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Fort Sill's fire and emergency services branch received two brush trucks and a tanker replacing aging vehicles and improving firefighting capabilities recently. The new tanker can provide up to 3,000 gallons of water providing brush trucks a readily available water source to combat fires on post.

FORT SILL, Okla.--The Fort Sill Fire and Emergency Services branch recently stepped up its fire protection capabilities as it received three new vehicles.

All told, the tanker and two brush trucks cost more than $500,000, and though this may seem a high price to pay, Clint Langford, assistant fire chief, said the benefits to Fort Sill\'s training missions far outweigh this price tag.

Because training areas that comprise the majority of the post's 94,000 acres are where most fires are fought, this rugged landscape often punishes these vehicles reducing their service lives. He added often the older trucks broke down and had to be hauled back for repairs. This caught the attention of Col. Raymond Lacey, Fort Sill Garrison commander, who secured the funding to begin replacing the aging fleet.

"The new trucks are larger, more powerful and, best of all, can carry more water allowing firefighters to combat blazes longer," Langford said. "Having another tanker will help us, too, because it's not unusual to have fires happening on two ranges at the same time. The extra tanker allows us to have backup water on-site at both locations should the brush trucks need refilling."

Built and designed specifically as firefighting vehicles by the manufacturers, the new trucks already represent a significant change for the post. Now about 10 years old, the brush trucks being replaced were built from a basic truck chassis and outfitted with a water tank, hoses and tool boxes at Fort Sill. Each new brush truck carries 400 gallons up from 300 gallons on the older trucks and have specially designed storage areas to hold equipment securely.

The $240,000 tanker carries up to 3,000 gallons of water, a much bigger gulp than the 1,200-gallon reservoir of the older tanker. It also has a reservoir for foam to suppress Class B fires or those that consume various fuels and petroleum products. Because of this, the tanker is stationed at Henry Post Army Air Field and serves a dual role for the fire department's aircraft, rescue and firefighting mission.

But water is only the beginning of the fire suppression capabilities these trucks employ. Langford said the new trucks feature a compressed air-foam system that produces a better penetrating solution for grass fires.

"The compressed air technology exponentially reduces water and foam usage and makes each brush truck more effective in extinguishing wild land fires," he said. "It's also a biodegradable substance and so won't harm the environment."

Langford said the new foam can be sprayed onto buildings threatened by advancing fires. Properties of the foam make it adhere to surfaces it comes in contact with preventing structures from catching fire and allowing firefighters to concentrate on battling the blaze.

As with most improvements, technology stepped up and built a better product than its predecessor. The new vehicles are fully electronic dispatching needles and gauges that gave approximate numbers for various fluid levels. Now, firefighters can read digital displays that show a specific amount of fuel, water or foam the truck still has onboard. A separate readout displays how many gallons per minute a truck is dispensing during firefighting operations. Langford said a firefighter used to have to mentally keep track of this, but can now concentrate on other things.

Lt. Scott Robinson, a driver-operator, is one of those firefighters who uses the new trucks regularly. Robinson, who started as a volunteer firefighter at age 18 said he's been with the fire department forever and can't imagine doing anything else. He said the vehicles are definitely firefighter friendly and make their jobs a lot easier.

"They're not dummy proof, but close to it," he said.

Another upgrade is the use of color coding on the tanker pump panel. Langford said this is an industry standard that's been in place for only about five years. In addition to lettered labeling, each valve or lever is color coded to help firefighters hook up quicker and provide the product the firefighter on the other end of the hose is calling for. Langford said no matter how fast a firefighter is in deploying a hose, he's only effective if the pump operator is just as quick delivering the water he needs.

Each department can set its own color code requirements with manufacturers prior to the delivery of the vehicle. And, while this helps with efficiency and effectiveness, Langford said not all pump panels are configured the same way so Fort Sill's training requires firefighters to learn to a higher standard.

"We instill in our guys if you can stand in front of that pump panel, close your eyes and identify everything, then you're proficient," he said. "On a scene at night when all the lights go out making color coding useless, the firefighter on the end of the hose still needs water."

Bill Graves could be the firefighter ready to attack a fire with hose in hand. He's been doing this job for four years on post with an additional eight years of volunteer work before that. Having retired from the military, Graves is happy to be back on post and enjoys the camaraderie and teamwork in firefighting. And, despite seeing a lot of people at their worst moments, he likes to work in a place were helping people is a big part of what they do.

Although the new, larger trucks might not go some of the places the older models did, Graves said it's all a matter of knowing limitations of yourself and your vehicles: knowing where it can go and what it can do. He said the new brush trucks have four hose hookups, two in front and two in back of the vehicle. Fifteen-foot hoses up front cover fires up close to the vehicle, and 200-foot hoses in back, an extra 100 feet of length from the previous brush trucks, can reach out to areas the trucks cannot get into.

"These additional hose mounts help immensely, because a firefighter can use a hose on one side and once done, grab the hose on the other side to take care of any hot spots on the other side of the truck," said Graves.

Like Graves, Nick Tompkins stepped into firefighting gear here four years ago. For this former product test engineer, firefighting was a chance to get out from behind a desk and do something that required him to be more active and fit. When not fighting grass fires, he's equally at home backpacking, mountain biking or hiking in wilderness areas.

Tompkins also likes the variety of jobs he can do with the fire department, though for now he's happy with a shovel and a fire hose controlling a grass fire on post. He said with Fort Sill's rapidly changing weather and potential for high winds, the new trucks will help firefighters attack fires smartly.

"Our old truck limited our options, especially with a big fire, because it was not too long before we were looking to refill it," he said. "The bigger trucks also allow us to carry more gear and that gives us more gear on hand allowing us to concentrate on the job at hand."

Although he certainly appreciates the physical requirements of firefighting, Tompkins satisfies his intellectual needs as well. He said while firefighters are not mechanics or expected to fix everything, through training they gain added knowledge of how the truck works. Should a problem arise, especially when out fighting a fire, they are less likely to rely on someone else to fix a problem, thus keeping the truck and crew operational.

Langford said two more brush trucks, each at about $130,000, should arrive midway through the coming year.

Page last updated Thu December 2nd, 2010 at 11:46