HOUSTON – Smaller can be better and in the case of a new fire truck for Houston, it will be much more reliable.
The Houston Fire Department took delivery of a new mini-pump Friday with the vehicle replacing the city’s 1988 Dodge brush-truck immediately.
“The old truck served a lot of years, but it got to the point where it could break down on a call,” said Captain Jonathan Blankenship of the Houston Fire Department. “This truck is also expected to last about 20 years and it will do so much more.”
The new truck is a Ford 550-Heavy Duty, four-door with a pump, water tank, hose rack and equipment compartments mounted on a heavy duty chassis by Pierce Inc.
“The old truck did not have a water tank and so if we sent it to an accident, we also had to send a pumper,” said Blankenship. “Now we can just send one truck and we can call for a pumper if we need backup or additional water.”
The mini-pumper carries 300-gallons in an aluminum tank and has a pump rated at 750-gallons-per-minute.
“We will have the Jaw-Of-Life on there as well as air-tanks, rescue tools, hoses and a short ladder,” said Blankenship. “We can do everything we can do with a big engine with this truck, just on a smaller scale.”
Being smaller makes the vehicle nimble and able to get between factory buildings and down narrow streets quicker. The smaller size also makes it more fuel efficient.
The board of Mayor and Aldermen voted last fall to seek a grant for up to $70,000 from the Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Assistance Program (RFTAAP) to help pay for the $141,000 vehicle. The city also obtained a capital improvement bond, or loan, to finance the remainder of the purchase.
The bulk of the city’s emergency calls are for non-fire events. Those calls include medical calls, auto accidents and potentially dangerous situations at local factories, businesses and homes.
“About 60 percent of our calls are medical related,” said Blankenship. “Calls to emergency situations are included in the fire calls.”
Blankenship said the vehicle is classified as a mini-pumper but still rated as a Class A pumper.
The city bought its last fire engine three years ago and its current rescue truck is a 1988 model that has been repeatedly repaired and upgraded.
The city had applied for this grant for four years and has repeatedly been turned down. When the city was approved for the grant last summer, they moved quickly to buy the truck.
Next up for the department is building a metal building behind the downtown fire station.
That work is not part of the grant and will be solely funded by the city.
And while the new truck will not improve the city’s fire rating but will make the department’s response time quicker and residents safer.
Houston has a Class 7 fire rating. Moving to a Class 6 would not dramatically reduce insurance rates for homeowners and would probably require to the city to hire additional personnel, build a new fire station, up grade water lines and therefore raise taxes.
Houston currently has six fulltime firefighters with two per 24-hour shift. The department also has about 20 volunteers.