If Harrisburg firefighters are called to a burning home along one of the city’s narrowest streets, they may need to drive a couple of blocks out of the way to maneuver their large truck to the destination.
In some cases, firefighters are delayed because they need to hop out of the truck to guide the driver through tight intersections to avoid hitting signs and parked vehicles.
The Harrisburg Fire Department recently took possession of a $932,523 brand-new fire truck. Fire Chief Brian Enterline recorded a video showing the performance of a model of the city’s new truck against one of the city’s current tower trucks.
In other cases, firefighters may have to approach a home from the street instead of an alley, even if the alley provides better access, simply because their truck can’t fit in the alley and spread its stabilizers.
“A big detriment to big cities is our road size,” said Fire Chief Brian Enterline. “The road size hasn’t changed since the 1800s but our fire trucks have grown.”
The Harrisburg Fire Department recently bought a new ladder truck for $932,523 to address those tight situations and more. The city took possession of the new tractor-drawn aerial last month and unveiled it to the public Nov. 21 with Santa on board during the Holiday Parade.
The city hasn’t owned a tractor-drawn aerial for 35 years. The city paid for the truck through a county gaming grant ($466,998) and the Harrisburg Volunteer Fireman’s Relief Association ($465,525.) The association is financed through a tax paid by fire insurance companies.
The truck provides the city with its first 100-foot tall ladder and offers other distinct advantages that give firefighters more options during emergencies, said Fire Chief Brian Enterline.
Although the truck is longer than other trucks in the city’s fleet, the new vehicle weighs less, has two fewer tires and can fit into tighter spaces because of its smaller “jack spread,” which measures the width of a truck with its stabilizers deployed.
The truck can navigate tight intersections quickly with two drivers, including one who sits in a rear compartment and controls the back end.
The roomier truck can hold more salvage equipment, Enterline said, which will allow firefighters to protect homes faster with quick access to tarps and wet vacuums. Before, that equipment was stored in a trailer.
The truck can reach higher places with its longer ladder, but firefighters still won’t be able to use it to reach the tops of many of the city’s high rises. Manufacturers don’t make trucks with ladders that big, Enterline said, and all of the city’s buildings taller than 75 feet have built-in sprinkler systems.
The truck still needs to be outfitted with tools and drivers still need to complete training, so residents won’t likely see the truck in action until March, Enterline said. He plans to send it to every building fire.
City officials have been trying to get the new truck since 2009 as part of an overall effort to update their aging fleet. At that time, many city trucks dated back to the 1980s. Now, the city’s oldest frontline truck dates back to 1997. The city still has older trucks in reserve.
Many fire departments in recent decades abandoned tractor-drawn aerial trucks to save manpower because they require two drivers. Departments instead favored toward tower trucks, which were smaller.
But now many departments are now going back to the aerial vehicles, Enterline said, because tower trucks are increasing in size and the aerials have superior maneuverability on city streets.
A new aerial truck also costs less than a new tower truck, he said.
The cost and size of fire trucks have increased dramatically in recent years to comply with safety and emission standards, Enterline said.
The department did not include a lot of “bells and whistles,” on the new truck to save money. The truck, for example, doesn’t have hubcaps.
“They would just fall off and cost money to replace,” Enterline said. “We really got into the weeds when we built this so we could be good stewards with the money.”
The department is also trying to keep up with fleet maintenance to save long-term costs. The city went two years without changing oil on any of its fire trucks during the worst of the city’s financial crisis. Trucks would then break down or fail inspections, leaving firefighters without enough trucks.
“We were really spread thin there for a while,” Enterline said. “It’s been a really rocky road, but there was a significant amount of work put in. We’re at a point today with a better diversified and workable fleet that is maintained.”