21st Century Fire Protection

SHFD's new pumper truck, which went into service in 2020.The latest addition to the the Fire Department’s fleet is a "pumper" truck custom built by Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing. 

To the casual observer, it can seem that fire trucks haven’t changed all that much over the decades. They’re still red, still shiny, and, no matter your age, still impressive as they whiz past. 

However, take a look under the hood – or anywhere else on a new truck for that matter – and you’ll learn just how much these vehicles (and the equipment on them) have changed. In fact, today’s modern fire trucks and accompanying equipment allow firefighters to work more quickly and efficiently than ever before, which of course provides big benefits to the communities they serve, including Shaker Heights. 

Take the new pumper truck at Fire Station 2, which was built by Appleton, Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing and went into service in March. You won’t be surprised to learn it’s more energy efficient (all lighting is LED, for example) and fuel efficient than the 20-year-old truck it replaced. But the upgrades don’t stop there. The rescue tools on this truck are battery powered, which means they’re grab and go. Gone are the days when the tools required a power cord to be plugged into an idling truck in order to get the necessary power. 

“Now we can use the tools the minute we arrive,” explains Fire Chief Pat Sweeney. “With our battery-powered jaws of life tool, we can cut a car open in half the time.” 

Battery-powered fans, used to eliminate smoke, require just one firefighter to set up (it used to take two). Setting up lights at a scene is also much more efficient. 

“In the past we’d have to start up a diesel generator to get lights going,” says Sweeney. “Now because all our lights are LED, we can use much smaller and quieter generators.” A single diesel generator used to cost the Department anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. The smaller generators are under $1,000. 

Custom Made

The new truck’s cab and body were customized for the specific needs of Shaker’s Fire Department, as are all the Department’s vehicles. This is standard industry practice and allows fire departments to build vehicles that work best for their communities. Departments also take into consideration what equipment is nearby when designing a new truck, since fire departments routinely provide mutual aid. 

“We try to complement each other’s equipment, so not everyone has the same exact truck,” says Sweeney. 

“This new truck’s design specifications were more than 300 pages,” he adds. “We started with a generic set of blue prints and worked over the year to tailor it to what we need.”

Every compartment – its size, its placement, its contents – is carefully thought through to maximize efficiency. “We also moved the hose down, which makes it easier to get it off the truck,” says Sweeney. “Everything is customized to allow us to work as best we can.” 

Still from video tour of new fire truckShaker Heights Fire Chief Patrick Sweeney gives a tour of the new truck at Pierce’s manufacturing facility.
Still from push in videoWatch the traditional "push-in" ceremony for the new truck at Fire Station 2 on Warrensville Center Rd.

Unlike any other truck in the City’s fleet, the new truck also has “clean cab” technology, which dramatically reduces firefighters’ exposure to the carcinogenic residue left behind from turnout gear after a fighting a fire. 

Working Smarter 

This and other newer additions are part of a 10-year effort to modernize the SHFD’s fleet to allow the Department to provide the same level of service, with fewer hands on deck. “The recession in the mid-2000s forced us to think outside the box. We lost about 30 percent of our staff and could not use the equipment we had,” explains Sweeney. 

For example, the “quint” truck (quintuple combination pumper) at Fire Station 1, which went into service in 2017, allows the Department to do with one truck what it used to do with two. “The quint has a long ladder up top and it can also pump 1,500 gallons of water a minute,” notes Sweeney. This particular style of quint was also the first to offer a ladder long enough to reach the third floors found in most of the City’s homes, while also having just one rear axle, which enables the truck to handle the tighter turns on neighborhood streets. 

The City’s ambulances are another example of how modernizing the equipment is enabling the Department to continue to provide high levels of service. About 60 percent of the Department’s calls are for medical emergencies; all the City’s firefighters are also trained paramedics. Now each ambulance is equipped with a system called the LIFEPACK 15, which allows the paramedic to diagnose and begin treating an acute cardiac event immediately. “We can do a 12-lead EKG and then send that EKG to the hospital, so they know exactly what to expect when the patient arrives,” says Sweeney. “It’s also got a defibrillator, and can take vital signs. It’s amazing.” 

Originally published in Shaker Life, Winter 2019