Adams, Apparatus, Cantankerous Wisdom, Features

Cantankerous Wisdom: OMG—Willie’s on the Truck Committee!

By Bill Adams

The previous Cantankerous Wisdom column described Willie as neither the most outspoken or “quickest” member of the fire company, but one of its most dependable and hardest working firefighters. He’s what you’d call a sleeper—being a bit smarter than some of the self-proclaimed smart leaders give him credit for. Because of his longevity in the company, he was made a member of the apparatus purchasing committee (APC). The officers felt him harmless, figuring he would be a reliable vote for whatever “they” wanted—providing he didn’t ask any of the “stupid” questions he was known for.


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The chairman of the APC mentioned the committee had to be considerate of the new rig’s total cost because lately the taxpayers have been rather vocal. At one of the meetings, Willie had two questions: “How much does that two tone, white-over-red paint job cost?” and “Why do we even need a white top?” The APC ignored his first question just answering the white top was easy to see at night. Willie: “If safety is the reason, why don’t we paint the whole truck white?” The committee laughed and said that was a really dumb question.

The APC was leaning toward a stainless steel body. Willie: “There’s four rigs in the barn that have aluminum bodies and we’ve never had a problem with any of them. Why are we going to stainless?” He was told it was a better material and more durable. Willie: “How much more does it cost?” They said it didn’t matter. Willie: “I just looked at the specs the committee wants to use, and the structural and paint warranties are the same as aluminum. What are we paying for?”

When the fire pump was being discussed, the new guys were pushing for a 2,000-gpm capacity. Willie: “We have one 1,250-gpm pump and three 1,500’s now, and according to you officers, we’ve never had a problem. Why the 2,000-gpm capacity?” We’ll need it for our rating. Willie: “I don’t believe so. I checked our last ISO report and we’re okay. In fact, we have more than enough capacity.” He was told determining how to meet the ISO ratings is the chief’s responsibility and he shouldn’t worry about it.

They’ve always purchased pumpers with 1,000-gallon tanks, and the committee got upset when Willie asked why they were only getting a 500-gallon tank on the new rig. The committee said the new piece is going to be a pumper-rescue and will be first out on every call. Willie: “Before we bought the quint, we used to roll a pumper with a 1,000-gallon tank followed by a pumper-tanker with a 1,500-gallon tank. You say we’re going to run the new rig first with a 500-gallon tank followed by the quint with a 300-gallon tank and then the pumper-tanker. We’ll be responding with two-thirds less water on the first two pieces. You know as well as I do in the daytime we don’t always get the quint on the road let alone the pumper-tanker. I think we should have a bigger tank on the new rig.” The APC said “Willie, times are changing and you have to change with them.”

Willie: “I think we should consider getting a 35-foot extension ladder on the new pumper because when we bought the quint, the rig we retired had the only 35-footer on it.” The committee chairman said there isn’t enough room because of the pumper-rescue design, and besides, they now have the aerial on the quint. Willie: “You can’t always get the quint close enough to our buildings, and the quint doesn’t have a 35-footer on it.” The APC chairman told Willie not to be so argumentative.

Willie: “All our rigs used to carry 1,500 feet of 3-inch in split beds. When we went to 5-inch, we cut the loads down to 1,200 feet each because there wasn’t enough room in the beds. When we bought the quint, we had to reduce its supply line down to 1,000 feet. Do you think cutting the hose load down on the new rig to only 800 feet is a smart move?” The APC committee said “Willie, that’s another stupid question. The NFPA says we only have to carry 800 feet.” Willie: “Our hydrants are still a thousand foot apart, and the NFPA ain’t gonna be around to lay us a line if we come up short.”

The APC chairman told Willie he should just concern himself with humping hose and to leave the important decisions about buying fire trucks up to the more experienced members of the fire company.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.