WILKES-BARRE — The city’s new $200,000 special operations vehicle was designed with firefighters in mind — and taxpayers, too.
The shiny red truck displayed Friday at Fire Department headquarters on Ross Street incorporated equipment from the one it replaced. Those savings kept the purchase within budget while still ensuring the safety and welfare of firefighters and city residents, Fire Chief Jay Delaney said.
The vehicle will serve a number of uses such as provide an out-of-the elements filling station for the firefighters’ air bottles, supply emergency lighting and serve as an on-site rehab center for firefighters and as an incident command center.
“When we do these things, really, a lot of the thought went into the firefighters and giving them the right tools and being concerned about them,” said Delaney. “And then with city residents paying for this stuff, we got to do this as efficiently as we could.”
The efficiency is important, especially when funding for such purchases is being cut by the federal government for Wilkes-Barre and other cities that depend on the money to provide emergency services.
The vehicle was paid for with federal Office of Community Development funds and matches the anticipated cut in the city’s share this year from the government agency. Wilkes-Barre expects to receive $1.3 million in OCD funds, down from $1.5 million last year. The funding is at its lowest level since 1990, said Mayor Tom Leighton.
“Just last week we were notified of a minimum 5 percent cut across the entire program by the government,” said Leighton. “We anticipate the final cut to be close to 8.2 percent or even potentially higher. This could be devastating to future purchases and really causes problems for our general fund.”
During the past three years, 100 percent of the fire equipment purchased by the city was paid with OCD funds, the mayor said.
Delaney expressed concern about having the money next year to buy a new chassis for a city ambulance. He seemingly doesn’t have to worry about not having enough firefighters to operate the vehicle.
The department had to deal with the furloughs of 11 firefighters from December to early February as a cost-savings measure for the city. A combination of on-duty and off-duty firefighters would be used to staff the vehicle at extra alarm fires and other emergencies such as flooding.
Still, Delaney was thrilled with the new acquisition.
The last new special operations vehicle was bought 49 years ago, and the city used two others since then. The latest addition was made to the specifications of the department by Custom Truck & Body Works in Woodfield, Ga., and further outfitted by Micro Fire Apparatus in Allentown.
“This is something new and different that you won’t see anyplace else,” Delaney said.
“It’s really state-of-the-art,” he added. “The company tells me it’s the first one they built in the whole Northeast United States.”
Firefighters from the department had input into the design and, as a result, they don’t have to stand in the heat of the summer or winter cold to fill their air bottles. After disconnecting them, they can place them in a rack for someone inside the vehicle to fill and return to them.
They’ll also be able to walk into the back of the vehicle to escape the elements to get warm or cool down, said Capt. Alan Klapat, who is in charge of training firefighters to use the vehicle. “Firefighter rehab is very important,” Klapat said. “Firefighters obviously have a strenuous job. Our heart rates rise, blood pressures go up. We have to re-hydrate.”
They can get a breather in the climate-controlled interior. Standing outside the vehicle, they can be cooled by the combination of water and cool air from a misting fan and seek shelter from the rain under a retractable awning.
“It has everything on it that we’re going to need,” said Mike Bilski, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104 .
The awning was provided free of charge by Micro Fire Apparatus and was an upgrade from the crank-operated one the department wanted. “They knew that we had limited funding, so they threw in the electrical-operated one cause they knew that it’s important,” Delaney said.
The company also retrofitted the filling station and two emergency lights from the old truck. But the on-board generator is new and makes the vehicle self-sufficient if it has to be on site in an area without power.
The truck is expected to appear in today’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and be put into service early next week, Delaney said.