By Andrew Ragali
SOUTHINGTON, Conn. — The Fire Department will be showing off its newest addition this evening. At 6 p.m., residents are invited to department headquarters, 310 N. Main St., for an open house at which they can get a close-up view of Engine 11, the newest truck in what Chief Harold Clark describes as an aging fleet.
"A lot of our vehicles are getting older," Clark said, referring to three fire trucks purchased in 1989. The last new engine-style truck was purchased in 1999. The engine pumper was produced by Sutphen Corp., an emergency services manufacturer in Ohio, and cost the town $530,000.
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Glen Dube, a full-time firefighter stationed at fire headquarters, was part of a five-man committee that has been searching for the right truck for three years. Dube credited Clark for handing the reins to firefighters in the search.
Along with Dube, full-time firefighters Scott Lee, Keith Glaban and John Aldieri made up the committee that spent the last three years searching for Engine 11. Lt. Jim Paul, the fifth member of the committee, was the only officer who assisted with the search.
Dube said Engine 11, which carries a 500-gallon water tank along with hoses and safety gear, will be the most used engine in the fleet as soon as training with the truck is complete. He expects it to go into service this week.
"It'll be the busiest engine in town because it's still under warranty, and we'd rather run a truck into the ground that's still under warranty," Dube said.
The truck clearly stands out when compared to the other seven engine-style trucks in the fleet.
"People will notice it," Clark said.
Its height difference is most obvious, and when parked next to older trucks it seems to tower over them. It sits almost a foot higher, in order to comply with new Environmental Protection Agency standards for emission control, which require the truck's engine to be farther off the ground.
The truck has a painted black line on its sides as compared to white on other engines in the fleet. There are also several more reflectors, to comply with the newest safety standards. And while the truck still has traditional blue and red flashing lights, it differs by sporting amber lights as well. Dube said studies have shown amber is more effective in attracting attention.
"It's the little details that make the truck safer but more ergonomic," Dube said.
One such detail is that all equipment absolutely necessary in most emergencies is stored within six feet of the truck's cab. Hoses have been lowered so firefighters don't have to put themselves in dangerous situations by reaching and losing balance. Dube said that in the past, firefighters have fallen and hurt themselves in action. Even the most mundane details — a handle on the front of the truck to give firefighters something to hold on to while they're cleaning the windshield, or having more seats that face forward so firefighters don't get motion sickness — have been addressed.
Clark said that Engine 11 is the first truck directly built for Southington's needs. The committee visited 30 departments across the state, attended five conventions and entertained five manufacturers before making a purchase.
"It's unique to department needs and how we run," Clark said.
The purchase is part of a new system for updating the aging fleet.
"Instead of buying a bunch of trucks at one time, we'll buy one at a time every few years," Clark said. "We want a good healthy rolling stock."
Clark said that Engine 11, a pumper, is used during fires "to get water flowing right off from the beginning."
Because it carries a large water tank, the engine doesn't need to immediately connect to a fire hydrant, which can take precious time.
The new truck has excited firefighters in Southington, Dube said. With 37 square miles to cover, with several highway access points, he said the department needed a truck that could do everything, and that Engine 11 is "a big step to addressing fleet needs."
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