In Suffolk County, an Early Apparatus Replacement Saves Taxpayer Money

If you just look at it on the surface, the Commack Fire District (CFD) commissioners’ decision to replace their ladder truck a mere 10 years after it was purchased–when it had no mechanical problems–could seem like an extravagant expense. After all, the 140-member volunteer department, located in Suffolk County, N.Y., staffs four stations and protects 15 square miles with a population of 36,700–not exactly a candidate for a 10-year apparatus replacement program.

When you dig a little deeper, however, you see that this strategy actually reflects the CFD’s concern for keeping taxpayer costs down. It’s also an innovative approach to enhancing the department’s response capabilities while saving money.

Keeping Costs Down
“We had our taxpayers in mind when we started this process,” says CFD Commissioner Thomas McFadzen. “The previous vehicle didn’t have a pump. We roll our aerial first-due out of our headquarters station and our engines out of our other three stations. Sometimes we arrive first-due in the local area with the truck and the only water we have on board are five-gallon pressurized water extinguishers.” The ladder truck also lacked an escape ladder enabling firefighters to exit the platform should an emergency occur.

The CFD could have decided to order an engine and a ladder at the same time, but that would have significantly increased the cost to taxpayers. Replacing the truck early in its lifecycle offered other advantages too. “One of the main reasons we replaced the 10-year-old ladder was that we could sell it and still get good money for it, which we did,” McFadzen says. “A new quint would have cost us over the million-dollar mark for what we wanted. By selling our older unit early, we saved a great deal of money.”

The CFD began the speccing process two years ago. “Like everybody else, we formed an apparatus committee,” says CFD Commissioner David Reiff. The committee consisted of a CFD board member who served as chairman, the captain of the truck, a senior chauffeur, the district mechanic and a couple additional members. “We didn’t want to have more than about five or six members on the committee,” Reiff says. “We like to have everybody throw their ideas out and then narrow it down to our fire district needs.”

The Need for Water
“Our first concern was a water supply for firefighting,” McFadzen says. That led to the decision to spec the new apparatus as a quint. “Since it would be first-due in the neighborhood surrounding our headquarters station, we would be able to start an attack on a fire until other engines from the outlaying stations arrived,” McFadzen says. Other key requirements: The rig needed to be able to supply itself and operate below-grade for technical rescues.

A critical aspect of the CFD’s spec process involved the Iroquois Pipeline, which transports natural gas to locations around Long Island. The pipeline ends in the CFD’s district and is considered a major target hazard. “If need be, the quint can operate independently at the scene if we had a fire at the pipeline,” McFadzen says. “The ladder would also provide an escape route for any firefighters operating in the platform.”

After looking at five or six manufacturers, the CFD wrote its specs and received three bids. “Smeal was the one manufacturer that met all of the specs,” McFadzen notes. “One of the main reasons we liked the Smeal aerial was the Spartan Gladiator cab and chassis. The cab and chassis are strong, and the cab has a great deal of room in it for our members. Since we have other vehicles with the Spartan cab, it made sense to us to standardize with this cab for the time being.”

Additional features incorporated into the vehicle include repelling arms and Stokes basket arms off the bucket, and a parapet ladder attachment that works off the bucket so crews can reach over parapet walls on the roofs of commercial buildings. Also included: a remote-control deluge gun; recessed, pressurized water extinguisher holders in the front bumper; and extra storage for SCBA bottles around the rear wheel wells. “We were able to fit five SCBAs on each side and free up more compartment space on the vehicle for our rapid intervention team equipment and extra truck equipment,” Reiff says. The rig also carries 500 feet of 5″ LDH supply line and features three crosslays with two 1¾” lines and one 2½” line.

CFD members traveled to the Smeal factory in Snyder, Neb. “The people in the town and at the factory couldn’t have been nicer,” McFadzen says. “But what impressed us the most is that Smeal manufactures all of the parts for the aerial. We were able to talk to all of the workers on the line and even the president of the company. The organization and the way they did business with us were definitely impressive.”

Smeal not only provided two days of training classes on the operation of the truck at the CFD headquarters, but they also provided the district with manuals, CDs and worksheets on the operation of the ladder. “What we liked the most about dealing with Smeal was that we were able to customize the vehicle for our fire department’s operations,” McFadzen says.  

The CFD was also pleased with the local Smeal dealer, Pro-Liner, reporting only minor problems on delivery, with excellent service after the sale. The district uses its own mechanic for preventive maintenance and small mechanical problems, which saves significant maintenance and repair costs.
     
Filling Their Needs
If your department is funded by city or village taxes, saving money for the taxpayers must be a key part of any new apparatus purchase. And when you do make such a purchase, don’t be afraid to publicize it a bit. In these difficult economic times, showing the public how you saved them money is a necessity. Not only is it something you should be proud of, but when the public understands that you have their interests in mind, they will be more liable to support you in the future. It works both ways.

The CFD designed a functional mid-mount quint for their response area that will serve them well into the future. Not only was it a good, solid design, but it saved them and their taxpayers a great deal of money. When it’s time for your new apparatus, don’t just think about the bells and whistles; aim for function and cost savings.

CFD Quint Specs

  • 2010 Spartan/Smeal 100′ mid-mount quint
  • All-aluminum Spartan Gladiator cab with aluminum body
  • 2,000-gpm Hale Q-Max pump; 300-gallon poly tank
  • 515-hp Detroit Series 60 engine, Allison EVP 4000 automatic transmission
  • 15-kW Onan hydraulic generator
  • 23,000-lb. front axle, 60,000-lb. rear axle
  • Fire Research quartz lights
  • Code 3 lights on cab, Whelen LED lights on body
  • Bostrom Secure-All seats

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