The El Dorado Hills Fire District took delivery of a replacement ladder truck last week.
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Following a year of evaluation, the district spent $1.085 million on a near-new Sutphen “quint” ladder truck, purchased with reserve funds, according to district Chief Financial Officer Connie Bair.
Chief Dave Roberts said he hopes to get 20 years of service out of the new truck. Its predecessor is now in its 13th year, and has been plagued by mechanical and electrical problems throughout its tenure in El Dorado Hills as a rolling arsenal of firefighting and life-saving weapons.
In the new truck’s large storage compartments hold ladders, chain saws, door rams, pike poles, axes and extrication tools designed for various situations.
The big truck is also an aerial warrior. A 100-foot telescoping hydraulic ladder hosts a pair of high-pressure hose nozzles, also known as water cannons, capable of putting a whole lot of water on flames. Variable spray nozzles can deluge the seat of the fire or create a wall of water, a “curtain” to protect an adjacent structure. With adequate water pressure, they pack enough punch to knock down a person. Similar cannons are used by law enforcement agencies for riot control. They’re also used on the high seas to repel pirates.
The big ladder is invaluable in large commercial structure fires, especially multi-story buildings, and the ideal tool to prevent the spread of fire in El Dorado Hills’ steep urban wildland interface, said Roberts.
As the only regularly staffed ladder truck on the western slope, the old Truck 85, which shares most of the features of the new truck, stood ready to serve the entire region, but only when not in the shop.
As far back as 2005, Truck 85 was out of service 77 days, according to the district’s annual report. Last year it suffered a near-complete loss of power at the scene of a structure fire and spent three of the last 12 months out of service, according to district officials.
Its replacement is a Sutphen model SPH 100 (and is also called Truck 85). It promises to be more powerful, more stable, more flexible and more reliable than its predecessor, according to Deputy Chief Jim O’Camb, who couldn’t keep his hands off it during a training exercise last week.
“This thing has more of everything,” he said. “It handles more tools, more people, more water and (provides) more safety.”
Like its predecessor, the new Truck 85 is considered a “quint” because of five key attributes it brings to a fire scene: pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial ladder and ground ladders.
Quints are typically ordered as a custom unit, configured to meet the specific needs of an agency, said Sutphen representative Don Price, who was in from Ohio last week to oversee training. It can take several months to take delivery of the finished product.
This one, however, is an off-the-shelf model, a demo unit in fact. The gently used status saved the district between $100,000 and $200,000, according to Chief Roberts.
The new truck has a 236-inch wheel base. The onboard pump can discharge 1,500 gallons per minute.
It measures up at 11-and-a-half feet tall and a whopping 46 feet, 7 inches long. Much of the additional length is behind the rear wheels, one of several features that add stability when the big ladder is deployed.
The Sutphen’s hydraulic ladder extends 100-feet, and is center mounted, unlike its predecessor’s rear-mounted ladder. The “mid-mount turntable” helps contribute to its generous 500-pound tip limit, which doubles when no water is flowing, making it ideal for rescues when the there might be extra people or equipment in “the bucket,” an enclosed platform at the top of the ladder.
The bucket provides a safe and versatile platform for firefighting and rescues, plus a sturdy mount for the two water cannons, which demonstrated their ability to soak everything in the vicinity.
Outriggers stabilize the truck when the big ladder is deployed. They allow the truck to work on slopes and uneven terrain, a huge plus in El Dorado Hills, which has plenty of both.
The ladder truck has become an important tool in fighting fires in and around the large homes in El Dorado Hills, especially those situated in steep wooded areas, said O’Camb.
“This thing sets up quickly and has 300 gallons of water on board,” he added, which means it can quickly get to work, knocking down a small fire or limiting the spread of a larger one while the crew scrambles to connect to the nearest water source.
District officials considered purchasing a hinged “tiller” style ladder truck from the city of Lincoln last year, but eventually rejected it over concerns about power on the steep local roads and the necessity of a second driver in the rear.
The Sutphen requires just one driver. Its two rear axles are both powered by a turbo-charged 500-horsepower diesel motor with an exhaust-scrubber. It’s the largest stock motor offered. O’Camb estimated that it would improve performance uphill by 10 to 15 percent, and spew far less diesel exhaust in the process.
Each crew will train on the new truck over the next couple weeks, after which it goes on live duty, protecting El Dorado Hills from fire and, if need be, pirates.
The old Truck 85 will be kept as a reserve for at least six months, then likely sold, said O’Camb.