Four Aerials Go Head-To-Head In Unusual Iowa Demonstration

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A rescue scenario on the Boyer River at the Crawford County Fairgrounds in Denison was one of the tests for manufacturers who sent aerials to the demonstration. (Photo by Bruce A. Binning, Denison Bulletin and Review)
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A demonstration of four aerials in June drew a crowd of local residents to South Main Street in Denison, Iowa, as well as firefighters from the surrounding area and three other states. (Photo by Bruce A. Binning, Denison Bulletin and Review)

It was a solution born of necessity. The city of Denison, Iowa, is built on a hill with virtually no flat streets, although a small river does pass through the town at the fairgrounds.

In looking to replace its 75-foot aerial straight stick with a new vehicle, the city council and the fire department came up with the idea of a head-to-head demonstration of apparatus to determine the best match for Denison’s difficult streets.

The event in June – the only one of its kind that participating manufacturers and dealers could remember – drew a large crowd of local residents, as well as firefighters from nearby departments and at least three other states.

“We went to [the Fire Department Instructors Conference] in Indianapolis to look at aerial trucks and met with several manufacturers,” recalled Denison Fire Chief Mike McKinnon. “We told them what we had in mind and how it would work and received a warm reception on the idea of a head-to-head demo. We also asked the manufacturers what they thought the trucks could show us.”

After returning to Denison, McKinnon got the city council’s blessing to proceed with the stipulation that if a manufacturer wanted a chance to bid on Denison’s truck, it would have to bring an aerial to the demonstration.

The city sent letters of invitation to seven aerial manufacturers, and four of them accepted the challenge – E-ONE, Crimson, Pierce and Smeal. The chief said Rosenbauer declined because it didn’t have an apparatus available to send to the demonstration, and the other two companies did not respond.

If such head-to-head demonstrations spread in popularity, they are likely to put a strain on manufacturers because their ability to participate depends upon location and apparatus availability.

The Denison Fire Department specified it wanted to see 100-foot aerials with platforms.

“We put the trucks in one of the worst intersections that we have,” said McKinnon, “and made them work facing uphill and downhill. It was a most positive experience for us because we were able to come out of the demonstration with a very good idea of the features that should be part of a million dollar truck.”

McKinnon noted that he and others got a visual demonstration of what the various aerials could do.
“We saw a couple of manufacturers shine because of the way the outriggers were placed on the trucks,” he said. “A couple of them had difficulty and were limited in what they could do.”

McKinnon pointed out that department officials also were able to see first hand the safety features on the trucks, how auto-leveling worked and how lifts could be made on the hilly streets in order to reach particular buildings.

Besides the uphill and downhill tasks, the department also required the aerials to perform negative work that operates below ground level. They were brought to a grassy area in the fairgrounds and required to lower their platforms down toward the river’s surface to simulate a water rescue.

“We liked the way one of the aluminum aerials was able to do its negative work,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon, a firefighter for 19 years, has been Denison’s fire chief for the past ten. He’s the only paid full-time person in the department, which has 35 volunteers, two of whom serve as the city’s building inspector and code enforcement officer.

Tony Mastro Battista, north region aerial sales manager for Crimson Fire in Lancaster, Pa., said Crimson sent a 100-foot rear mount aerial ladder platform quint to the demonstration.

“We used to do some of this sort of thing by competing with another company’s truck, but we’ve never participated in a side-by-side demo of four units,” Battista said. “This is the first time in my 31 years in the business that it’s happened.”

Battista complimented Denison and its fire department for what he called “a well-planned event.” He noted the setup scenarios had been chosen carefully to reflect Denison’s protection area and show how each apparatus would compare in handling the tasks. “I felt some of the inherent features of our aerial were well suited to the environment where the comparisons took place,” he said.

Battista said department officials indicated the demonstration “was a precursor to factory visits where they could see more in-depth presentations about the trucks and learn why we do the things we do.”

David Perkins, aerial sales manager for E-ONE Inc. in Auburn, N.Y., sent the company’s HP100, a 100-foot aluminum platform on a Quest chassis.

“We’ve never been involved in a four-way demonstration before,” Perkins said. “Even the older guys in our company never went through something like this. To have four aerials in the same place at the same time is definitely new for us.”

Perkins noted E-ONE “jumped at the chance to do the demonstration” because he believes his product performs well against the competition.

He said the demonstration started with E-ONE and Crimson Fire performing an uphill evolution. Then they were followed by Pierce and Smeal.

“Denison had buildings on both sides of the street that they wanted to be sure we could get to, and we did on both operations,” Perkins noted.

After finishing the uphill part of the demonstration, the aerials were reversed and faced downhill for the next evolution. Once all four aerials performed, they were moved to the river for the simulated water rescue.

Lastly, the aerials were brought back to hard ground and fire department members got the opportunity to operate the vehicles, as well as try out all the equipment.

“The fire chief told me it was an eye-opening experience for a lot of people,” Perkins said. “I think that was also true for the apparatus sales people.”

Jay Clarey, a Pierce Manufacturing dealer for Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, believes the fire department was very pleased at having four manufacturers take the time and effort to do a demonstration for a town the size of Denison (population 7,337).

An Extreme Grade

“Practically everyone in town was out looking and gawking,” Clarey said. “It was a good day for them. And the fire chief deserves a lot of credit for coordinating that type of event and for getting as much participation from fire departments in other communities.”

Chief McKinnon said the demonstration drew representatives from fire departments in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.

Jeff Wegner, regional sales director of Smeal Fire Apparatus Co. in Snyder, Neb., had a 100-foot rear mount aerial platform at the demonstration.

“The testing was real out there and done well,” Wegner said. “The fire department got the evolutions set up nicely, even on that extreme grade in the downtown business district.”

Wegner pointed out that during both the uphill and downhill evolutions, fire department personnel were reviewing how the trucks were leveled, the placement of their outriggers and how they reached the tops of the buildings. During the reach over the buildings, each aerial platform carried four firefighters.

McKinnon called the demonstration a huge success.

“Each truck had unique qualities that separated it from the others,” he said, “and while we didn’t anticipate finding deficiencies in the trucks, we found there were certain things they could not do, which surprised us.”

In addition, he said, “We found controls that we liked better than others and walked out of this knowing that if an aluminum device is available to us, that’s a high priority because it felt more stable as it was being operated and sturdier as we climbed up and down it, even though it’s lighter.”

While Denison Fire Department officials graded the performances of the various apparatus from their on-the-spot vantage points, they wouldn’t discuss the strengths or weaknesses of the aerials involved in the demonstration. They said they plan to visit the manufacturing plants of the participating companies before awarding a contract this fall.

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