For over two decades, the financial pinch has been on our nation's fire departments. Replacing apparatus has been a major problem as prices are high and municipal coffers are low, or so officials swear. Whisper into the ear of any local official the price of a new pumper and watch him or her stagger backward as if having the big one. Want to really give them the big one? Mention the cost of a new aerial or quint.
Methods to get greater monetary satisfaction out of apparatus by rebuilding or refurbishing have become popular. This is a questionable practice, however, because it's sometimes successful and sometimes not. Again, only so much can be spent for the purpose, and it isn't uncommon to find additional problems to add to the original ones when the unit is mechanically undressed. A few miles down the road, there's a big "Oops!" as something falls out, and the 10 additional years you thought you were going to get comes down to five.
Actually, this dissertation is not about how and when to rehabilitate, nor how or what your return might be. That's too big a gamble for my conjecture.
A fire department of my acquaintance picked up, at a good price, a nice used pumper, and what a job they did to put it right! It looked pristine on completion, but within a few years of moderate use that department is shopping for a new pumper. Need I say more?
Around 1970, two occurrences came to pass that got apparatus refurbishing on a roll. Good news and bad news. The bad news, as I recall it, was the introduction of recycled steel into the body and cab parts. In no time paint was falling off and rust holes began to appear.
Down the road a bit was the path to the creation of stainless-steel, aluminum and fiberglass bodies. However, it took some years of trial and error to bring these into the confidence of once-burned customers.
The good news for fire apparatus, give or take a few years, was the gradual acceptance into our service of the diesel engine. Truckers had already approved its use, but it came slowly or with some reluctance to us, as most changes do. This high-performance, long-wearing device often outlasted the bodies it pulled, so when the skin of the rig had cancer, the powerhouse was still in great shape.
At any rate, about 25 years of refurbishing seems to show that yes, it can work well, but sometimes it does not. One could conclude that the more of the rig you rework, the better the prospect of success. So if you go that far, why do it at all? Why not build and buy new? Because the money isn't available, that's why.
Since we've done a 360 on the subject, let's stop somewhere in the circle and have a look at what one fire department did. They felt that some of their fire apparatus were going downhill, and they knew they couldn't afford to wait till the rigs hit rock bottom.
Siblings reborn Our organization is the Cleveland Hill Fire Department of the Town of Cheektowaga in Erie County, N.Y. This Buffalo suburb expanded over the years by the exodus from the city to beyond its limits. Its size is 4H square miles, within which dwell 34,000 people.
The Cleveland Hill Fire Department is an all-volunteer organization of 60 members that comes out of one very nice, very modern station. They run three pumpers, a quint, and both a heavy and a light rescue unit.
It's the three pumpers (two Seagraves and an American LaFrance) that we're concerned with. One was built in 1982, one in 1983 and the remaining one, the LaFrance, in 1993. As previously mentioned, a fair share of repair work was required. There was also another matter: All three pumpers had differences, so that operators had to be trained separately on each unit.
Think what an advantage, training-wise, it would be if your membership trained on one rig and could drive and operate all three. You can carry this a bit further if you understand that not only the driving and pumping functions could be as one, but the hose beds and equipment compartments could also be of a kind. What's on one is on the other two, so learn one and you know all three. Pretty neat.
There were many thoughts that went into the decision to bring all pumpers to sameness. The idea had to be fully explored, and once conclusions were reached, they had to be explained in a convincing manner to everyone involved, because in a matter of such proportion, you can't succeed with controversy. A committee worked this arrangement through and through.
The fulfillment of the plan got under way in November 1996, when the first of the apparatus trio, the 1982 Seagrave, was loaded on a trailer and hauled south to Ocala, Fla., to theplant, where the cab and body were stripped off. The pump and engine were attended to so that they tested to the top of the line. The frame rails were replaced, as were the rear axles.
By this time the rig was down to a chassis, engine and pump. It was put into the production line to be built as a new piece of fire apparatus. A new cab, body and tank went on, and the rig returned to Cheektowaga in April 1997.
Shortly thereafter, the second Seagrave took its rehabilitative trip to Florida, to be followed on its return by the LaFrance. Each of these excursions, like the first, took about six months.
During this process, each of the first two units underwent a conversion from side-mounted to top-mount pump panel. The 1993 model had a top-mount when originally built, but it, too, was replaced to match the new common standard on the other two.
Two of the three pumpers had had 500-gallon water tanks, while the third had been delivered with a 750-gallon tank. All three came out with new tanks of 750-gallon capacity.
The trio's pumps had been 1,250gpm for the older two and 1,750gpm for the youngest. All three now have 1,500gpm pumps, and in addition every knob, every gauge and every lever are at the same location for universal and quick training.
Now concluded, the fleet looks great and runs and operates as it should, like new. The cabs are raised, and the attack lines are in both speedlay and Mattydale compartments. Control devices and hose lines are all matched and color-coded.
All have multiple floodlights on each side facing outboard. There's a high mounted master stream on each that can be controlled by the pump operator. In the bumper well are a preconnected 50-foot 1I-inch trash line and a 15-foot preconnected 5-inch soft suction hose. In addition, each has the traditional 24-foot extension ladder, a 14-foot roof ladder and a folding ladder.
Satisfaction has been high among the volunteers of the Cleveland Hill Fire Department, for they feel and have certification that they have three pumpers they consider as being new. Indeed, they make a thundering herd. Along with their quint, it's a potent force, and fire doesn't stand much of a chance in this fire district.
Also, there's a gleam in the eyes of those who keep watch over the pounds and pence. It has been figured that by going the preceding course, $350,000 was saved. That's because at Cleveland Hill, they did it right.