Our Views: Using smaller rescue truck is good call for Janesville Fire Department

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Many Janesville residents can’t understood why a large, lumbering fire engine races down city streets, trailing an ambulance, whenever someone falls or has a seizure or trouble breathing.

As Fire Chief Jim Jensen explained in Saturday’s Gazette, however, the original idea was to save in staffing costs. Often, medical emergencies require more personnel than can fit in an ambulance. The big fire truck, featuring a pump, water tank, hose and ground and aerial ladders, accompanies the ambulance. Then, if extra staffers are suddenly called to a fire, they won’t waste time doubling back to the station to retrieve the big truck, known as a quint.

Times change, however. Fire calls have dwindled. Fire prevention education and fire inspections have no doubt helped reduce their numbers. Today, about 80 percent of department responses are medical calls. Quints have grown larger and more expensive. The department just took possession of its newest model, costing $1.25 million, stretching 48 feet and featuring an aerial ladder with a basket that holds more than one firefighter.

Jensen likens driving a quint to steering a 35-ton crane through town. The department responds to about 700 calls each year, and quints aren’t efficient, nimble or swift when stopping, starting or turning. Consider, too, a quint’s fuel consumption. It gets about one mile per gallon. Maintenance costs also are high. Responding hundreds of times per year on calls where a quint’s amenities aren’t needed drains years from the truck’s useful service.

With an eye toward saving more money, fire officials have experimented with having smaller trucks accompany ambulances. The department outfitted a pickup for medical emergencies, and crews determined they might need the quint just 1 percent of the time. On the flip side, the pickup usually reached medical calls faster than a quint would have.

The city council recently approved $45,500 for a Suburban to accompany ambulance calls from Station No. 1. Because a Suburban gets 10 times better gas mileage than a quint, Jensen figures fuel savings of almost $9,000 annually. He also expects to extend the useful life of the quint from 15 to 18 years. Getting those three extra years will save another $11,000 annually. Quint maintenance costs should also dip, adding more savings.

The new quint will be housed at Station No. 1, while the department’s other two quints go into reserve mode.

Jensen admits he’s taking a calculated risk. He knows a time will come when it would be better to have firefighters aboard a quint, assisting an ambulance call and ready to respond directly when a fire call comes in.

The tradeoff, however, seems reasonable, given a Suburban’s speed for reaching medical emergencies—the majority of calls—and the need to make every tax dollar count.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.



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