Palm Coast Fire Capt. James Neuenfeldt and Driver-Engineer Mark Davidson drove it in from Ocala, where it was built by E-One, Wednesday evening. It made it to Station 25 off Belle Terre Parkway around 6:30 p.m. Some firefighters on their day off came in to check it out.
It’s an impressive sight, even for those, like most of us, who don’t know the first thing about fire engines: Ladder-25 is a $980,000 truck, plus some $40,000 for additional hardware such as mounting brackets and other items. At 70,000 pounds, or 35 tons, the 42-foot-long truck gets about 3.2 miles per gallon, carries 500 gallons of water–enough to put out a one-room fire or a car fire at 125 gallons a minute without hooking into a hydrant–and has a ladder that extends 100 feet, with a water cannon that can fire up to 1,250 gallons a minute, though the truck as a whole can flow 2,000 gallons a minute.
The ladder is the same length as the ladder on the $1 million Sutphen SPH 100 tower truck that arrived in 2010, and that now operates out of the north end of town. (The effective length of the ladder is closer to 75 feet though, once truck-positioning and angles are taken into account.)
The new truck also shines in subtle but especially practical ways for the firefighters’ safety: oxygen tanks, whose soot can over time be a carcinogenic presence, are no longer kept in the cab of the truck but have their own storage slide on the truck’s side. Loud horns that used to be closer to the top of the cab, hurting firefighters’ hearing, have been lowered to bumper level.
Inside, all firefighters will have noise-canceling headphones through which they may also communicate with each other, further reducing the stress of what can become a very noise environment. On the side controls–those controls that are the dream of every young child and still dazzle a few firefighters–a raised platform slides out, requiring the firefighter operating the control to do so only above ground, thus avoiding the possibility of electrocution from overhead powerlines. All the lights aboard are now LED, hugely reducing energy demands on the truck’s alternator or the need for what would have been a 10,000-watt generator aboard. Smaller, portable generators are enough.
Firefighters will be trained in early March, including training on aerial operations by E-One. As soon as that’s completed, the truck will be in fulls service.
“We’re blessed to have a city council that would invest this piece of equipment into the city,” the captain said. “It’s safer, it’s more reliable, and it allows us to get tools to the job in a better way.”
Neuenfeldt’s team built the new truck through E-One from the ground up, looking at best practices, what firefighters need and don’t need, while staying within budget. The new, diesel-operated truck is one of 11 major engines or tower trucks in the Palm Coast Fire Department’s fleet, not counting four trucks used to fight forest or brush fires. Each of the city’s five stations has a front-line engine, with four engines in reserve plus the two tower trucks. Palm Coast’s acquisition Wednesday ranks as the second-most substantial in the fleet. Two firefighters will be on the ladder truck. Three are on an engine.
“A ladder truck specializes in elevated waterway, so we’re able to get atop high-rise structures and bring the water at an elevated height with us,” Neuenfeldt said. “It also helps us rescue folks that are in multi-story buildings or some place like we had to use our ladder truck to help somebody trapped in a tree, so any sort of elevated rescue is what these trucks specialize in. They go to all structure fires, and the guys are all trained firefighters, EMTs and paramedics that are on it, but they have a specific job function. Typically a ladder truck company specializes in rescues, not so much in putting water on a fire, but all the operations that go along with that.”
The Palm Coast Fire Department doesn’t see the new truck as exclusively a Palm Coast truck. “I’ve been working with Joe King and Bobby Pace a lot in the past year,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Jerry Forte said of his colleagues, Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief King and Flagler Beach Fire Chief Pace. “With the county putting an ambulance at Station 24 [at Palm Harbor], helping us with response, we agreed to put a ladder truck with a full-time staff that will respond anywhere in the county for any kind of elevated stream or truck company operation. This way the county doesn’t have to go out and buy another ladder truck for Station 21. There’s one tower at the north end of Palm Coast. This one will cover everything west and south.”
Palm Coast’s $1 million expense essentially amounts to a $1 million saving for the county. “I can’t see them having to spend $1 million having to buy a fire truck for the north end when we’ve got a tower truck there ready to go,” Forte said. The city is paying for its fire engines through a fleet-replacement fund the council established many years ago, so that whenever the department needs to buy a new truck, the money is there. It’s built into the budget, so taxes are not usually impacted, though obviously the city council ultimately approves each purchase.
By October, with the addition of two more city firefighters–for a total of 63 department-wide–the department will be able to operate the new ladder truck 24 hours, seven days a week, “ensuring that this ladder truck will be accessible anywhere in the county,” Forte said.
The old Ladder-25, bought in 2005, went out of service and was sold last year after logging over 120,000 miles and 12,000 hours on its motor. Its life had stretched past its cost-effectiveness. “The year before we ended up spending $110,000 in engine, transmission repairs, hydraulic system, and the recommendation from our fleet division basically said we can’t keep putting more money into this, because the value of the truck was not the $680,000, which is what the Town Center DRI purchased it for,” (The Town Center Development of Regional Impact, or enterprise zone, a subset of the city’s government, has its separate budget drawn from tax revenue generated by Town Center.)
The Palm Coast Fire Department has a $10 million budget. Today 47 of its firefighters are trained paramedics as well. Within 10 years, Forte expects all firefighters to be paramedics. Most can drive every truck, which takes special skills when it comes to a 42-foot-long piece of machinery with almost a quarter of its bulk extending past its rear wheels. But safety is a premium with the department. You won’t see Palm Coast fire trucks exceeding the speed limit to get to calls, no matter what.
“Here’s the difference between us and a lot of places,” Forte said. First, a system controls traffic lights, turning them green on the approach of fire trucks. “We also put out a directive four years ago that basically says we will not speed to any call at all. We won’t go over the speed limit, period, end of story, because we won’t want to put our drivers in a situation they have toi explain of why they went 46 in a 45 and had an accident. It’s difficult enough to do the job, but to put ourselves under the pressure of speeding some place, whether the state says they can go faster than the speed limit or not is irrelevant. Taking the pressure off of the crews to get there safely and then not saving that much time going fast. They understand getting to a call with due regard is important, but getting there in one piece is more important.”
Between that and the sheriff’s very conservative approach to vehicle chases, the city’s streets are expected to be kept safe with, and from, its public-safety vehicles.
A couple of years ago Forte had his firehouses all come up with identities of their own–nicknames and logos for the houses. Station 21 is “The Heart of the City,” Station 22 is “Double Duce,” Station 25 is “The Big House,” its mascot, drawn by a firefighter, a fierce-looking gator rimmed in barbed wire and somewhat oddly prying out what looks suspiciously like jail bars.
Forte looked at the ladder truck admiringly this afternoon as it sat in its hangar at Station 25. But he was not about to drive it. He’s had his decades of driving fire trucks. “I’m good,” he said. “This is theirs, and we worked with them to get it. I don;t want to take anything away from the crews. This is their resource, their equipment, their life-saving truck. I just have the satisfaction of watching them take care of it. Not to say I wasn’t the nervous dad waiting for that truck to drive from Ocala to here. I certainly was. But to see the appreciation with the crews, they looked it over yesterday, we were looking it over this morning. They really want to do good work with this thing. It’s their product.”