The process for replacing a fire truck can be a very long one. It starts with assembling the apparatus purchasing committee; holding meetings to begin the planning for the new rig; sometimes arguing over various aspects of the new truck; and, all the while, the old truck gets older.
Things were no different for Weldon Fire Company in Glenside, Pennsylvania, as it began the process of replacing its 2002 Spartan/Saulsbury rescue truck built on a Spartan Gladiator chassis. When the truck landed in 2002, there was very little if any equipment left over from the 1989 Spartan/Saulsbury it replaced. Just about all the equipment was brand new, but that isn’t going to be the case for the next rig. This time around, the entire truck was stripped of equipment.
|1 Members of the Weldon Fire Company in Glenside, Pennsylvania, stripped the equipment from its Spartan/Saulsbury rescue and remounted it in a Ferrara hazmat unit it borrowed from the Montgomery County (PA) Department of Public Safety in a little more than five hours. (Photos by author.)|
The fire company’s apparatus purchasing committee did its homework, went to various trade shows to “kick tires,” met with different manufacturers, and eventually brought the purchase of a new rescue truck to the fire company body for approval. Chief Bud Gerhard made the presentation to the fire company members gathered for its monthly business meeting and secured company approval to purchase a new rescue truck.
That, as it turns out, was much easier than what ensued.
Selling the Old Truck
Truck committee members were reluctant to rush into selling the 2002 truck. The fire company had run into some difficulty selling the 1989 rescue truck and, for several months after taking delivery of the 2002 rig, it owned two heavy-rescue vehicles. There were different reasons for the difficulty selling the 1989 vehicle. One potential buyer just never showed up, and another potential buyer did not have the money he said he did. Also, the 1989 truck was a walk-through rescue. Even in 2002, the market for rescue trucks was changing, and walk-through trucks were not as popular at that point. So, it had its design going against it. Fourteen years passed, but the memory of carrying two rescue trucks was still very fresh.
The truck committee actually got permission to advertise the rescue truck in November 2015. The new truck is not set to be delivered until August or September 2016. So, the truck committee figured it had time to advertise and finalize the sale of the 2002 rescue truck. However, that all changed in early January.
|2 Members of the Weldon Fire Company in Glenside, Pennsylvania, stripped the equipment from its Spartan/Saulsbury rescue and remounted it in a Ferrara hazmat unit it borrowed from the Montgomery County (PA) Department of Public Safety in a little more than five hours. (Photos by author.)|
A representative from the Muncie (IN) Fire Department contacted Lieutenant Jonathan Gerhard about the 2002 rig. After sending pictures back and forth, discussing the truck’s specifications, and answering a lot of questions on the phone, Muncie’s purchasing committee decided it had seen enough to make the trip to suburban Philadelphia look at the truck. They came, and they liked what they saw enough to put in an offer-wanting to take the truck with them the next day.
Weldon’s truck committee was able to buy time because a sale had to be approved by the company at the next monthly business meeting, which was scheduled for February 1. The buyer wanted the truck, it had the money to buy the truck, and now the Weldon Fire Company had to move fast-much faster than the last time.
“We knew they were interested close to three weeks ago,” says Jon Gerhard, who coordinated the sale with Chief Engineer Chris Strange. “But, we didn’t know how interested they actually were. When the chief called and said they’d be there the next day, it was a little bit of a shock that they were able to come out that quick. And when he said if they liked it they wanted to drive it home the following day, that really put it into overdrive where we almost had to slow things down. For them, it was an immediate need. When they were ready to transfer the money to us, it was hard to say no. We didn’t want to lose them. We knew they were looking at other rescues. It was really about a 10-day period from selling the truck to finding a loaner truck, getting radios taken out of our truck, figuring out how to mount equipment in the loaner, buying straps, buying plywood, and getting together driver training on the new truck. All that had to happen the same day the loaner truck arrived, so once it was switched over we were able to have drivers and put it right in service.”
Securing the Loaner
The truck committee had considered options for if Weldon’s rescue truck sold before the new truck arrived. A neighboring emergency medical service organization had a rescue truck it was willing to sell but, according to Jon Gerhard, it was an older truck that, size-wise, did not fit the company’s needs. Most important to Bud Gerhard was maintaining the level of service to the community. “We wanted to provide the same type of fire service and rescue service with the loaner truck that we had previously.”
|3 Mounting equipment in the Ferrara rig required Weldon Fire Company members to construct mountings from scratch for the bare compartments of the loaner rig. Photo 3 shows the driver side compartment over the wheel well before, and Photo 4 shows some of the equipment mounted.|
“The first thing was finding a truck,” adds Jon Gerhard. “And, then after we found a truck that we knew would work for our needs space-wise and holding equipment and personnel, we had to get in touch with the insurance company to make sure it would insure the truck. We had to have the County go through its insurer and make sure insurance-wise they were able to lend us the truck. From there, we had to get company approval to sell the current truck and then get company approval to borrow the new truck. And, then we needed company approval for money to spend to equip the new truck with straps, with plywood, with all sorts of mounting. We had to then get the radios, the cameras, the meters, etc. removed from our current truck. We had to get our current truck ready to go mechanically. Then we started laying out the loaner truck to get a general idea of what we were going to do. We came up with the idea of putting plywood in every single bin as a base for the shelves and then mounting onto that. That was really one of the big things-getting it outfitted.”
Jon Gerhard looked into renting trucks but then recalled that the Montgomery County (PA) Department of Public Safety was in the middle of repurposing two hazmat trucks. He decided to take a shot and got a contact at the County. “I got a contact at the County for the deputy director and called him,” he says. “It was kind of a long shot to ask them if they’d be willing to lend us the truck, and he said he’d give me a call back. The next day he called and said he’d be willing to do it.” The truck in question is a 2006 Ferrara Fire Apparatus rig with a rescue body built on a Ferrara Intruder II chassis.
Transitioning from One to the Other
With fire company approval to sell its current rescue and the loaner truck situation figured out, the next step was getting the loaner to Weldon before its then current truck left. It had to manage this in four days. The monthly meeting was February 1. The loaner truck was due on February 4, and Muncie representatives were scheduled to assume ownership of the 2002 Spartan/Saulsbury on February 5. That means a lot of work had to be done on February 4. Interesting to note was that Weldon responded to what ended up being a four-alarm fire that day and had laid more than 900 feet of five-inch LDH. So there was a lot of work to be done securing its engine along with stripping the 2002 rig and mounting equipment in the Ferrara.
|4 Mounting equipment in the Ferrara rig required Weldon Fire Company members to construct mountings from scratch for the bare compartments of the loaner rig. Photo 3 shows the driver side compartment over the wheel well before, and Photo 4 shows some of the equipment mounted.|
The Ferrara had just arrived, and there was a small window to get everything accomplished. “The transition had to be a well-planned transition,” says Bud Gerhard. “And with the skill that we have within the membership, it was the only way that it was possible. Because when you look at what was done in a matter of four to five hours, basically a complete rescue truck was built.”
Jon Gerhard points out that challenges included “making a smooth transition, not being out of service, and coordinating the loaner truck to come on the same day. The truck was leaving the next morning, so coordinating the loaner to come in the day prior so we were able to switch it over-make all the brackets, make all the shelving, mount all the tools-all in one night and then be able to send the other truck out so that we were able to house everything logistically and be back in service without a lull was important.” He adds that a big part of how they were able to work so quickly was “getting the right people in place to make a night like that go right. There are people of all skills with carpentry and electrical, and we got almost an assembly line going with people in the right places.”
|5 Members set up on the front ramp to construct custom shelving to hold the fire company’s equipment from its then-current heavy rescue truck.|
About 30 Weldon Fire Company members gathered on February 4, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. to start the transition. Although Jon Gerhard had ideas in mind for where to put different equipment, actually getting the plywood down and arranging the compartments on the Ferrara was a different story for a few reasons. “Compartment-wise we never had transverse compartments before, which was something new for us,” he says. “So, it was kind of laying out our equipment in a completely different style. We were used to broken up compartments. That’s what we had always worked with being that we had a walk-in and a rear slide out. So, being able to configure those compartments in a way that really utilized that space was one of the biggest challenges. If we went to something that was similar, we would be able to take one compartment and remake in the same spot. So, there was a lot of configuring.”
Additionally, the Ferrara is a smaller truck overall than the truck it was replacing. So, Weldon officers had to decide which equipment would not go on the loaner but still allow it to provide the same level of service. “One of the big things was having a technical rescue trailer for the township,” says Jon Gerhard. “On our current rescue, we have a lot of trench panels, a lot of struts, and a lot of equipment that we can use to go in service right away at a technical rescue and be supported by that trailer. Since we have the trailer, we are able to not carry some of that equipment. But, we know we have to make the trailer a priority now in getting out and that it will no longer be a support piece while we have the loaner.”
Weldon had to move fast once the truck was sold, but the circumstances leading up to the sale weren’t easy either. It’s not easy to determine what the truck is worth and then work around the value a fire company places on it when budgeting its replacement. “From budgeting the money, accruing the money within your own budget as a company, making sure you can adequately secure enough money from the state loan, and then getting what you believe is the market price for your truck is probably the most challenging part of the whole process,” says Bud Gernard. “Because that is really the unknown. The price was right within 30 days of advertising the truck. It was amazing how it all fell together.”
|6 After about five hours, the Ferrara was ready for service. The truck was never taken out of service with the Montgomery County Communications Center, and the fire company expects to use the rig for the next six to seven months.|
Jon Gerhard adds, “It’s definitely a difficult job. It’s hard to know what your truck is worth. There are equations out there for how your old truck is and an idea or guideline for what it’s worth. But, there are a lot of trucks that are all over the place money-wise. So, it was tough to determine what a good value for the truck was. We thought that we got very good money. Once we had that offer, it was a tough decision to sell it or wait for that next buyer. We went through this process once before and we ended up with two rescue trucks for several months. After you take one truck and convert it over to another, I don’t think it ever shows as well. So, my fear was bringing in another truck, stripping this one down, sitting it in a parking lot, and letting it collect dust and dirt.
“It’s hard because we cover such a big area for rescue and we do a lot of specialized rescue. So, being without a recue for six or eight months really isn’t an option to us. Bringing in something to rent or loan that wasn’t reliable wasn’t an option. So, it really worked out for us. But, it’s tough to turn down money when someone has it and is ready to pay for the truck.”
The Ferrara will be in service with Weldon until its new truck arrives. Expected delivery is August or September 2016.
CHRIS McLOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 22-year veteran of the fire service and an assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years.