Submitted by Michelle Ford, Probationary Member of the KVFC.
(April 29, 2021) — When you drive by the Killingworth Volunteer Fire Company (KVFC) Station on Route 81 you can easily see the shiny lime green trucks at rest in the bays of the Station. But I dare say only a small percentage of passers-by think much beyond that and continue on their way. If you only knew that just inside the Station doors is equipment to establish a mobile landing zone advanced life-saving medical equipment, a 2,000 gallon portable pool, over four-thousand gallons of contained water, and tools which, in a matter of minutes, can detach the roof from a car to free a trapped occupant, and almost a mile and a half of fire hose. And so, it is with ever-growing affection as a probationary member of the Company that I invite you to meet the fleet of the KVFC.
Let’s begin with the understanding that a fire truck isn’t just a fire truck; it’s an apparatus which can go by many names: it could be a tanker, a pumper, an engine, a ladder truck, a turnable ladder truck, a heavy rescue, a high-water rescue, a brush rig, a quint, and the list goes on. Regardless of the type of apparatus, there’s no denying that the KVFC has come a long way from the original war surplus vehicles which were custom welded by members for use in fire service to the high-tech and versatile fleet it has today. Thanks to apparatus safety standards established by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and advances in vehicle safety standards, these vehicles provide the highest levels of quality & safety for our Town’s first responders.
Currently, the KVFC maintains a fleet of 11 vehicles, each with its own unique identification number, distributed between Station 1, the Company’s main station located across from Killingworth Elementary on Route 81, and at Station 2, located off Little City Road in the Town’s north end. At Station 1 the KVFC maintains two engines, 8-5-5 and 8-5-1, tanker 8-6-8, heavy rescue 8-9, and a brush rig 8-8-6. At Station 2, the Company houses one engine 8-5-3, a tanker 8-6-2, a brush rig 8-8-7 and our 1953 Ford Tanker (refurbished and retired), 8-6-1. In addition to those housed at the Stations, the Department has two SUVs which are used as support vehicles for command staff.
The response and support vehicles which make up the KVFC fleet have been carefully designed to accommodate the unique needs of our Town. For instance, have you ever noticed that there are no fire hydrants in town? Or ever thought about how a 30’ long vehicle which weighs over 10 tons would manage to get down some of our steep, winding, wooded driveways? And who will come to the rescue to help an injured hiker at the base of a ravine or to save someone who’s fallen through an icy pond? The KVFC fleet has the capabilities to handle all these circumstances and more.
So, what’s the difference between all the apparatus? Let’s start with the engines. These are the vehicles that we think of as a standard fire truck and although all three engines look generally the same, each has its own unique functionality. Engine 8-5-5 is the KVFC’s newest engine, purchased in 2019 and is the only engine that can carry more than two responders, it is outfitted to function as an attack engine from which the main firefighting operations are deployed. Although 8-5-5 holds 1,000 gallons of water on board, its 1,500 gallon per minute (gpm) pump will quickly run the tank dry, which is where pumper engines 8-5-1 and 8-5-3 come in. Although they also hold 1,000 gallons of water on board and have the same capacity pump, both are outfitted with nearly a half mile’s worth of hose which can be used to quickly suction water from the nearest water supply, be it a pond, river or underground water storage tank. The pumpers which can suction water from ports on three sides are responsible for keeping a constant water supply to the firefighters. Although other pumpers can take in water from the front of the engine, KVFC’s pumper 8-5-1 is the only pumper in our shoreline region, which was specifically designed to pump at full capacity from its 6” front bumper-mounted intake, making it more versatile than any other pumper around. The significance here is that often times water sources are in a location where “nosing in” the apparatus is the most viable option to reach the water and having a full capacity pump on the front end reducing the amount of hose and suction needed to take in water.
According to Chief Dick Bauer, “The KVFC was a pioneer in developing an engine purposely built for water supply operations. Since then several local departments have followed suit and now have similar apparatus in their fleet.”
In addition to structure fires, the engines also respond to smoke and fire alarms and to vehicle accidents to help protect against leaking fuels and downed wires. All engines carry basic hand tools, radios, air monitoring meters, compressed air tanks and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs), and thermal imaging cameras for seeing heat sources in walls, ceilings, and floors. Engine 8-5-5 is the only apparatus which has all LED lighting and carries battery operated Hurst tools, i.e. the jaws-of-life. Engine 8-5-5 is also the only truck with a permanently mounted light tower that can be raised to over 18 feet above the top of the truck to provide much-needed light at nighttime calls.
When the pumpers can’t reach the nearest supply or they can’t keep up with the water demand, tankers 8-6-8 and 8-6-2, whose body style most closely resembles the home heating oil delivery trucks, operate as water shuttles, each carrying 2,000 gallons of water to the scene. Since our town lacks hydrants, the pumpers and tankers rely on the mapped network of water resources from which they can reliably draw water. These resources are either a designated pond or one of the over 40 manmade, underground storage reservoirs. In fact, it’s the forward thinking of the town and the KVFC that, since the 1990s, has mandated the installation of subsurface water reservoirs in all newly developed subdivisions which to date, total over 1 million gallons in total storage capacity. Once the water source is located, the sole purpose of the tankers is to haul and quickly offload water to supply the engines. Tankers can pump directly to the attack engine, pumpers, or, through their side discharge valves, can offload water into specially designed, makeshift pools from which the engines can suction water.
On scene for larger scale or tactical medical response, water rescue, vehicle accidents or low-angle rescue (think of the hiker in the ravine) is KVFC’s heavy rescue 8-9. Purchased in 1994, 8-9 is equipped with hydraulic Herse tools, rappelling gear, ice rescue equipment, backboards, SCBAs, oxygen and first aid medical response supplies, hazardous material containment and stationary power supply and a portable generator. Although 8-9 is the only vehicle in the fleet which doesn’t carry water, it provides an essential service as the first responding vehicle for rescues, motor vehicle accidents and complicated medical response.
Rounding out the response fleet are brush rigs 886 and 887 which are customized Ford F-350s outfitted for quick and agile response to both medical calls and brush fires. As the smallest vehicles in the response fleet, the brush rigs are the only vehicles which don’t require a special license to operate and are used as the first responding vehicle for most medical response and brush fire calls. Although they’re small in size the capabilities of the brush rigs should not be underestimated. Each carries high-tech life-saving equipment including Lucas CPR devices, which provide automatic, mechanized chest compressions, portable, automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which can deliver an electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm in the event of cardiac arrest, oxygen supply masks and tanks, and specialized medical equipment for pediatric response, Epi Pens, Narcan. For brush fire response, each rig is equipped with 250-gallons of water and associated hose lines, portable 5-gallon backpack sprayers, portable pumps, hand tools and chainsaws.
The KVFC fleet is maintained by the KVFC’s 10 appointed engineers who are appointed by the elected Chief Engineer Damon Munz, a 30-year member who has also held the Chief Engineer position for the last 15 years. Although the engineers meet weekly to inspect and ensure each apparatus is response-ready, they are always prepared should they be called to work on problem at any time and at a moments notice. In addition to the weekly checks, the KVFC engineers meet once a month to run through a detailed checklist where they inspect and document the critical features on each apparatus, checking everything from the transmission fluid and braking systems to the lights and sirens. In addition to organizing and participating in the weekly and monthly checks, Chief Engineer Munz is also responsible for making sure all the apparatus are up-to-date on their yearly inspection/preventative maintenance, that pump and on-board generator testing and servicing is complete, and for managing when trucks need to be taken out of service for inspection and repairs.
“I am very proud of the dedication and hard work put in by all the engineers and the rest of the members for constantly keeping the equipment and apparatus operational and ready to roll,” Chief Engineer Munz explained. Where the engineers are charged with ensuring each apparatus is response ready, each apparatus has an elected truck officer who is responsible for ensuring that all equipment and supplies on the apparatus are operational and fully stocked.
Much like our personal vehicles, sooner or later they all need to be replaced. As part of the Town of Killingworth’s Multi-Year Capital Improvement Plan (MYCIP) the KVFC forecasts the timing for apparatus replacement based on a variety of factors (age, application, frequency of use, etc.). Each year the plan is reviewed to ensure no changes are needed. As an example, this coming budget year includes the planned replacement of heavy rescue 8-9 (1994) and brush truck 8-8-6 (2006).
So, the next time you pass by one of the KVFC Stations or pass one of the KVFC fleet on the road, I hope you take pride in knowing that it’s so much more than just a fire truck. The KVFC relies on dedicated volunteers from the community and any members interested in serving are encouraged to contact the department by email at FireChief@TownofKillingworth.com.
Photos provided by KVFC.