By Chris Mc Loone
I don’t consider myself a world traveler necessarily. I’ve been to England, Scotland, and Ireland. I made it to Interschutz in Hannover, Germany, back in 2015.
But, I was very surprised to receive an invitation to Finland in October 2017. The purpose of the trip? A company many have probably heard of but aren’t totally familiar with invited me to get a first-person look at its facility and its products and to visit fire departments where its products are in use. The company is Bronto Skylift.
Timing was of the essence. If we waited to arrange the trip for late October or early November, the late autumn/early winter Finland weather was not going to be friendly to us. Ted Billick, national sales manager for Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, also made the trip, and Tom Goyer, North American sales for Bronto, coordinated the trip stateside. As it turned out, although it was damp, we experienced typical fall temperatures and the fall foliage was equally impressive. More on this later, but we got a real good look at some of the foliage from atop a 90-meter Bronto Skylift.
At Bronto headquarters, located in Tampere, Finland, our hosts were Harry Clayhills, managing director; Roberto Quintero, sales and marketing director; Lotta Peltoniemi, marketing manager; and Sari Maisonen-Liski, facility and travel coordinator, who got us to and from Finland seamlessly.
What I came to find out during my time in Finland is that although many who know Bronto know it for the height of its articulating platforms, a huge part of the Bronto machines is the reach they provide customers—especially in the fire service.
Before we visited any fire departments or factory floors, Clayhills did a short presentation on Bronto Skylift. The company provides truck-mounted hydraulic platforms; it does not only build them for the fire service, although this is an obvious application for the units. For example, there is a Bronto Skylift in New York, New York, on Times Square in Manhattan used for servicing the area’s many electric signs. However, what some may be surprised to find out is that during the past 50 years, Bronto has delivered more than 7,000 units throughout the world.
In 1980, the tallest unit the company built was 50 meters. In 2017, the tallest was 112 meters, or 367 feet. According to Clayhills, “It is a fairly well-established company today in the firefighting industry. Articulating telescoping platforms are a very niched product, and that is what we do.” He added that the firefighting industry is 80 percent of the company’s business.
Clayhills was very clear about how the Bronto Skylift articulating platforms are suitable for high-rise firefighting and rescue, noting recent high-rise tragedies where lack of reach and access were factors in incident outcomes.
Fire Department Visits
During our time in Finland, we visited two fire departments. The departments had Bronto machines in service, and we took a look at them but we were also there to learn about fire service deployment and firefighting in this part of the world.
The first visit was to a station in the Tampere Region Rescue Department. This station was really interesting. More than 100 years old, the station is also home to a firefighting museum. Although there were no antique rigs at this station, there was a plethora of equipment used to fight fires through the years, as well as communication equipment. We could have been lost in this museum for hours, but we were on a tight schedule and were expected in the station’s conference room for a presentation. Naturally, since we were in a fire station, tones dropped, and one of our fire department hosts had to leave for a short time.
The Tampere fire station has 10 firefighters on duty per shift. Although they may use a different nomenclature than here in the states, deploying fire units is really not that much different than here. Each alarm gets a complement of apparatus and firefighters. Most of the department’s calls are automatic alarms. Repeat “customers” get two alarms for free per year but receive fines starting with the third unintentional alarm. Firefighters at this station train at least once per shift.
The presentation wrapped up with a case study on a recent fire where a Bronto Skylift provided the reach and access necessary to attack a fire that had gotten into the ductwork of a ground-floor restaurant and extended up several stories—once again, not unlike many fire scenarios we have here in the states. After the presentation, we had a chance to get an up-close look at some of the rigs in the department’s fleet, including one that was designed for water rescue specifically. As with European fire apparatus we’ve seen in the past, the rigs were meticulously laid out, making use of every square inch of available space.
We had to travel to another Bronto facility to see the articulating platforms being built (one facility builds the machines, which then travel to Tampere for testing and mounting on chassis after compartment fabrication), and while there we visited a Pori Fire Brigade station. Again, our hosts delivered a presentation on the fire service in this part of the country. Although the Pori Fire Brigade is a career brigade, the region relies on volunteer fire brigades. Our time at the station culminated with a tour of what is the emergency operations center for the area housed in the station.
We next visited a training facility near Pori. The facility draws from many surrounding areas. The training grounds were not all that different from what we are accustomed to in the states. There were facilities for live burning, as well as a sample town with different types of occupancies found in this region of Finland. We knew we were at a live burn facility almost immediately as the unmistakable aroma of hay burning drifted across the complex.
We visited two Bronto facilities while in Finland. The first was at Bronto’s headquarters in Tampere and consisted of a testing area as well as what is best described as an assembly area. The Bronto machines, manufactured in Pori, are brought to the Tampere facility to be mounted on the customer’s chassis. Compartmentation, or lockers as they are referred to there, are fabricated and mounted to the chassis. This facility is also where Bronto personnel perform final testing and make any final adjustments to the rigs before they are delivered to the customer.
The second facility we visited is the Pori factory where the booms are built. The engineering is exacting, as you’d imagine. According to Goyer, the stability we experienced up in a 90-meter Bronto in 30-mile-per-hour (mph) winds is derived from the construction of the boom, which allows for the rigid feeling at 92 feet horizontal and at full height with only a 23-foot total jack spread. These booms are massive when you see them up close on a rig, and seeing them under construction is also impressive.
Bronto also builds the cages (or platforms) for the end of the booms in Pori. These cages can have ports for hydraulic tools, have supplied air, and also can carry monitors for master streams. For example, the 90-meter unit in which we ascended can flow up to 1,000 gpm at 88 meters.
Big Brother and Little Brother
I don’t pretend to be totally OK with heights. I’ve certainly operated off ground ladders on firegrounds as well as straight-stick aerials. When I’m working on a ladder or an aerial, I’m always fine as long as I’m working and not thinking about how high I am. So, I’d be lying if I said I approached getting a ride in two different Bronto Skylift units without a degree of trepidation. That said, besides those whose company we enjoyed, getting to “fly” in these two rigs was the highlight of the trip. FDIC International 2017 featured a Bronto in the outdoor exhibit area, and I understand why it was so popular.
I’d also be lying if I said that there weren’t moments when I had a death grip on the cage. We were harnessed as we went up, but there were a couple of times where it just felt a little more comfortable holding on. But, you didn’t really need to.
Billick and I first got a lift on a 37-meter unit. Looking back, I’m glad we went with the smaller unit first. Thirty-seven meters is approximately 121 feet, so this was the tallest aerial I had ever been on. This one was the “little brother” of the two we rode. The second unit was a 90-meter unit, or approximately 295 feet. As I said in the beginning, the weather, while damp, was not bad autumn weather. However, at 37 meters up—and definitely at 85 meters up—the winds were a bit stronger, reaching 30 mph. That’s why we only went up to 85 meters. We had four people in the basket, so we maxed out at 85 meters—still an impressive 278 feet. And, the view was spectacular. The fall foliage was at or nearing its peak, and you could see for miles.
I mentioned stability before. The ride on these articulating devices was smooth both up and down, and when we extended almost 92 feet horizontally, there was hardly any sway. It was a very stable ride, and when we were up in the 30-mph winds, the same can be said.
There were many takeaways from this trip. To start, what a beautiful place Finland is! Getting more to the purpose of the trip, which was to experience these machines, see how they are built, and visit nearby departments, there are several takeaways. First, after visiting the fire departments, is that fire service deployment and the issues they face are much the same as they are back here in the states—down to the plethora of automatic alarms to which they respond.
Regarding Bronto Skylift’s articularing platforms, the idea of reach/access vs. height is really the greatest takeawy. Yes, these units extend to incredible heights. But it’s not necessarily the height that the folks at Bronto want people to know about. It’s the reach and access that the aerial devices provide to fire departments. For high-rise fires, the height is incredibly important, but so is the ability to extend horizontally. And for mid rises, the “up-and-over” capability is important. Their reach allows the rigs to be positioned well out of collapse zones if necessary, adding to firefighter safety.
Most of the images we see of these units show them mounted to European chassis. So, it’s often difficult to picture them riding down American roads. But, they are here in the states and in Canada. They can be used with American chassis and can carry the proper complement of ground ladders required by the National Fire Protection Association. As with any piece of firefighting equipment, using them and training with them are key. A department won’t be extending them every day at fires, so it’s critical to go through the process of deploying them. When they are used, they work fine.
It’s not often you get invited to another country to visit a manufacturing facility to learn more about a company, and I’m grateful to the Bronto Skylift folks who really rolled out the red carpet during our visit for extending the invitation to us. Besides seeing the products, visiting fire departments in Finland provided valuable insights into the world of firefighting.
CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 24-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a safety officer and former 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 an editor for more than 20 years.