Custom Fire Gives Black River Firefighters All They Wanted

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The Black River Fire Department had CustomFIRE pre-pipe and pre-connect a hard suction length on the pumper’s front bumper.
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The CustomFIRE pumper built on a Spartan MetroStar chassis for the Black River Fire Department has a 1,500-gpm pump and a 1,000-gallon tank.

Sometimes firefighters want it all.

That was the case with the Black River Fire Department in Wilson, Wis., where the chief and his firefighters wanted a pumper, fully loaded with their specified equipment mounted and delivered to the firehouse.

And they got what they wanted from a builder on the other side of the state, Custom Fire Apparatus Inc. in Osceola.

“It all started when our engine, an old Pierce with a 750-gpm pump, had troubles,” said Tony Van De Wege, Black River’s chief. “We had been spending money on the truck, were having problems with the engine and transmission, and then the pump went out. The quote to rebuild the pump was more than a couple thousand dollars, so we decided not to spend the money on fixing the pump because the other parts of the vehicle looked like they were ready to break down.”

The chief formed a truck committee to determine what the department’s tasks were, what they were likely to be in the future and then decide on the kind of equipment that would fulfill those needs. Two components were a 1,500-gpm pump and a 1,000-gallon tank.

The Black River Fire Department covers the 23-square-mile town of Wilson, which is by Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee and has a population of 3,500. The fire district runs the gamut, from several large residential subdivisions to a chemical manufacturing plant, an electric generation plant, a thousand-acre state park and a wildland interface of heavily forested land along the lake.

The department’s equipment, minus the broken-down pumper, included a 1990 Pierce 1,250-gpm pumper, two 3,000-gallon tankers (one with a 500-gpm pump), a rescue support vehicle and a 1971 off-road brush truck with a 150-gpm pump.

Besides the chief, members of the truck committee included two assistant chiefs, three lieutenants and four firefighters.

“One of the things we were concerned with was the cabinetry in a new pumper,” Van De Wege said. “Our existing pumpers had equipment thrown into compartments, so that sometimes it was difficult to get at what you needed. For the new truck, we wanted the equipment to be organized inside the compartments.”

In addition, the truck committee members wanted the pumper to be delivered with new equipment in place.

Van De Wege said committee members visited two nearby fire departments to see how they stowed equipment on their vehicles to get a sense of what worked best.

Once the committee developed specifications for the pumper, it sent out the specs to Seagrave Fire Apparatus, Pierce Manufacturing and Custom Fire.

Three Quotes

“We wanted to get three quotes, and we also wanted to keep the business in the state of Wisconsin,” Van De Wege said. “We wanted to spend our money with a manufacturer in the state and in case anything went wrong. We wanted to be able to talk with a local person instead of having to talk with someone from another state.”

Within a week of the bids going out, Custom Fire’s factory sales representative, Wayde Kirvida, contacted the chief and sent a demonstration pumper to the firehouse for the committee to check out.

“We knew it was pretty much what we were looking for,” Van De Wege said.

When the bids were received, the committee reviewed them thoroughly, according to Van De Wege, and decided on Custom Fire to build the pumper. Its bid was the lowest in cost, and the chief said the company agreed to produce a turnkey pumper, something one of the other two bidders would not do.

Kirvida said the fire department’s specs were well written and that his company was able to give the department everything it wanted.

“They gave me a laundry list of a dozen items that had to be either built into or put on the pumper,” Kirvida said. “We were able to deliver on all of them.”

Hydraulic Rack

Besides the usual pump, tank, engine and transmission requirements, Custom Fire also handled putting in a hydraulic drop-down rack for ladders and suction hose to shield them from the elements.

The rack holds two 10-foot lengths of hard suction, one pre-attached suction strainer, one 14-foot roof ladder, one 10-foot attic ladder, one 35-foot three-section extension ladder and two 10-foot pike poles.

“Another unique feature of this vehicle is that it has a hose bed 20 inches lower than normal,” Kirvida said. “It’s 48 inches off the tailboard, which makes it safe and easy to access. Firefighter safety is an issue we take seriously.”

Suction Pre-Prime

Because Black River is a rural department, Kirvida also recommended suction pre-prime units on suction hose, a suggestion that was accepted by the committee.

“They can switch from the booster tank to a folding tank on any of their intakes and continue to move water without stopping,” he pointed out. “It’s a very productive setup to use on a fire scene because they’re not shutting down to switch from one water source to another.”

Van De Wege said committee members made one visit to the Custom Fire plant during the building of the vehicle, but was in near-constant communication with the builder’s representatives by phone and e-mail during the entire process.

“When we went to the factory, we worked with them on deciding where the tool holders would go,” he said. “They made good suggestions to tweak things here and there with some equipment on the sliding trays and sliding tool boards. They also suggested a bigger generator for the truck because of the light mast we have on it.”

Kirvida pointed out that the MetroFlex cab on the vehicle is set up to accommodate seven firefighters, although it could handle nine.

“They had us put a pretty large EMS cabinet in the back of the cab,” Kirvida said, “because they’re running first responders with the engine.”

The pumper itself cost $419,000, but the price tag went up to $457,000 when all the equipment Black River specified was added. Black River furnished its own air packs and air bottles.

“There were no unusual challenges for us,” Kirvida said. “It was a pretty straightforward truck for us with a unique design.”

Van De Wege agreed the process went smoothly.

“Their plant is about 500 miles away from us, but things couldn’t have gone any better,” he said. “All the folks at Custom Fire were very responsive to us.”

CustomFIRE Pumper for Black River Fire Department
• Spartan MetroStar chassis
• 7-person MetroFlex cab
• Cummins ISL 425-hp engine
• Allison 3000EVS transmission
• Stainless steel construction
• Roll-up compartment doors?
• Hydraulic drop-down ladder rack?
• Hard suction hose compartment
• Wheel well SCBA cylinder storage?
• Adjustable compartment shelving?
• Pull-out tool boards and compartment trays
• Aluminum hinged hose bed covers
• Waterous CSUC10 1,500-gpm single-stage midship pump
• Foam Pro 2001 single-agent foam system
• Waterous oil-less pump primer?
• Class 1 Captain pressure governor?
• Passenger side 6-inch suction?
• Driver side 6-inch suction?
• Rear 6-inch suction
• Front bumper 2-inch discharge?
• Speedlay 2-inch discharges
• Crosslay 2.5-inch discharge
• Passenger side 2-1/2-inch and 3-1/2-inch discharges
• Rear passenger side 2-1/2-inch discharge?
• Driver side 2-1/2-inch and 3-1/2-inch discharges?
• Deluge discharge?
• 1,000-gallon tank
• 30-gallon foam cell
• LED marker lights?
• Pump panel overhead lights?
• Whelen LED tail lighting
• Pump compartment light?
• Shielded rear step lights
• Under body lighting?
• Under bumper extension lights
• LED compartment lighting
• Whelen scene lighting?
• Whelen LED body warning lights?
• Whelen LED intersect warning lights?
• Whelen LED light bar
• Mechanical siren

Price: $457,000 with equipment

Black River Fire Department, Wilson, Wisconsin

Strength: 37 volunteer firefighters; one station providing fire suppression and emergency response for fire, hazardous materials, utility control, rescue and mutual aid.
Service area: Residential subdivisions, electric generation plant, chemical manufacturing facility and wildland interface composed of a 1,000-acre state park and heavily forested area along Lake Michigan.

Other apparatus: 1990 Pierce pumper, 1,250-gpm pump, 1,000-gallon tank; 2007 International Harvester tanker, 500-gpm pump, 3,000-gallon tank; 1980 International Harvester tanker, 3,000-gallon tank; rescue support vehicle; and 1971 Chevrolet off-road brush truck with 150-gpm pump and 250-gallon tank.


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