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New Vail fire truck is a blast from the past

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/Bret Hartman Vail Fire Department recently took delivery of a Ford F550 quick response vehicle to be use to respond to accidents on Interstate 70 and wildland fires.
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The Vail Fire Department once sold a “mini-pumper” truck much like the one it just put into service. But that was long ago, and times have changed enough that the department again needs a truck smaller than its enormous engines.

Responding to a 2003 consultant’s report, the Vail Town Council gave the fire department the OK to purchase a “quick response vehicle,” primarily for use at accident scenes along Interstate 70 and wildland fires.

To serve both needs, the department ordered a four-wheel-drive, diesel-powered one-ton club cab pickup chassis from Ford, then sent it to Metalworks of Montana Wildcat Fire Trucks. The truck, which was delivered last week and is in service now, is a Swiss Army Knife kind of rig – a smallish tool that can do things the department’s bigger trucks can’t.



The main advantage of the new truck is speed.

“This is a quick response vehicle,” Tom Talbot, the department’s wildland fire coordinator, said.



In a business where seconds count, Vail Fire Chief John Gulick estimated the new rig could trim five to eight minutes, or more, off a trip to the top of Vail Pass.

Since it can carry as many as six firefighters and all their gear, the vehicle provides the department with formidable first-strike capability. Adding to that capability is the fact the truck also carries 300 gallons of water – the department’s big pumper trucks tote 500 – as well as five gallons of “type A” foam, used to smother wood, paper, and similar blazes, and three gallons of “type B” foam, which can put out gasoline and other chemical fires.

“One of the neat things about this truck is you can drive and pump at the same time,” Talbot said. “With the big trucks, you have to park and pump.”



The new truck will see a lot of action. Gulick said 16 percent of the department’s total calls in 2002 were accidents on the interstate, and that number could approach 25 percent.

But the wildland capability is important, too. With much of Vail sitting in what the U.S. Forest Service calls a “wildland-urban interface area” – where the forest and neighbors meet, in other words – the ability to fight brushfires is crucial. To that end, all of Vail’s firefighters are wildland-fire certified.

That training, and the new equipment, may become more important leading into what’s shaping up to be another dry summer.

Gulick said local fire departments may become a more important element to wildland fire crews as the U.S. Forest Service continues to trim its budget with seasonal hiring cutbacks. “With a reduction in fire support from the Forest Service, this unit will help everybody in the area,” Gulick said.

With all the valley’s fire departments operating with formal “mutual aid” agreements, a big fire in Vail will draw units from Avon to Gypsum. Conversely, Vail would send people and equipment to a big fire in Beaver Creek or Eagle.

On wildland fires, Vail has sent people and equipment as far away as Montana and New Mexico. The reason, Gulick said, is that help is repaid in kind.

“We’ve become more involved to help our community better,” he said.

While shining up the truck recently, Gulick was quick to praise the Town Council for its response to the consultant’s study. “The support from the council has been really nice,” he said. “They support us, ask good questions, and really make sure we’re prepared for about anything.”

While the new truck is a form of history repeating, the equipment deja vu isn’t done in Vail. The department this summer will take delivery of a Chevrolet heavy duty pickup modified for light rescue work. That truck will pack vehicle extrication equipment, climbing gear and other necessities.

“Thirty years ago we had a mini-pumper and a squad truck,” Gulick said. “Now we have a quick response vehicle and a light rescue vehicle. It’s all based on cutting costs while still providing good service.”

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Quick response

What: The Vail Fire Department’s new Quick Response Vehicle started life as a Ford F-550 four-wheel-drive crew cab chassis. It’s powered by a diesel V-8 engine, and features firefighting modifications by Metalworks of Montana Wildcat Fire Trucks.

What it can do: The truck can quickly bring as many as six firefighters and their gear to an incident. Once there, the truck can pump up to 300 gallons of water and eight gallons of fire-smothering foam.

Why: A consultant’s study determined the department needed a quick response vehicle to increase speed to incidents, go where the big trucks can’t, and save wear and tear on the larger vehicles.

The irony: In the early 1970s the department sold off a mini-pumper truck used for highway accidents and brush fires.

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