Interstate 88 runs from Binghamton, New York, to Schenectady, New York, running in a northeast/southwest direction for 117 miles across New York State. It wasn’t part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, but state officials pressed for it and it was added in 1968. There is also another Interstate 88 located in the state of Illinois, which runs across that state but has no ties to the route in New York. Driving across Route 88 in New York through the rolling hills of Otsego County, you can see the endless possibilities of having severe automobile accidents. Add inclement weather to that, and the probability of responding to such a call is increased twofold. The Town of Worcester sits alongside the interstate and comprises 47 square miles with the Decatur State Forest in its borders. The Worcester Volunteer Fire Department (WFD), which was organized in 1887 and has 35 active members, currently runs emergency medical calls and fire calls with three pumpers (rescue-pumper, tanker-pumper, and regular pumper), two EMS vehicles (ambulance and command/emergency service vehicles), and one fire/fire police safety vehicle. The department covers over 20 miles of this busy highway and responds numerous times a year for motor vehicle accidents or emergency medical calls on it. Many of these calls have involved tractor trailer incidents, and they’ve had several which required extended extrication operations. Since the department operates regularly on this stretch of roadway, they’ve instilled in their membership that safety is of paramount importance.
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- Mike Ciampo Archive
With this in mind, many years ago their apparatus committee sat down and put their collective minds together on how to make highway operations safer. Since many of their members worked in different areas outside of town or regularly drove on the highway, they had witnessed another vehicle operating that might fit their needs for a new fire/police apparatus. The members were intrigued by the safety cone vehicles that the state Department of Transportation were using to place cones on the highway. As they began the thought process of creating a new type of vehicle, they contacted V.R.S. Sales Ltd., which has over 30 years in business and is located in Clifton Park, New York, V.R.S./Shakerley Fire Truck Sales provides sales and service to Eastern New York, Western Massachusetts, and Vermont. They carry Spartan chassis, Toyne bodies, and Marco specialty and attack vehicles while also offering truck repair services. Working together, both parties came up with a unit that would make operating on the highway’s safer for the members of the department.
The specialty vehicle is a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado LS 3500 with four-wheel drive and an extended four-door crew cab. The cab portion is painted white over red while the rear is red with unpainted roll-up doors. There are three safety stripes, two yellow with a large white stripe in the middle which runs on the lower portion of the cab and across the middle of the rear body. The safety stripes also run along the rear bumper, with the WFD initials in the middle of it. Its aluminum body has two compartments on each side of the rig, one sits over the wheel wells while the other is a vertical compartment running the height of the apparatus at the rear. There is a rear bumper compartment that is mounted on top of the rear bumper which has storage for two road safety signs and a set of forcible entry tools, which are mounted in brackets on the rear wall. Also on the rear wall of the apparatus, is a large Whelen Directional Arrow for rerouting traffic patterns at accident or fire scenes. Located just behind the cab are two open step areas with safety bars that allow a firefighter to stand to place road cones out onto the roadway, without leaving the safety of the vehicle. The road cones, about 75, are stored in a center compartment which is only accessible from the step area. There is no access to retrieve the cones off the apparatus from the rear, making the firefighter less likely to have their backs to oncoming traffic. There is a canvas closure and safety locks which keep the cones secured inside the compartment. The cone area also has two folding topside diamond plate covers, which can be opened to hand more cones down or access some of the other equipment stored in this long compartment. That equipment would include some hooks and handheld road safety signs, stating “Stop” and “Slow” for use around an accident scene.
Due to the nature of this apparatus’s mission, there is no hydraulic extrication equipment stored on it. If the rig was tied up at the scene performing an extrication, it couldn’t do its duty to stop, reroute or slow down traffic approaching fire department operating scenes. The rig is used when it is called out to area departments for RIT responses at structure fire or incidents requiring a safety team for firefighters. It carries hand tools and has self-contained breathing apparatus and an automatic external defibrillator on board. One would say the department was way ahead of its time with purchasing such an apparatus. With the continued line-of-duty deaths the fire service is experiencing on the roadways, maybe it’s time other departments follow the town of Worcester’s lead and purchase or retrofit apparatus to perform this function. For those who are now operating blocking apparatus, maybe the addition of adding more traffic cones to their tool inventory might be a good idea. Always be vigilant when operating in periods of darkness, inclement weather when vision is hampered, and in periods of heavy sun glare but more importantly, in this day and age, watch out for the rubberneckers holding up their cell phone trying to get the most important videos of their lives.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 33-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 bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com. He also writes the back page column ON FIRE in Fire Engineering.