• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Tiffin takes fire protection to new heights

A million dollar ladder truck tackles challenges of continued development
The Tiffin Fire Association’s brand new Ladder 155 pulls out of the station Sunday, Sept. 9. The million dollar 101-foot aerial ladder truck was built by Rosenbauer in Lyons, S.D. and is the first of its kind for the city. The volunteer fire department also took delivery of a new $550,000 pumper, which will replace an older unit. Heiman Fire Equipment of Sioux Falls, S.D. equipped and sold both trucks. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

TIFFIN– As the City of Tiffin continues to grow, so too do the challenges faced by the volunteers of the Tiffin Fire Association.
Housing and commercial developments seemingly spring up almost daily with multi-family housing and mixed-use (commercial and residential in the same building) structures becoming more and more prevalent. The structures are getting bigger, as well. Tiffin is home to the Clear Creek Amana Community School District’s High School, Middle School, one elementary school and one more under construction. A Fareway Food Store is coming. The structures are getting taller with three-story housing complexes already in town, and developers envisioning even taller structures.
For firefighters, larger and taller buildings mean greater fire loads (combustible materials), a greater life-safety threat (higher occupancies) and difficulties in reaching people trapped and even gaining access to the seat of the fire, and cutting holes in roofs to vent heat and toxic gasses.
In order to meet these challenges, the Tiffin Fire Association purchased its first aerial ladder fire truck, Ladder 155, recently delivered and put into service.
“The city council took on the ladder truck, and it was priced really close to $1 million dollars,” Mayor, and volunteer firefighter, Steve Berner said. “They did a General Obligation (GO) bond to pay for it.”
The city’s GO bond is to be paid off in approximately 20 years, Berner said, while the truck is expected to serve the community for 25 to 30 years.
The truck, equipped with a 101-foot ladder, was built by Rosenbauer America on the company’s Cobra chassis in Lyons, S.D. (the ladder assembly was built in Fremont, Neb. and shipped to Lyons for installation) and sold by Heiman Fire Equipment of Sioux Falls, S.D. The truck is a SMART aerial, Rosenbauer’s brand name for a fully computerized ladder control system. The ladder can be raised, lowered and rotated from a control station on the ladder’s turntable, from within a platform at the end of the ladder, from a screen on the back of the truck or via a remote control device. Computers monitor each function of the ladder with sensors to warn of objects the ladder may come into contact with, ensuring outriggers (truck stabilizers) are positioned properly and to make movements of the ladder smooth for the firefighters in the platform. It also monitors the stability of the truck and will not allow an operator to move the ladder into a position where it could tip over.
“If it senses you’re going to go where you shouldn’t, it absolutely stops,” Fire Chief Brian Detert said. “You have to go back the opposite way. It will not allow you to get yourself in danger of tipping the truck over.”
While the truck can sense obstacles, it will not detect power lines, meaning operators still need to look up from the multi-colored screen and observe the real world.
Chief Detert explained how the truck will benefit the firefighters, “Over the past years, we’ve got all these 12-plexes in town. Right now, we can put up ground ladders to them, but the town’s looking at four and five-story buildings, and we’re looking at some taller three-story structures that are far enough off the street (and with parking in the way) that we can’t get to them. With this truck, it’s going to allow us to get to the rooflines and the top stories on all of them.”
A number of new three-story townhomes are especially challenging. While 12-plexes are required to have sprinkler systems, the townhomes do not. They’re also much taller and built in such a way where the front side is three-stories tall, but the backside is four.
“That’s another reason for the ladder,” Berner said, “Those are tall.”
The department’s longest ground ladders, carried by the pumpers, are 35 feet in reach and would come up short in a rescue situation. Previously, Tiffin firefighters would have to call for Coralville or North Liberty to send an aerial and wait for it to arrive. Having an aerial of their own saves precious minutes on the fireground.
However, don’t expect to see the big red and white ladder truck at every fire. The department’s new Engine 151, purchased at the same time as Ladder 155 and replacing an older truck, will remain the first-out unit for structure fires. The Ladder will be second-out, if needed, or will stay in-quarters if not needed on the response. And, only firefighters who have undergone additional training on the truck will operate it.
“We’ve spent hours training on this,” Chief Detert said. “We’ve been driving around (Tiffin) learning the ‘tail swing’ (the back of the truck extends several feet beyond the rear wheels), the basket (platform) overhanging (ahead of the cab)…it’s challenging. We’ve been trying to get in as much (driver) training as possible. I know there’s a whole lot of spotting going on with other guys helping the driver out, making sure they’re not making any mistakes. We’ve got a lot of training yet to do.”
Those qualified to drive the ladder truck will also be trained in deploying the outriggers and operating the ladder.
“Honestly, the way the truck’s been working out for us, it takes two guys, minimum, to run this truck. One guy’s got to drive it and get you there and run the pump when you get there, and then another guy runs the ladder. You’ve got to have two qualified guys to run it.”
Four members of the department traveled to South Dakota to undergo training on the truck, and to bring it and the new pumper home. A factory representative is due in town for an intensive three-day training session for the rest of the department.
“He’s going to go through each firefighter one-on-one until they’re fully trained,” Detert said.
The fire station, on Main Street in Tiffin, was unable to house the 47-foot-long ladder truck, so the Association built an addition on the north side of the station, at a cost of approximately $230,000. During construction, the station also received a facelift, giving the building a fresh look. The city assisted in the project by removing vacant structures to the north, where a new parking lot will be installed for use by the firefighters and the public.
An additional benefit to the residents of Tiffin could come in the form of lower fire insurance premiums as the ssociation’s ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rating improves. Currently the Association holds a “5” rating (in town). With the addition of the ladder truck and other improvements, the department anticipates improving the rating to “4.” The ISO provides statistical information to insurance companies nationwide, which are used to determine fire insurance rates. ISO looks at the capacity and capabilities of a community’s water supply, number and location of fire hydrants, response times for the fire department, staffing (how many firefighters typically respond), the training of the firefighters and the equipment, including their trucks.
By adding the ladder truck, Mayor Berner and others are confident the rating will improve, adding a financial savings to property owners.
“The buildings are getting much bigger and taller, so we needed the ladder truck for that reason, too,” Berner said. “But the benefit to the taxpayers is the homeowners are actually going to save some money.”
The council unanimously approved the bond for the truck, Berner added. “They did have a little concern as they are paying a contractual amount yearly (to the Association), and this ladder truck is in addition to that.” But, “Either way, the payment on the bond, or the Association contract increase (if the Association had purchased the truck) would’ve been about the same. But the city has better borrowing power and better interest rates than what the Association can get,” Berner said. By having the city take on the purchase, some money was saved in the interest rate on the bond, he noted. The mayor pointed out while the bond for the ladder truck is separate from bonds issued for other projects, the city’s tax levy is not increasing, which means tax payers will not be digging deeper into their pockets to pay for the truck.
As mentioned earlier, the Association also purchased a new pumper, Engine 151, at a cost of $550,000 to replace an early 2000s-vintage truck. When word got out Tiffin was buying a new engine (pumper), phones started ringing with offers to buy the old unit. Unfortunately, the would-be buyers couldn’t wait the year it took for the truck to be built, delivered and put into service. Now the old Engine 151 is available, the firefighters are confident it will find a new home quickly. Until she’s gone, however, the new engine sits alongside the ladder truck in the addition.
The all-volunteer Fire Association continues to recruit for new members.
“I know it’s a problem everywhere,” Detert said. “Everybody’s having this issue (a shortage of responders, particularly during the day), but I would think as large as the town is getting, I would expect to be able to get more volunteers, especially daytime. We’re running on a very, very minimal crew (during the day).” The chief said the association will be working with the city to formulate a plan for recruiting more volunteers. “Towards the middle of October, we’re going to do a big open house to show the trucks off, and the new addition, and hopefully do a little recruiting, as well.”
“We call that ladder an insurance policy,” Asst. Chief Randy Morgan said. “You got to have it, but hope you never need it.”