The fall of 1994 brought a new fire chief to the fire district. The district then had six fire stations, each appealed for, and felt they needed, four trucks: an engine for a fire, a tanker to haul water during structure fires in non-hydranted areas, a rescue to respond to MVA’s and a brush truck to handle natural cover fires. All the trucks in inventory were old, and the funds were clearly not available to replace all these trucks with new ones, not even over several years. Space was also not available to house all of these trucks at the majority of stations. Most importantly, there was not enough personnel to operate all the trucks.
Extensive discussion centered on why every station needed all the trucks and how every fire station is important to the citizens. Additionally, the board of directors was anxious to add six additional fire stations—doubling the number of trucks needed! After lengthy questioning of firefighters and officers, it became clear that everyone felt they needed all four trucks for calls that might occur in their response area. The need for the engine was clear- in addition to supporting their own engine, the tanker seemed needed to assist a neighboring station with hauling water at a house fire. The brush truck was needed to respond to natural cover fires, since it was the primary vehicle to respond and no other truck carried brush firefighting equipment. They wanted a rescue, because otherwise the station would not be dispatched to any extrications, not even for the engine to provide fire protection.
While working on this issue, it became obvious that some of the problems could be fixed by changing the dispatch procedures on what equipment was dispatched to calls. Some other problems could be fixed by simply adding equipment to the engine.
Here is how the issues were addressed, which eventually allowed most (outlying) stations to have one truck:
1. Three broom rakes, a bladder bag and a 1” forestry hose were added to the engines which started to be dispatched to all natural cover fires. This eliminated the need for a brush truck at every station.
2. All personnel received the appropriate training to respond to vehicle extrications. Then, extrication tools were added to the engine. At first, a RS10 kit type of hand operated tools was put on the engine, which did not work because crews would simply wait until a rescue with hydraulic tools would arrive. Then, a small power unit and a combi tool were added to the engine, which worked so they could respond alone to an unknown extrication and remove a door, if necessary. On any confirmed extrications, the engine and the main rescue would respond. The engine started with the combi tool, then the rescue will finish with the bigger tools. Suddenly, not every station needed a rescue.
3. For the tanker, we knew that if the engine and tanker were combined, we wanted both, not just a little of each. The tanker had to have dumps, quick fill, porta tank, jet syphon and at least be 1,500 gallons of water on a single rear axle. The engine still would carry ladders, pre-connects, hand tools, SCBA’s, 1,000’ of five inch and a real pump.
We started to talk to manufacturers in 1995 and found that, with an aluminum body and poly tank, all the changes could be accommodated on a single rear axle. The first two engine/tanker/brush/rescues were ordered late in 1995, with delivery in 1996. Their arrival changed the fire district’s responses and capabilities completely. Although some of the station officers were less than excited with the switch, a brand new engine in their station was exciting, something they thought would never happen.
The real test came in responding to calls. On the first extrication, the extrication was started and when the main rescue arrived, they finished it together. It worked flawlessly, like we had always done it that way. The first natural cover fire was small and quickly extinguished. The final test, however, was the first house fire. The apparatus arrived with four people, pulled a 1 ¾” line, went inside and had the bulk of the fire out before anyone else arrived. They were hooked! And so was the entire fire district.
We have learned things we never thought about or planned. First, the 1 ¾” fog nozzles flow 150 gpm, which provides water for ten minutes of uninterrupted interior fire fight, making the difference in saving many properties. Also, on a rural home with fire through the roof on arrival, the deckgun and 1,500 gallons of water will darken the fire down. If there are enough personnel on the scene initially, they can set-up their own porta-tank and the first arriving tanker or engine/tanker can dump immediately. The reality is, though, that the porta-tank is used a lot less, because those initial 1,500 gallons of water extinguishes most of the fire.
Today, eight of our twelve stations respond with an engine/tanker(/rescue/brush). The original design has been improved. First, a back pack blower has been added for natural cover firefighting. While there is still clearly a need for dedicated brush trucks at some stations, most no longer need it. A small ram has been added to the hydraulic rescue tools for a little more capability. The tanker portion remains the same. In the engine, the pump has been moved to the rear, in order to set-up a porta tank directly behind the engine, which helped with the weight distribution and shortened the wheelbase. Also, the pumping capacity was increased to 1,500 gpm and CAFS was added. The original trucks had two door cabs, which have since been switched to four door, some conventional, some custom; both have their advantages.
As all of the old trucks have been replaced and the fleet reduced, suddenly money has been available to purchase new trucks and establish a replacement schedule without increasing the tax levy. All because the fleet was condensed and reduced, along with costs for maintenance, vehicle insurance and fuel.
More stations than before are dispatched to net the same amount of trucks to a house fire. While this incurs additional cost, it is preferred by firefighters, because they are individually able to respond to more working fires, providing more personnel on the scene. Today, even one of the busier stations in town has an engine/tanker as their main engine, along with a quint and a brush truck. And even there it works great!