By Clay Schuldt
In August of this year, a brand new vehicle was added to the Caledonia Fire Department that will run on all calls for fire and rescue. The truck is classified as a pumper truck, but due to its size it could also be utilized as a rescue vehicle and is capable of doing the work of two trucks, leading Fire Chief Chuck Gavin to describe it as a hybrid rescuer/pumper.
Built by Alexis Fire Equipment Company with a Spartan Gladiator Chassis, the new fire truck carries 750 gallons of water, has a 6,600 watt generator, foam suppression system, GPS, thermal imaging camera, the most modern Jaws of Life and a modern airbag system. Rural Fire District President Kermit McRae joked, “It does everything but talk.”
Designed to carry six fully suited firefighters with a seventh behind the wheel, the rescuer/pumper is an improvement over the previous truck, which could only carry five firefighters. Gavin emphasized the importance of having fully suited firefighters in the truck from the start, saying, “When you get to a fire call [they] are ready. However, for Caledonia, the most important component on this truck is the pumping capacity. The truck has a pumping capacity of 2,250 gallons per minute, which allows the city to maintain an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of 4, which places Caledonia in the upper 10 percent nationwide.
Prior to this truck’s arrival, Caledonia had three pumper trucks (1975, 1995 and 2002) – another reason for the excellent ISO rating. This new truck will allow the department to sell the 1975 and 1995 pumper and still maintain the ISO rating of 4. In addition, with two less vehicles in the fleet the operational costs will drop by an estimated $7,000 a year.
The process of acquiring the truck took years of planning on the part of Caledonia’s Fire Department, the Rural Fire District and the City Council. The decision to buy the truck came in 2011. In 2012, Caledonia received seven bidders to build the truck, which Gavin said was an outstanding number allowing the city very competitive options.
The truck originally cost $349,371, but with additional add-ons the total came to $361,220. An initial down payment of $90,000 was needed to trigger Alexis to begin construction. The down payment was paid for through the combined efforts of the Fire Department Relief Fund, the City of Caledonia and the Rural Fire District.
In addition, the sale of the Caledonia 1995 pumper truck to Spring Grove netted the project $40,000. The remaining $249,371 is financed through Merchant’s Bank with the cost being split between Caledonia and the Rural Fire District over the next ten years.
“We were lucky enough when we put this thing out for bids the fire industry was down,” Gavin said. “Sales nationwide were probably at their lowest… We got a bargain of a truck.” Gavin estimated that if the truck was purchased now it would cost $500,000, which would have been unobtainable on the department’s budget.
The Fire Department has a history of acquiring vehicles at the right time. One of the oldest vehicles utilized is a 1974 ladder truck that was purchased in 2006. Despite being almost 40 years old, the truck still works and meets all necessary requirements. The truck was bought from a firehouse in Pennsylvania with an asking price of $60,000, but Caledonia managed to purchase the vehicle for around $25,000. The Fire Department selling the ladder truck was fond of the vehicle and did not want to sell to anyone intending on taking it apart. Caledonia purchased the truck on the condition that it is not taken apart. On the ladder truck’s first fire call in Caledonia it was instrumental in saving a house from a chimney fire.
McRae explained that Caledonia’s Fire Department has acquired $1,034,000 worth of equipment since 1996, two-thirds of which is paid off.
“Basically we’ve invested a shade over a million dollars in equipment and upgrading our capacity to fight fires, and our debt is a third of that and we’re paying it off 50-50 between the city and Rural District. We’ve been holding our budget pretty close,” Gavin added.
With the City of Caledonia and the Rural Districts combining efforts the community avoided needing two separate departments, which lowers costs and complications. “It’s worked out pretty good,” Gavin said. “There used to be a city truck and rural truck, but now we combined them both and split the bill.”
Both Gavin and McRae agree the community has been very supportive of the department, which is demonstrated by the forward thinking of the City Council and Rural Fire District Board through their investing in the equipment and training.
Caledonia’s new rescuer/pumper was delivered in August and, while it has seen little action in the last two months, the Fire Department is confident it will be in service for decades to come and be a benefit to countless citizens in need.