City seeking re-evaluation of ladder truck - Titusville Herald: News

City seeking re-evaluation of ladder truck

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Posted: Friday, February 15, 2019 5:00 am

After being condemned by a third-party evaluator and decommissioned by the fire chief, Titusville’s aerial fire truck is awaiting a new evaluation to see if the truck can be brought back into operation.

The storied 1969 American LaFrance ladder truck has been with the city since 2003. Before coming to Titusville, it served in Dover, New Jersey.

According to Titusville Fire Department Fire Chief Joe Lamey, American Test Center (ATC), a national testing and inspection company, is working on scheduling Titusville’s ladder truck for an evaluation. The company does not have personnel in the area, according to Lamey, explaining why they are not able to test it immediately. However, as soon as they are able to get someone into Titusville, possibly by relocating or hiring a new employee, the truck will be evaluated.

Each of these evaluations cost between $700 and $900 for a one year test.

According to Lamey, the 1969 truck has been in and out of service for the past several years. Each annual inspection produced several items which needed to be repaired.

Lamey said that when a truck is inspected, the department is given a list of problems found which are prioritized by the party inspecting the truck. Priority one items are cause for immediately suspending service until they are fixed, while priority two items need to be fixed by the time of the next inspection.

“Every year when the thing was inspected and certified, it would have quite a few items,” Lamey said. “Some were more serious than others, so every year, we would try to keep up.”

However, a recent barrage of fires have taken their toll on the truck, according to Lamey. The pump on the truck was active for 18 hours straight during a fire at the Towne Square Building in Titusville on March 17 and 18 of 2015. Shortly after that, the pump was taken out of service on the truck and it was supplied with water from another engine, but the ladder was still operational.

During another large commercial fire at the 100 block of Spring Street on Jan. 16, 2018, the ladder was extended and it was used to battle flames during the coldest day of the year. According to Lamey, the ladder froze while it was extended and they had to let it thaw before it could be lowered. Again last year, on Feb. 15, 2018, it was used for an extended period to fight a commercial fire on Diamond Street.

The fire chief said that hours of work on a truck, such as was entailed in these fires, steadily put a lot of strain on the equipment and could be what put it in its current state.

An aerial truck is a fire engine with a hydraulic ladder up to 100 feet long which is able to lift personnel and hoses up into the air.

The original evaluation came from Brian Borland, service manager for a company called FIRE-FLY Fire Equipment Sales Inc., out of Cranesville, in Erie County.

According to City Manager Larry Manross, the evaluation took place after he was informed of a mechanical problem on the truck.

“The fire chief informed me that the drive shaft slip yoke was falling out [of the aerial truck], so I said that we need to get a quote to repair that,” Manross said. “[FIRE-FLY] is who the chief got to look at it.”

Borland, on behalf of FIRE-FLY, declined to work on the vehicle, citing that repairs would cost more than $400,000.

According to Manross, that quote was “for full restoration.” Manross said that restoration makes the truck like new, whereas repairs will get in working condition.

Borland disagreed, saying he was evaluating it to make repairs.

“We are actually a repair facility,” he said. “We have been a sales, service and repairs facility for 40 years. I have been doing it for 17 years.”

He further said that he was looking at the truck to find out if it could be “repaired to working standards.”

In his original letter to Lamey and the city, Borland did use the word restoration.

“The main reason [for our reluctance to work on it], as the truck stands right now, is this project is more of a long term restoration project requiring vast amounts of time and money to repair this truck back to operational standards for fire fighting,” he said in the letter. “In short, the chassis, pump and components are not suitable for repair. The cost of repairs in our estimation could take upwards of $400,000, if not surpassing that figure.”

His evaluation went on to suggest that the truck needed to be red-tagged, meaning taken out of service immediately.

“After my evaluation of the overall truck, it is my opinion that the 1969 American LaFrance Ladder that is being used in the Titusville Fire Department is not a good candidate for repairs, but is also not fit for service and should be red-tagged and removed from duties immediately before the serious issues it has becomes a catastrophe causing injury or loss of life,” the letter said. “This is by far one of the most concerning scenarios I have personally seen in my 15 years of being the service shop manager.”

While talking about the letter sent to the fire chief, Borland said that for the money that it would take to make the repairs, the city could buy a truck that is 25 years newer. In any case, he said the current truck should not have firefighters on it.

“It is about time that truck makes its way to the scrap yard,” Borland said.

Plan moving

forward

The truck was immediately decommissioned by Lamey in response to the letter from Borland, and currently the city has a verbal agreement for coverage from Oil City, which will require some kind of financial compensation, according to Manross. He said the exact figures have not been determined. Since the decommissioning of Titusville’s ladder truck, Oil City has been put on standby twice, but both instances did not have fires and a response was not necessary.

According to a Sept. 28 article in The Herald, Lamey said that prior to it being decommissioned, the ladder truck was used roughly six times a year.

Manross estimated that the truck was needed for two fires a year, on average.

As far as a plan moving forward to replace the 50-year-old truck, the city manager said they are only in early talks.

“There is no defined plan for replacing the truck,” he said. “There are only preliminary discussions.”

Those preliminary conversations have included the possibility of renovating the fire department, as the building is not able to house newer aerial trucks, which are taller than the older models.

“All the newer ones are taller,” he said. “We only have a 10-foot door. New trucks are way taller.”

Manross clarified by saying that even newer used trucks are taller, and that the city will likely be looking for a used truck when they are shopping for a replacement.

According to Manross, the renovation would mean the city would have to “revamp the whole roof structure.”

When Titusville City Council was asked on Jan. 22 by resident Jeremy Brandon about buying a new truck, Council Member Keith Bromley said that he was unsure of whether or not the city could buy a used truck, because they may be unable to insure it. That is sometimes the case, he said, with equipment at the airport, where he is the manager.

Manross said that does not apply to the city, which is able to purchase a used truck and insure it.

Instead, the problem for the city is price, because there is no money to buy the new vehicle, according to Manross.

“The only way we could purchase one is if we got a grant, and there is no sense in getting a grant if we have no place to house one,” Manross said.

In addition, Manross said that city council has not been looking at used or new trucks to purchase, and said, “To find a used truck and not have any money to buy it is kind of a waste of time.”

In the meantime, Manross hopes that ATC will be able to pass the truck for further service with a more manageable price tag. If the city is able to get the current truck back on the roads for a couple more years, it will buy time to renovate the fire department for another aerial truck.

Public response

There has been some public outcry encouraging the city to find some way, in spite of financial challenges, to find funding for the building renovations and a new truck, including a Letter to the Editor received by The Herald published on Feb. 1 from Nate Kerr.

“It is true, unfortunately, that most modern ladder trucks will not fit in our fire department’s station,” he said in the letter. “New and/or used ladder trucks are also expensive. However, these facts require innovative thinking and leadership from Mr. Manross and city council. A ladder truck to support our fire department and protect our citizens and property should be at the very top of their list of priorities.”

Additionally, a citizen named David Yost published a GoFundMe page asking for donations for the truck, which had been shared 78 times but has not generated any donations. Across community Facebook groups relating to Titusville, various people have voiced concern over the city’s decommissioned truck. The issue has also been raised in the public comment section at a city council meeting.

Firefighter response

Manross has heard people push for the urgency, but suggested some of this comes from a misunderstanding.

“Ladder trucks don’t save lives,” Manross said. “A lot of people get that confused, but they don’t.”

This is a point that Meadville Fire Department Fire Chief Evan Hasko disagreed with.

“That is what an aerial fire truck is for; rescue and elevated master streams — in other words, fighting fire from an elevated position,” Hasko said in an interview with The Herald.

Franklin Fire Department’s fire chief agreed, and said that ladder trucks serve “multiple purposes,” one of which is rescue.

Manross brought up Central Towers in Titusville as an example he hears a lot, but said that a ladder truck would not be helpful in saving lives in the building.

“There is no ladder that I am aware of that would even reach [high enough to be of help rescuing people in Central Towers],” Manross said. “Central Towers is, you know, seven stories high.”

He went on to say that even a 100-foot ladder wouldn’t reach the top once it is positioned far enough away to get the angle to reach the building.

Hasco said that fire departments want to have a ladder truck any time when there are stories that are higher than ground ladders will reach.

The city also has access to fewer ground ladders due to the lack of an aerial truck, as the ladder truck carries essential but specialized equipment to emergency situations, according to Lamey.

The city has traditionally had three engines and a ladder truck. The smaller engines carry equipment used frequently, including 24-foot extension ground ladders, which are currently the longest ladders available to Titusville Fire Department. The aerial truck, being a longer truck, also held two 35- foot ladders and a 50-foot ladder, neither of which can now make their way to the scene of an emergency.

“As a rule of thumb, what we typically do is a 24-foot ladder will provide for a second floor,” Lamey said. “A 24-foot ladder will work on most residential structures which are two stories, with bedrooms on the second floor.

Lamey did add that a number of houses on Main Street in Titusville are taller and would likely require a 35-foot ladder.

Manross said that the way lives are saved in taller buildings like Central Towers is through emergency escapes.

“There is a stairwell that is built to resist fire, so the escape route is the stairwell,” he said. “People don’t escape down a ladder truck.”

Hasco suggested that people trapped in upper stories during a fire may need assistance anyways, due to the dangers of smoke, which will fill emergency escapes and hallways in the event of a fire on a lower floor.

“As we all know, fire isn’t what kills most people,” he said. “It’s the smoke. People become disoriented. They would need assistance through a window or balcony.”

When asked if he would feel comfortable relying on Oil City for fire service, Hasco said, “absolutely not.”

This discomfort may be because, according to Lamey, a free burning fire can double in size every 60 seconds, and said it is “absolutely unbelievable” how quickly fire can spread.

“All of those initial minutes are essential, because by the time half a room is on fire, the entire room is on fire,” Lamey said.

According to Lamey, most of what Titusville has historically used aerial trucks in the past has been for buildings like Giant Eagle, which is one story but covers a large square footage. The ability to get an aerial master stream above those buildings, when they are on fire in the middle and out of reach of firefighters from the outside, can mean the difference of saving surrounding buildings.

The ladders and aerial mainstream capacity are not the only important factors, either. The ladder truck, according to Lamey, is strong and has significant compartment space. As such, it carries a lot of specialized equipment, like an air boom that can go across Oil Creek, personal flotation devices, metal tripods and a mechanical winch to pull people out of holes and other life saving equipment that other firefighting engines are not designed to carry.

According to Lamey, 30 minutes is about the fastest an Oil City truck could be of service to Titusville, and complications with weather, wires or water hookups could prolong that time further.

Meanwhile, Lamey said that Titusville’s trucks can be on site and set up in about 10 minutes, under the same conditions. On a typical call within the city, Lamey said that he can be at a fire within 2 to 4 minutes, as chief. While he is on his way to the scene, his off-duty firefighters are already on their way to the station. He would then call them and tell them which truck to bring, and he would set to work preparing the site and water hookups for the truck’s arrival, which would come 2 to 4 minutes later.

Lamey said that, while the wait is not ideal, it is “absolutely vital” to have the coverage of an aerial truck available to the city.

Brown can be reached, by email, at tbrown@titusvilleherald.com.

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3 comments:

  • Noahs Bark posted at 11:22 am on Wed, Feb 20, 2019.

    Noahs Bark Posts: 35

    Hold on that last comment isn’t true. Everyone knows the proper way to dispose of a fire truck is to take it out to a gravel pit and have an “open range” service on it. It’s the only proper way to put a fire engine to rest.

     
  • Jahoba posted at 9:31 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2019.

    Jahoba Posts: 135

    I’ve heard that the equipment is so bad the firemen started digging graves right there on the spot at the last fire.

     
  • PGFDretired posted at 9:50 pm on Fri, Feb 15, 2019.

    PGFDretired Posts: 3

    It appears the person who is the most uninformed about the function the Truck Company serves is Manross. In his statement “Ladder trucks don’t save lives,” proves Manross has little knowledge of the workings of the Fire Service. I agree the truck itself doesn’t save lives per se but the equipment it carries does. Having served in a County Department that responded to more than 27,000 fire calls a year (147,000 with EMS) I have seen firsthand the important function the Truck Company serves. Manross further expounds on his lack of knowledge in his statement about Central Towers wherein he states “the way lives are saved in taller buildings like Central Towers is through emergency escapes. There is a stairwell that is built to resist fire, so the escape route is the stairwell,” and “People don’t escape down a ladder truck.” What if the fire is in the hallway blocking the egress path to the stairway? Once during my shift we responded to an early morning fire in a high rise. The resident from the unit of origin fled their unit and did not close the door behind. The hallway quickly filled with smoke a later was consumed by fire. It was later determined that the door didn’t close properly do to a door holder that many residents used to prop their doors open in the evenings to socialize with other residents. This is not an uncommon practice in Senior Living Faculties and College Dorms. If it had not been for the rescues facilitated by the ladder there would have been multiple fatalities. No Mr. Manross, the ladder truck didn’t save lives but it allowed the Fire Fighters to.

    In observation of the Titusville FD they operate with minimum manpower. That said, while I am not a huge fan of a piece of apparatus referred to as a “Quint” which serves the dual purpose of an engine and a ladder truck. Quint, Latin -, meaning five, and refers to the five functions that it provides: pump, water, hose, aerial ladder, and ground ladders. A piece such as this may allow the Dept. to dispose of an engine and use the proceeds towards a good used Quint. Due to the age of the truck it should be scrapped as a subject matter expert has stated

    My hat is off to Chief Lamey, in what I perceive as self-restraint and composure exhibited during this meeting where this exchange took place.

     

Titusville, PA

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