SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Most kids love to see a big fire engine, with all the bells and whistles on it. Since Albion just received a new one (fire engine, not kid), I thought I’d give you all a little overview of what a fire engine is and how it operates, ignoring the fact that most don’t come with bells or whistles anymore (fire engines, not kids … usually).
The Albion Fire Department has a twenty year truck replacement plan, and the one being replaced is 24 years old, so you can see why they were anxious to get to it. The idea is to avoid the situation we ran into in the 80’s: The first time I responded to a major house fire was in a 1952 engine, which meant that at 28, it was ten years older than me.
That’s 82, in car years.
It was a very cool truck. However, while a 1930 biplane is a very cool aircraft, you’d want to update your air force every once in awhile.
The traditional term for these trucks is engines, although they’d been called pumpers around here for decades. The Feds prefer “engine” and so do I, but it’s a pretty silly argument: For them to be successful, the trucks need both engines and pumps.
Ironically, Albion’s original fire engine was called an engine, but didn’t have one; just a pump. It was hauled by hand to a fire scene, and then pumped by hand. I think I can safely say we’ve improved since then.
Okay, so what do we need for an effective fire engine?
Well, tires. Tires are good. Also, a steering wheel with which to turn the tires. You think I jest, but some very early fire engines had to be picked up and carried, and when they finally got wheels those early wheels often didn’t turn – the firefighters would have to pick the engine up and change directions when they got to an intersection.
They were a lot lighter then.
Also, I mentioned an engine for the engine. It has to be powerful, capable of getting a truck full of equipment, firefighters, and water to the scene. Due to new Federal emission standards on the engine engines, the estimated cost of a fire truck has increased by around $15,000. When asked if they’d help pay for that, the Federal Government said … nothing.
Did I mention the water? The new truck carries a thousand gallons on board, which is especially helpful out in rural areas where there are no hydrants. Ask any farmer, and they’ll tell you hydrants don’t just spring out of the ground.
And, yeah, a pump. The main purpose of a ladder truck is to carry ladders, the main purpose of a rescue truck is to carry rescue equipment, and the main purpose of a fire engine is to pump water. Sometimes they mix and match and it gets complicated, just like my home repair jobs but with less bleeding. The new truck’s pump will have a capacity of 1,500 gallons per minute, enough to fill your bathtub in, oh, two seconds. The 1988 truck has a 1,000 gpm pump. It would take three seconds. Who wants to wait that long?
That much water flow isn’t needed for your typical house fire – well, not usually – but insurance companies like to see a nice, big capacity for the worst case scenario. For big fires, big water is there, and if one hydrant can’t supply the truck it could be fed from two hydrants. If Albion’s water system went down or a big fire broke out in rural areas, it could go to the nearest pond, lake, or stream and pump through large diameter hose for miles.
Also required for a fire engine to operate is a crew of firefighters. Technology hasn’t advanced that much. Most experts agree that a minimum of four human beings is required to crew an engine, and the new truck will have seating for six. The 1988 truck had, in theory, seating for three, on one bench seat.
In actual practice the older truck has a manual transmission, and the guy sitting in the middle sometimes couldn’t help at the scene because his knee got bruised so badly when he didn’t get out of the way of the gear shift lever. In my experience going from third to fourth was especially dangerous. Lately we’ve taken to hauling two firefighters on that truck, and I can also say from experience that being the only guy on board besides the pump operator can be a very lonely experience.
(I once drove that truck alone to a brush fire, then deployed, pressurized, and operated a hoseline by myself until more firefighters arrived from another call. It took me two days to recover.)
Something else required for a fire engine is safety. You can get two kinds of fire trucks. One is a standard cab, which means basically a pump was put on the body of a regular truck: the same thing that might be hauling grain, bread, or ice cream. Yum. Bread.
We chose a custom cab, because it’s designed to actually be a fire truck, from the ground up. More sturdily built, better designed, and more capable of keeping us alive in a worst case scenario.
So, let’s review: The new fire engine pumps more water, carries more manpower and equipment, has updated technology, is safer, and through sheer newness is more reliable.
Still no bells or whistles, though. I miss the bells.