Janesville to have fewer 48-foot fire engines in favor of smaller rescue vehicles

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, August 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—The Janesville Fire Department has reduced the number of $1.25-million, 1 mpg quint fire engines in favor of smaller, cheaper vehicles.

The department recently received its newest quint, which should be in service at Station No. 1—the city's central station—in fall.

But rather than running its normal three quints, the department has put two on reserve. One is kept in the City Services Center and the second at Station No. 1.

Rescue pumpers are now in all stations except Station No. 1.

A quint carries all the equipment of a traditional engine—a pump, water tank, hose and ground ladders—along with an aerial ladder.

The new quint is 48 feet long and has a 100-foot ladder platform.

A rescue pumper costs about $650,000—half the cost of a quint—and is about 38 feet long. The pumper includes everything a quint has except the aerial ladder. Three rescue pumpers in the city also carry extrication equipment.

The change reflects of a growing trend around the country due to the high cost and maintenance needs of quints, Fire Chief Jim Jensen said.

The city opted to buy quints in 1997 to save staffing costs. When the city opened Station No. 5, it moved the nine firefighters that had staffed the aerial ladder truck to that station. The quints—with their aerial ladders—combined all functions needed to respond to all fires, meaning fewer vehicles needed to be staffed.

Jensen said the quints saved the department saved more than $8 million in personnel costs.

Still, a quint is not an efficient vehicle, Jensen said. They have been used to accompany ambulances on medical calls as a way to get additional personnel on site.

The crew and quint could also respond directly from the medical call to a fire call.

That, though, doesn't happen much anymore.

“Maybe we had more fires in the past,” Jensen said. “It was a higher probability than it is today.”

The council recently approved the purchase of a Suburban at a cost of $45,500 to act as an alternative rescue vehicle at Station No. 1. The vehicle three firefighters will accompany the ambulance instead of the quint at least half of the time—about 700 times a year—and hopefully extend the life of the new quint at least three years.

A quint is a “70,000-pound crane we're driving around town,” Jensen said. “In emergency mode, with all the starts and stops and turns and so on, they're just not efficient.

“I just don't know how much bigger they can get,” Jensen said.

“What we're facing now is the vehicles are so expensive—and we know we have a financial crunch—we're looking for ways to try to reduce our costs.”

Crews at Station No. 1 will continue to use the quint if they are doing inspections or training so they can respond directly to a fire or medical call.

As a pilot program, the department recently outfitted a pickup truck that has been accompanying the ambulance.

Crews found they might have needed the fire truck only 1 percent of the time. Conversely, crews had a quicker response time to EMS calls in the pickup truck 53 percent of the time, Jensen said.

The Suburban gets 10 times better fuel mileage, which will mean a fuel savings of about $8,712 a year.

The cost to own a quint is at least $67,000 a year over 15 years. The alternative rescue vehicle should extend the life of the quint to at least 18 years, for a cost savings of $11,000 a year, Jensen said. The change should also mean less money spent on maintenance.

Eliminating the majority of quints was a tough call, and there are trade-offs, Jensen acknowledged.

But many more people will benefit from the improved response times for EMS calls than a potential delayed response that could be caused if the crew must return to the station to get the quint.

“You really have to evaluate what your risks are and the need is, and play the odds,” he said.

“What are our greatest needs? We are primarily an EMS department,” Jensen said. “About 80 percent of what we do is EMS, and to have these big quints responding on emergency medical calls all the time is very costly, and the response time isn't as good,” Jensen said.

“What we're doing is really trying to become more efficient, and this new truck costs $1 million. We have to try to extend the life of that vehicle and bring down our purchase costs.”

In the future, one quint will be kept in reserve.

“Having one in reserve, without a crew, isn't ideal,” Jensen said. “But at least the equipment is there, and we could free up somebody to use it.”

The department might also consider using alternative rescue vehicles instead of the rescue pumpers at other stations, Jensen said.

But the majority of Janesville's outlying stations are small and do not have space to house another vehicle, Jensen said.

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