The West Lake Fire Department is located in Millcreek Township in Erie County, Pennsylvania, which is located in the northwest section of the state. West Lake is a suburb of Erie and is primarily a suburban setting with a mix of residential structures, commercial and industrial properties, and a host of hotels and motels for the yearly vacationers to nearby Lake Erie. The department also provides fire and rescue protection to the Erie International Airport, Presque Isle State Park (a large peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie) and the famous Waldameer Amusement Park (founded in 1896). The town sits just off the shores of Lake Erie and has two firehouses: Station 48 and 49.
The West Lake (PA) Fire Department was founded in 1937 and was the first volunteer department in Millcreek Township. Presently it is one of four departments that serve Millcreek Township. It was organized much like many departments have in the past—a fire occurred in the town and the building was a complete loss, partially because of the time it took the nearest department (Erie) to arrive. So, concerned citizens banded together and raised money and started the department with a Howe pumper with a 300-gallon water tank. In addition, being on the waterfront with many cottages, commercial fishing vessels, pleasure boats and swimmers, the department saw a lot of boat fires and drownings. They were the first in the area to have a rescue boat to handle all the calls for assistance on the water.
Today, West Lake runs two engines, one ladder, one rescue truck, one utility vehicle, two jet skis, one ice rescue boat, one zodiac rescue boat and one Husky Air boat between both stations. The department once had a scuba unit, but it was disbanded and has turned into a joint water rescue team. This team is now part of an alliance that is made up of the West Lake, West Ridge, Lake Shore, and Belle Valley Fire Departments and responds as one team. The teams are all trained in open water, swift water, and ice rescue because of the emergencies they encounter on Lake Erie and in the Presque Bay.
Ladder 489 is a 2011 Marion Body Works/Spartan single-axle quint featuring an aluminum extrusion cab that responds out of the five-bay Station 48. It responds as the first-due truck and responds first-due on mutual aid calls or as a RIT tam when called upon. It is equipped with a 75-foot aerial device and prepiped waterway, and its single axle and short wheelbase allow the unit to gain access through the narrow streets and passageways to the cottages that sit along the lake’s shores. The unit is painted all red with both roll-up compartment doors and hinged solid compartment doors. It has a 500-gallon tank with a 1,500-gpm pump and carries four-inch large-diameter hose. Along the base of the cab and then running along the midsection of the rig’s body is a large black stripe with two yellow reflective stripes outlining the larger stripe. The front cab door is lettered with the department’s name and station number, while the crew cab doors have Ladder 489 on them. Also located on the cab just behind the front doors are accreditation stickers from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These stickers represent that the department participates and is recognized in the state’s certification program. On the rear roll-up compartment in big letters is the rig’s designation: L489. Over the wheel well compartments some nice scroll work is added near the compartment handles which gives the rig a little more flair. There are large West Lake Fire Department signs mounted to the each side of the aerial.
The first compartment behind the pump controls is an operator compartment and tool storage compartment for hand tools. The compartment is equipped with a roll-up door, one vertical slide-out tool board, one slide out tray shelf and a permanent storage shelf. On the left side wall of the compartment are the electrical circuit breakers for the generator and outlets on the rig. The top permanent shelf has road flares stored in a homemade PVC container to protect them from getting wet, a container of glow sticks, a small portable monitor nozzle and a small three-pound sledgehammer. On the pull-out shelf, there are a few different sizes and types of nozzles, increasers and reducers, and a rubber mallet. Just to the right side of this shelf sit two spanner wrenches mounted on the vertical wall. On the bottom of the left side of the compartment under both shelves, sit four lengths of rolled hose of different sizes.
On the opposite side of the vertical wall of these shelves, sits a hydrant bag (adapters, spanner wrenches, hammer) and a hydraulic forcible entry tool (rabbit tool) in black tool pouches on the compartment’s floor. On the fixed wall itself, a hydrant wrench is mounted for the driver to have easy access too. To the right of this storage is the vertical pull-out shelf, which has DOT red and white safety reflective striping on both sides. On the front side of the shelf, there are the following tools mounted in holding brackets: a pry bar, The PIG forcible entry tool, a TNT tool, and a short pike pole. On the opposite side of this vertical pull-out are one sledgehammer, one flat-head ax and a set of irons. Mounted on the right side wall of the compartment is a pressurized water extinguisher with a Fire Hooks Unlimited carrying strap and a small aluminum step ladder. Ladder 489’s tools are all marked with the color blue, and most tools have tape on their handles to identify which apparatus they are assigned to.
The West Lake Fire Department takes great pride in its station, equipment, and apparatus. Recently, this department suffered the loss of member EJ Mascaro, who was also a United States Army Veteran who received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star while serving 2½ tours of duty. He was also a firefighter in the North Charleston (SC) Fire Department and an FDIC International H.O.T. instructor with the RIT Combat Drills class. Ladder 489 proudly escorted EJ’s remains to his final resting spot with honor and pride knowing their brother was at peace and a true “Truckie” at heart.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 31-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a B.A. in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II, he also wrote the Bread & Butter Portable Ladders DVD. He is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com. In addition, he writes the back page column, “On Fire,” in Fire Engineering and Compartment Corner for www.fireapparatus.com.