Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s new addition to its fleet incorporates the latest technology, but bears a paint scheme that harkens back to the city’s coal mining and firefighting history. The $1.56-million aerial ladder truck is currently being run through its paces as the firefighters who will operate it go through familiarization training on it before it enters service in early August. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo’s newest fire truck blends latest firefighting technology with nod to history

New $1.56-million aerial truck can reach higher places, but is smaller and more manoeuvrable

New technology has combined with tradition in a new aerial ladder truck entering service with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.

The truck is built by Pierce Manufacturing, a division of Oshkosh Corporation, based in Wisconsin. Nanaimo Fire Rescue has taken delivery of the vehicle and crews are getting trained on it this week at the fire training centre on Labieux Road.

The vehicle’s total cost with all equipment and tools installed to put it on the road is about $1.56 million. The truck features a 110-foot (34-metre) ladder with a man bucket that offers more safety for firefighters and can be used to lower fire or injury victims from burning buildings or difficult-to-access locations safely to the ground.

The truck’s ladder is also 35 feet (11m) longer than the one on the 1999 Spartan aerial/pumper it’s replacing, but its chassis length, about 42 feet, is not much longer than a regular pumper truck’s. Compared to Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s largest aerial truck with a 100-foot ladder – a Pierce purchased in 2010 – the new vehicle is lighter and easier to manoeuvre into tight locations.

“Our truck we bought a decade ago is a nice truck; it has good technology on it … but to get the reach and everything we had, they had to build everything way bigger,” said Tim Doyle, deputy fire chief.

As Nanaimo’s population grows, the city is experiencing more urban density with tighter spaces between structures that make it difficult to position large fire trucks in certain emergencies. Fire apparatus manufacturers in North America, Europe and Asia have pushed engineering to meet those challenges.

“Our lots are shrinking, our streets are shrinking, street parking, boulevards – now they’re trying to figure out ways to build trucks more manoeuvrable with better turning angles,” Doyle said.

The new truck weighs 25,000 kilograms compared to the city’s largest ladder truck at 39,000kg and is built on a single rear axle chassis compared to the big truck’s tandem axle chassis configuration. Its smaller weight and size gives it the capabilities of a pumper truck on steroids with the manoeuvrability, crew and equipment complement and water-carrying capacity of a standard pumper truck, but with the additional firefighting and rescue capabilities of a truck with a 110-foot ladder, aerial bucket and water monitors.

“Fire departments are being asked to do a lot more with less,” said Mike Thomson, Pierce sales representative. “Budgets are tighter … Back in the day we used to offer a truck to do a specific job and now the chief and the entire upper management at [Nanaimo Fire Rescue] are looking to create a piece of apparatus that can do six or seven jobs.”

The problem with aerial ladders with reach longer than 75 feet (23 metres) has been their weight, which required tandem axle chassis designs to handle the load. Thomson said Pierce is using new materials and designs to cut weight and the sizes of equipment needed to transport it.

“We’ve managed to pull about 30,000 pounds (14,000kg) of weight off of this aerial, which means we can now carry a much bigger, much more useful tool for the fire department on a much smaller, compact, more manoeuvrable truck … it means [deputy] chief Doyle can deploy this resource into your community and have it as a front-line truck because the guys driving it can get everywhere they can get with one of those smaller trucks, but still have this incredibly powerful tool when it’s actually required,” Thomson said.

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The technology is new, but the truck’s red, black and gold paint scheme draws from Nanaimo’s coal mining and firefighting traditions. The ladder and truck cab bear the word’s ‘Nanaimo Fire Rescue, Black Diamond Engine Co.’ a reference to Nanaimo’s first firefighting company and the new Nanaimo Fire Rescue crest incorporates an image of the Bastion and the year 1878, the year the engine company was established. Other new fire trucks that come into service – two more pumper trucks will be ordered this year to enter service by fall 2021 – will have the new paint scheme.

When the new aerial ladder truck begins responding to calls in early August it will also have the traditional wail of a mechanically driven siren. The reach back to older warning technology is based on recent studies that showed mechanical sirens are more effective at catching the attention of drivers, who may have their windows closed and radios turned up, at longer distances and over a wider area than electronically generated sirens, Doyle said.

“It’s actually scientifically proven … it helps project sound better and it’s a better warning device to expand that warning zone area,” Doyle said.

READ ALSO: Lantzville’s 1935 Seagrave fire truck returning to its California home

READ ALSO: Shakey holds important place in fire department’s fleet



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All new Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire trucks will bear the fire department’s new crest and paint scheme, which references the year the firefighting service was established in Nanaimo, 1878, and features the Bastion. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

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