Berlin's fire truck arrives

Friday, January 20, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

BERLIN - It's bigger, safer, more efficient, costs more than a quarter million dollars, and it's the pride and joy of the Berlin Fire Department.

The department's new fire truck was recently delivered from a specialty company near Sioux Falls, S.D., where a Freightliner chassis was outfitted with the equipment that Berlin firefighters agreed is needed for what they face at fires in their district.

It's all on display Monday when the department holds its annual potluck dinner and business meeting in the fire hall starting at 6:30 p.m.

"Every year, we try to give an accounting of what we've done with the money," Berlin Fire Chief Joe Greer said last weekend as firefighters transferred equipment from the 1974 Mack truck. "This year, obviously, it's the fire truck."

And what a truck it is.

"The new truck offers us so much more with reliability, safety and capacity," Greer said, starting with some differences between the old and new trucks.

It carries 1,000 gallons of water. That's twice as much as the old truck's capacity. The capacity for tools and equipment is double what it was.

The new truck seats five firefighters and, while that's the same number of passengers with the driver, they can all fasten their safety belts now. They could hardly move in the back seat of the old truck.

There's a "whole lot more scene lighting with the flip of a switch," Greer said. Four floodlights shine 14,000 lumens each from atop lamp poles that are 12 feet tall from their brackets on the side of the truck.

The old truck would have to be running five minutes before leaving the fire hall to build up air pressure in the brake lines that leaked. The new truck's lines don't leak, but the brake system has a place to plug in an air hose.

"I don't think we'll have to plug it in for a while," Greer said.

The new truck has a special-built console for all the light switches, various fire truck controls and a charging station for radios and flashlights.

A recharging cable is plugged in just below the driver's door. When the ignition key is turned and the truck's motor starts, that cable's plug is ejected from the socket so the driver may put the truck in gear and go.

Once rolling, the firefighter riding in the shotgun seat can flip a switch to turn on a red light that provides enough light inside cab to read maps and firefighting pre-plans kept in the console. Red lights in the cab don't create the glare caused by a regular light.

The truck cost $229,000, according to the chief.

"Our grant was for $204,000," Greer said. "We had to make up the difference."

That $25,000 came from the department's hamburger and ice cream social, breakfasts, door to door solicitation for photographic portrait sales and donations.

Terms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant say the 1974 Mack must be "taken out of service," Greer said.

"I must certify that it's out of service," he said. "I'll drive it to the scrap yard."

It can't be resold as a fire truck. It may be sold for parts or scrap metal.

Like the South Marshall Volunteer Fire Department brush fire truck delivered in November, Berlin's full-sized fire truck is required to burn a mixture of diesel and urea. That's a byproduct of cattle urine. The trucks' fuel systems routinely mix urea with diesel. It reduces exhaust emissions that contribute to air pollution and it extends the truck's mileage.

Asked about fuel mileage, Greer replied that with a fire truck, "It's not how far you drive. It's the hours of operation. You don't drive far to a fire and, once you get there, you leave it on. It's a clean system; very lean."

Several years ago, the Berlin Fire Department bought a tank truck. It's substantially like the tank truck operated by Marshall County' Emergency Management Agency which has a portable pond. It's generally like a large backyard swimming pool, although the sides aren't inflated. It creates a reservoir from which trucks can draft water while the tank truck goes for more water. Berlin's new truck came equipped with a portable pond.

The portable pond's capacity is 2,500 gallons for drafting, said Bill Turner, assistant chief of the Berlin department. The new pumper carries 1,000 gallons. Berlin's tank truck carries 2,000 gallons.

"If we had the money we might have gotten a new truck that's capable of carrying more than 1,000, but that's quite a bit and very sufficient to do what we do," Turner said. "With things like this, the sky is the limit, but you can't have everything.

"We got the tank truck with a grant in 2005, but we've gotten smaller grants for bunker gear," sometimes called turnout gear including helmets, coats, pants and boots, Turner said.

The new fire truck "is our own basic design," the assistant chief continued. "We designed it to fit the needs of our department. We had a meeting on the basic design, and our firefighters at that meeting took part in adding this or that and making decisions."

The Berlin Fire Department was formed in 1986. Its annual potluck dinner and business meeting on Monday is open to the public.

"Any question they have will be answered," he said.