The Westfield Volunteer Fire Department recently got its first “mini-pumper” truck, which will beef up firefighting capabilities in the more rural areas of its coverage area. It is the only truck of this design in Stokes and Surry counties, according to the department.
The fire department took ownership of a new apparatus, designated “73 Engine 3,” on June 15.
“The design allows the apparatus to bring advanced firefighter capabilities to many rural, off-road locations that bigger, conventional engines are unable to access because of the rural, narrow, steep, twisting driveways found in our district,” officials with the department said. “It carries the same equipment and pumping capacity as our larger, more-conventional engines. The vehicle can also operate as an off-road wild lands firefighting vehicle to supplement our current wild lands fire apparatus while also providing both on and off-road rescue capabilities.”
Officials with the fire department first considered a mini-pumper style apparatus in the mid-1980s when Former Chief Grant Christian led an effort to determine if the design was feasible and cost-effective for the district.
“After several harsh winters in the early 1980s that saw our department having difficulty responding to emergencies because of slick, impassable roads and driveways, Chief Christian proved that there was definitely a need for such a vehicle in our rural district,” officials said.
However, the technology was not available to carry the equipment along with pumping the needed capacities of water to make the apparatus economically feasible. But that has changed with the development of diesel engines for smaller vehicles along with new composite materials that are lighter and stronger than those available in the 1980s. There have also been huge improvements in four-wheel drive capability and the capacity of pumps in smaller sizes, they said.
“Probably the biggest drawback at the time was the water capacity of the apparatus. Instead of bringing 750 to 1,000 gallons of water to the scene, the mini-pumper design only allows for around 300 gallons of water. This was not acceptable in the 1980s as rural water supplies were limited,” the local officials said. “That has been solved in today’s world by mutual aid contracts with neighboring departments and more water supplies within our district. On each structure fire in our district, we have as much as 10,000 gallons of water automatically responding when the call is received.
”With our current ability to keep our tankers on the main road while pumping the water through high-capacity supply lines well off the main road, we don’t need to carry as much water directly to the scene as in the past. This new apparatus incorporates these new designs improvements, along with our ability to supply large amounts water to its pump from greater distances, making it economically feasible for our rural district.”
Westfield fire officials said the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which inspects and rates stations across the state, suggests fire engines be replaced every 20 to 30 years.
“Our second-out engine is currently 31 years old,” Westfield officials said of the decision to buy the mini-pumper now. “It has been well serviced and maintained during those 31 years. The motor and pump are still mechanically strong, and it still meets all state standards. However, it continues to be heavily used and is beginning to cost more and more to maintain. A replacement for that vehicle would currently cost around a half-million dollars. Since the apparatus is still in good mechanical condition, this new mini-pumper will lighten the load on that older engine by responding to many of the calls it normally runs at roughly 60% of the cost. This will hopefully increase the service life of that old engine by maybe another decade.”
Officials said Westfield has often been among the first fire departments locally to utilize new technology. “From
being one of the first departments to supply electrical generators on the scene, high-capacity air packs for our firefighters, safer elliptical tankers for our rural road conditions, advanced wild lands fire capability, an emphasis on lower insurance ratings, and now to this new style of frontline firefighting engine, our goal is to continue to provide the residents of our service district with the best possible service at the most reasonable cost.”