Johnson City Fire Dept. receives high-tech ladder truck

Gary B. Gray • May 8, 2012 at 9:59 PM

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

The Johnson City Fire Department’s new ladder truck is a technical engineering jewel equipped not only with mind-blowing hydraulics and mechanical workings but also the latest in computer technology which, at the touch of a button, allows firefighters to view floor plans, employ digital cameras and initiate other life-saving actions.

No bucket toting or hand cranking here.

Truck 3, an $850,000 firefighting and rescue marvel, sat inside Station 7 Tuesday. The 36-ton sparkling addition to the department’s fleet of engines and trucks will be deployed next week. Assistant Chief Chris Williams, Sgts. Travis Justice and David Bell and Firefighter Kevin Haynes were like tough guys in a candy store, proudly talking about how the new truck was acquired and showing off its goods.

“We were given the task of quickly developing guidelines to basically develop a truck on paper,” Williams said. “We had about $850,000 in capital outlay, so we formed a committee in early 2011. We took the specs from trucks already designed, and we made a lot of phone calls. From paper to finished product, it takes about one year.”

Nebraska’s Smeal Fire Apparatus was awarded $819,000 to build the new truck, which is equipped with a 100-foot-long hydraulic ladder with a unique platform at the end that basically is a work space for firefighters. It can reach building storefronts and an apparatus can then be laid down so firefighters can physically advance to the top of buildings.

The dazzling but extremely functional truck was received April 26. Williams said Smeal will train firefighters on the ins and outs of all its functions as well as city garage employees who will get a refresher on the mechanical aspects. It will be kept at Station 4 at 800 W. Main St.

“I’ve been purchasing equipment with the remainder of the money,” Williams said. “This will replace a 25-year-old truck that will remain in service as a reserve.”

The platform also can rotate to the rear portion of the truck and be lowered to the same height at which an awaiting emergency services vehicle can receive a victim. The platform also has rappelling points from which firefighters can descend.

Computer screens are fitted on both the driver and passenger sides of the cab. Technical features will alert firefighters to the smallest of details, including a tire with low air pressure.

“I think this is the most functional truck we have,” Justice said. “And I’m comfortable saying most trucks are 15-year trucks.”

This gives the department nine engines and three ladder trucks, but the number of ladder trucks is set to increase to four.

On May 3, City Manager Pete Peterson announced that an application for a Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant had been approved. The Department of Homeland Security will provide $600,000, and the city will kick in $300,000 from its general fund.

The grant only required a $150,000 match, but the City Commission approved the extra amount.

“This new ladder truck will be replacing a 1979 LaFrance Snorkel truck that’s already out of service due to safety concerns,” said Haynes, who wrote the grant. “The match requirement was based on population. But there will about $30,000 to $50,000 in additional costs because of new Environmental Protection Agency emission standards.”

When the department receives this fourth ladder truck, it will include all the fixtures except the platform. It will be kept at Station 5 at 203 Broyles Drive and it too will get some new gear to go onboard.

“There are some tools you can take from one truck to another, but there’s only so much you can do before equipment wears out,” he said.

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