New engines, truck on way to Wichita Fire Department

The Wichita Fire Department is about to get its biggest influx of new fire engines in 11 years, the first of which could arrive as early as this week, fire and city officials said.

Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Jay Newton, the city’s fleet and facilities superintendent, said the roughly $6.5 million order includes nine engines, or pumpers, and a truck, or aerial platform, which has a bucket that will extend 100 feet.

It is the largest order of new fire apparatus the department has received since 2002, they said.

“The community is buying this stuff, and we appreciate the commitment and support that this community provides the fire department,” Aaron said.

Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wis., was selected in December to provide the new apparatus after a competitive request-for-proposal process that included two other fire engine manufacturers, Pennsylvania-based KME and Florida-based E-One, Aaron and Newton said.

Pierce, a 100-year-old manufacturer of custom fire apparatus, was also the manufacturer selected by the fire and public works departments in the last large fire engine order, they said.

Aaron said one fire engine costs about $500,000. He realizes that sounds like a lot of money but adds that an average Wichita fire engine makes 1,500 calls a year.

“We try to squeeze everything out of our (engines),” he said. “They are the backbone of our service.”

As a general rule, the fire department tries to replace engines every eight years. Bigger, more expensive and more specialized apparatus such as quints – which serve a dual purpose as a pumper engine with a shorter aerial ladder – and trucks have longer replacement periods: 10 years for quints and 12 years for trucks.

The nine engines being replaced are between 8 and 9 years old, Aaron said, and the truck that is being replaced is 11 years old.

In all, the fire department has 27 “heavy apparatus” among 22 stations: 15 engines, seven quints, one rescue and four trucks, he said.

One other positive development for the fire department is that for the first time in recent history, it will have a truck on reserve status when the new one arrives. That is, once the new Truck 2 arrives, the old Truck 2 won’t be sold or auctioned. Instead, it will be retained and pressed into service when one of the other four trucks is in for regular, routine or emergency maintenance.

“Preventive maintenance is still going to take a day,” Newton said. “It’s a lot more than just changing engine oil on an apparatus. We check literally hundreds of data points (at every service interval).

“From our point of view, it’s a really, really big problem when a truck goes out of service. … We’re all hands on deck to do what we can” to get it back into service because there is no reserve truck now, Newton said. “It’s nice to know that (now) we will be able to maintain service levels” when an active truck is out of service.

Even though the first of the nine new engines is due to arrive this week, it could be October before that first engine is placed into service at Fire Station No. 2 at 1240 S. Broadway, Newton said.

That’s because it will take some time to place new equipment on the engine, which Newton said includes the installation of brackets, as well as training time for the technicians at public works who will maintain the engine and the firefighters who will operate and staff the new engine.

In the end, Aaron said, all of the department’s firefighters will have some training on the new engines and truck. That’s because there may be situations where a firefighter who does not work from one of the new engines may be sent to get a piece of equipment off one. And a hose nozzle or ax may be in an entirely different compartment on the new apparatus. That’s a big reason why the new equipment has a different paint scheme, so they are quickly recognizable to any firefighter.

“It’s not always the best visibility at a scene,” Aaron said. “So that’s the logic behind it.”

Aaron said he’s been told by some fire department staff members that the new apparatus “are probably the best … we ever had.”

That might be because scores of firefighters served on an “apparatus committee” to help in the selection and design of the new engines and truck.

Aaron said that resulted in new engines that have 25 percent more compartment space than the ones they are replacing and engines with better visibility for the driver and easier access for the firefighters to the cab, pump panel and hose bed.

“I’m really, really proud of that process,” Aaron said. “I feel like we’ve got firetrucks that firefighters designed.”