APPLETON (NBC26) — Just one minute can mean the difference between life and death during a fire call.
The latest fire truck technology could have life-saving benefits for firefighters and the community.
The blue floor at Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton is bustling with firefighters inspecting fire trucks before they ship out to departments across the country.
A crew with the Stillwater Fire Department in Oklahoma examined their newest aerial fire truck at the facility. They even worked with Oklahoma State University on the orange and white paint design.
The trucks can come in hundreds of colors, including more than 250 shades of red. Ken Sebo, pumper business development manager for Pierce Manufacturing, said more departments are going green.
He said the latest technology allows trucks to run on lithium batteries at a fire scene.
"The truck is not idling, which it normally is at a scene, and it just prevents the truck from using fuel," Sebo said. "Maintenance costs are lower and we’re not putting pollutants into the air.”
As fire departments become more conscious of the high risk of cancer among firefighters, Sebo said Pierce has been working with more departments to create on-scene decontamination units with shower heads and rinse setups. He said the inside cabs have filtration systems to move air out and clean it as the air goes back in.
Sebo said most of the trucks are also much larger than they use to be with more room for storage.
“We see a lot more EMS calls and their missions have changed," Sebo said. "So the trucks are getting bigger in a lot of cases where they have to carry a lot more equipment. So we end up designing trucks that are for those missions in mind.”
That's what's happening with the Appleton Fire Department.
Here's Appleton's fire call volume over the last five years:
According to AFD's latest annual report, call volume has increased every year except in 2020. Calls went up about 20 percent from 2016 to 2020. Derek Henson, Battalion Chief of fire prevention & public education with Appleton Fire Department, said they expect calls to increase again by about 10 percent this year. That means crews could be looking at nearly 6,500 fire calls in 2021.
"It is something where as our calls increase, the apparatus become busier. It’s really been challenging to keep up with call volume, but it is something that we’re prepared for," Henson said.
The AFD has taken on a multi-year effort to replace its fleet, hoping modern advancements could have life-saving benefits in the long-term. In the last five five years, Henson said the department has purchased six engines and one truck. The most recent additions are a Pierce engine and aerial truck.
Aside from the 107-foot tall ladder on top, one of the biggest differences between the new aerial truck and older models is the single rear axle tire, which helps drivers make tight turns while going to and from calls.
The newest engine carries integral rescue tools like the jaws of life, which is mounted on the engine in an inside compartment.
“It allows us to quickly access these tools and not have to set up an additional power supply to be able to use these to cut open a car to get somebody out in the event of an accident," Henson said. "They’re powered directly from the motor on the engine itself. So it helps us greatly reduce our times.”
Pierce customized the AFD's new fire engine to meet the department's current needs. Several features make it easier for firefighters to operate the apparatus in Wisconsin's climate. Henson said heated pump panels prevent the gauges and pumps from freezing in cold weather. An undercoating helps prevent rust from building up on the truck.
At the rear is a rescue compartment with sliding boards that go all the way through the truck.
Henson said response time takes on average six minutes from the time the alarm bells go off to when crews pull up on scene. He said the department's newest trucks could shave off even a few crucial seconds.
“It’s going to provide better for our members, but that also allows them to provide a better service to the residents of Appleton," Henson said. "It allows our members to get there safer and get there faster, to carry more equipment and to do more with the apparatus that they have. That ensures that we are able to provide a higher level of service and that our members are able to go home at the end of the day.”
Henson said the new batch of trucks should last between 10 and 15 years, but the benefits can last a lifetime.
NBC26 spoke with Miranda Rae Mayo, who plays Stella Kidd on Chicago Fire, and Jesse Lee Soffer, who plays Jay Halstead on Chicago P.D. ahead of the season finales on May 26. During that interview, Mayo described what it's like for her working with equipment firefighters use every day.
Watch that interview here: