Large public events and gatherings for non-emergency functions where the MCP may be operational for long periods, even days at a time.

4. Towed and POD units

MCPs built on a trailer frame are an attractive option for departments with a smaller MCP budget and for departments that want a larger MCP with more features than is feasible in a motor coach-style unit.

Trailer MCPs can be designed as a bumper-pull style, a goose-neck style or as a fifth-wheel style trailer in any size up to 53 feet long with many options and layout imaginable.

Popular options include:

  • Generator.
  • Slide outs.
  • Exterior roll out awning.
  • Flood lights.
  • Desk space.
  • Storage cabinets.
  • Bathroom.
  • Kitchenette.
  • Bunk beds.
  • Roof platforms.
  • Satellite systems.

Swap-body or roll-off fire apparatus use one vehicle chassis that can load and carry any number of platforms on demand depending upon the emergency response resource needs.

The MCP is one example of the type of POD that a department might employ as part of a swap-body program. Others could include EMS resources, hazmat response and technical rescue response.

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