10 years, 15 new trucks

Friday, October 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Think you get sticker shock when you go to buy a new car? Try buying a firetruck.

The Columbia Fire Department hopes to buy or refurbish 15 firetrucks within 10 years. Some trucks could cost more than a half million dollars each, and the department hopes to cover the total cost of $8.09 million with proceeds from Proposition 3.

The department wants to buy eight pumper trucks at an estimated 2006 cost of $513,000 each, Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said. Each pumper truck has ground ladders, an aerial device and a water pump, and can carry up to 500 gallons of water. Trucks that carry personnel and have those four abilities are called “quints,” he said.

“We don’t have enough people to fully seat every apparatus, so we try to get that apparatus ... to do as much as possible to make up for the lack of bodies,” Sapp said. The trucks can accommodate up to four firefighters, but the city staffs them with three each.

The department also wants to buy two new ladder trucks for about $775,000 apiece. Ladder trucks are almost identical to quints but have taller aerial devices that reach 95 to 100 feet.

The department needs five specialty trucks, too, ranging from utility vehicles with lights as bright as a million candles to a foam truck that is like a giant fire extinguisher on wheels.

Buying a new fire truck isn’t as simple as flipping through a catalog or visiting a showroom. Rather, the trucks are custom built to meet unique specifications.

“It’s like if you go out to the Ford lot, the Chevy lot and then come back and say ‘I like this or that,’” Sapp said. “Then you go back with all your ideas and pick and choose what you want.”

Firefighters review the department’s call history to identify needs and attend trade shows to see what’s available. “Not all trucks are created equally, and they all function differently,” Sapp said.

While the city seeks bids on trucks from manufacturers, Sapp said it often works with the family-owned Sutphen Corp. in Amlin, Ohio.

“Each department is different and has their own way of fighting fire,” said Jim Bartholomew, Sutphen’s Missouri dealer. “You can adapt to each individual department’s needs rather than each truck coming out the same off the production line.”

It takes eight months to a year to build a fire truck. The fire department generally replaces trucks after 12 years, Sapp said.

“Compare it to how you replace a personal vehicle,” Sapp said. “When it’s worn out or needs to be replaced, you want to do it so you can get the maximum sale value.”

The department tries to sell used trucks to area fire departments then puts the money into its apparatus fund.

Sapp said the department has used capital improvement sales tax money since 1994 to upgrade its fleet.

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