$1 million dollars for a fire truck? Yup, and here's why

Coming in at $974,998, Lewiston Fire Department's new fire truck is the "total package," according to the town's fire chief


This article originally appeared in the Lewiston Sun Journal, and has been reprinted here with permission. 

By Mark LaFlamme
Lewiston Sun Journal

LEWISTON, Maine — The Lewiston Fire Department’s new Engine 3, a Pierce Ascendant with aerial ladder, is an impressive beast no matter how you look at it. But the rig cost the city nearly $1 million dollars and there are people who want to know how this truck is better than the old one, which lasted the city 22 years.

Lt. Rick Emmons is more than happy to help with that. The new truck is going to help firefighters work faster and more efficiently, he says, and in a vast variety of ways.

It starts with the heavy-duty aerial ladder, 107 feet long compared to the old truck’s 75-foot ladder.

“It’s much bigger than the old truck’s,” Emmons says. “It’s not always the height that we need. Oftentimes it’s the horizontal reach. We’re often the second or third to the fire and we have to park back a bit. We need that extra length to get to the buildings.”

That massive reach has already been put to good use, as it happens. At a fire inside a Shawmut Street apartment house, the 107-foot aerial was used from a distance to get more firefighters to the roof of the building.

“It was parked at an intersection a building away, but we were able to put the ladder up to the roof,” Emmons says. “That was a good example of the reach it has.”

The new ladder isn’t only longer, it’s smoother as well. With a 500-pound tip load, the ladder can accommodate two firefighters. The ladder is faster to deploy – it takes about one minute – and Emmons said it is also much smoother as it glides into place.

“With the old truck, you’d want to feather the aerial,” he says. “It would start swaying. This one, you let go and it comes to a smooth stop. That means safety if there are firefighters on the tip.”

The 107-foot steel ladder is capable of reaching every roof in Lewiston. That helps firefighters reach buildings that are set back from the road.

(Photo/Lewiston Sun Journal)
(Photo/Lewiston Sun Journal)

On the old truck, the ladder hose was capable of blasting 1,000 gallons of water per minute. The new one provides 1,500 gallons in that same span. The ladder alone will allow firefighters to work more quickly and more efficiently, Emmons says. But that’s only the start of it.

The Pierce Ascendant is stacked with features end-to-end that will help crews handle structure fires, car crashes, water rescues and all of the other emergencies that arise within the city.

Take the TAK4 suspension, which Emmons insists will mean faster response times to emergencies.

“On the old truck, you were rocking, you were swaying and you could feel every bump,” Emmons says. “You had to slow down. This ride is much smoother.”

Take the 188 feet of ground ladders – double what the old truck had – secured on the truck, including one on the aerial itself. On fire and other calls, those kinds of ladders are a firefighter’s best friend, especially when it comes to rescue.

“We have buildings that are really close together, so we can’t always get the aerial in there,” Emmons says. “We need to be able to put ground ladders up.”

There are multiple compartments on and around the new Engine 3 and most of them are dedicated to specific types of emergencies. There’s a compartment filled with things like reciprocating saws, sand and foam pads for getting occupants out of car crashes and mopping up fluids.

There’s a compartment dedicated to the tools for making entry into a burning home, another for ice water rescue and one for salvage calls such as flooded basements.

“You can just go to one compartment and get everything you might need,” Emmons says. “In the old truck, you’d have to go to two or three different compartments. We had hand tools scattered all around.”

Emmons was the chair of the committee assembled when the department began shopping around for a new Engine 3. During that time, he spoke passionately about the city’s need for a truck like the Pierce Ascendant to operate out of the substation known as “The Hill” at 1046 Lisbon St.

“Lewiston Engine 3 is the most diverse fire truck in the department and protects the most diverse district in the city,” Emmons wrote in a letter to fire Chief Brian Stockdale. “We are responsible for protecting south Lewiston as well assisting in other districts with building fires. We are the second due ladder truck for most districts and at times the primary ladder truck in the city.

“South Lewiston is a very diverse district,” Emmons wrote. “It consists of a large dense mixed single- and multi-family residential area, the largest industrial park in the city, a large rural non-hydrant area, and we also cover the Maine Turnpike. Because of the diversity, we had to take into consideration limiting the overall height and length of the truck, maximum water and pump capacity, ground ladder complement, aerial reach, and storage for current and future tool needs.”

Chief Stockdale himself describes the Pierce Ascendant as “the total package.”

The totality of that package emerges when one starts to look at the numbers and specifications.

Lewiston’s new rig is a steel heavy-duty aerial ladder truck with an unprecedented 107-foot vertical and 100-foot horizontal reach. It has a 470-gallon water tank, carries 30 gallons of Husky 3 foam, 1,200 feet of four-inch line to supply the truck with water from a source.

The rig is motored by a 450-horsepower Cummins engine and supported by that TAK 4 independent suspension system. The single axle truck also carries 1,000 feet of  “attack line” in two sizes for fighting fires at 1,500 gallons of water a minute, along with an assortment of equipment used by both pumper and ladder companies, such as a portable generator, portable lighting, hand tools and rescue equipment.

In total, with water and foam, the Ascendant weighs 56,300 pounds, along with 2,500 pounds of equipment, full hose complement, and a big block engine. With three outriggers used for stabilization instead of just two, the new Engine 3 can operate on sharper inclines – an important feature since tip load numbers change drastically when the truck is parked on an incline.

“It’s a big deal to be able to get the back end of this truck up off the ground and get it as level as possible,” Emmons said.

The new truck is a quint, which as it turns out isn’t an homage to the shark-hunting skipper in “Jaws” but rather a body style. Quite a useful style it is, too, according to those in the know. That includes some non-firefighters.

“A quint can serve dual purposes, functioning as a pumper or a ladder truck,” says Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett. “As such, it provides us with flexibility and with the ability to deploy two ladder trucks at the same time when and if needed.”

All the cool features of the Pierce Ascendant are wrapped around an Enforcer Chassis – the chief says the department chose the Enforcer option because it provides more cab space, with seating for six. The Enforcer also offers improved maneuverability in tight areas and challenging situations.

Lewiston’s Engine 3 cost the city nearly a million dollars – $974,998, to be exact. It’s expected to last at least 20 years. For six weeks before the truck was put into service, fire crews trained on it for three or four hours a day.

The first week it was in service, it was sent to Lincoln Drive where a vacant home was on fire. Once there, fire crews put the new ladder up so they could attack the flames from above.

On the front bumper of the big truck, written in stylish gold letters, are the words “The Hill,” a personal touch that indicates the nickname of the substation in which it resides. Beyond that, Emmons swears that the Engine 3 crew didn’t name the truck, as much as they like it. Firefighters get attached to a piece of equipment like a truck for practical reasons. When they’re out putting out fires and saving lives in a host of other ways, they want what’s familiar to them.

“Once you’re on a truck for a little while, you want to stay where you’re at,” Emmons said.

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