Powassan Fire Chief Bill Cox calls it Big Red although officially it's known as Ladder 1.
It’s the latest addition to the Powassan Fire Department, a 42-foot long, 60,000-pound fire truck with a 105-foot ladder. Big Red is 20 years old and arrived at the department a little more than a week ago as a donation. Fire Prevention Officer Ben Mousseau says the department was not looking for a ladder truck and in fact, up until Big Red’s arrival, the department has never had an aerial truck. “Two men bought it at an auction in Mississauga after the Mississauga Fire Department put it out of service intending to use it for a commercial purpose,” Mousseau said. “But for whatever reason, it's a purpose that didn't happen. So they decided to donate it to a municipality.” Mousseau said Powaasan's relatively new fire hall is long enough to accommodate the truck, but it would not have been able to fit in the old fire station. When the two men connected with Cox saying they were looking to donate the truck, Mousseau said the only stipulation the fire chief had was that the vehicle had to arrive with a mechanical certification and that both the ladder and the pumps on the vehicle also had to be certified. “It came to us ready to put into service,” Mousseau said. Mousseau said in casual discussions the Powassan Fire Department has had with the North Bay Fire and Emergency Services, which is looking at buying an aerial truck, he discovered a new vehicle of this type would cost around $1.3 million. “They're an expensive piece of equipment,” Mousseau said. Big Red cost the fire department less than $200. Mousseau said the fire department paid for an emission's test and license plate. Since Big Red’s arrival, members have been testing it out, so Ladder 1 isn't quite ready to see service. “We're still figuring out how everything works,” Mousseau said. “We're putting together a training program and hope to have it in service around springtime. It's a steep learning curve.” Mousseau said the arrival of Big Red has created a buzz for the volunteer firefighters. The 105-foot long ladder is the big draw. Mousseau said it's divided into three flights or sections. During a trial test run, Mousseau said the ladder was extended to its full length. “I got about half way up,” Mousseau said. “That's all I was ready to do on my first try. But one of our firefighters went up all the way and he's ready to do it again”. A two-foot high railing covers both sides of the ladder which firefighters hold onto as they climb it. The firefighters agree this makes it hard to fall from the ladder and add it's actually safer than their regular ladders. A nozzle capable of delivering 1,250 gallons of water a minute is at the end of the ladder and Mousseau said because the ladder can rise above the height of any building in town, it allows firefighters to “attack a fire from above”. Mousseau notes that's a lot different from the past, when fire crews needed to battle a chimney fire and use ladders to get to the building's rooftop. Additionally, Mousseau said the nozzle can be operated remotely from the ground. “So you're taking firefighters out of the line of danger in a lot of situations,” Mousseau said. Mousseau said it takes very little time to get Ladder 1 ready to take on a fire. From the moment it arrives at the scene of a fire, a crew of four firefighters can have the four outriggers extend from the truck, planted solidly into the ground to keep the truck steady and start extending the ladder in just two minutes. Mousseau said Powassan was in a unique situation in acquiring Ladder 1 when its benefactors were looking around. He said most small municipalities don't have a large fire hall. Powassan recently built a new hall and larger municipalities with huge fire halls “will typically buy a new aerial truck and already have it.” Mousseau admits when he first heard that an aerial truck was coming to the community “I said what do we need a truck that big for in Powassan?” But he quickly changed his mind. “When you start looking around, we do have big buildings,” he said. “There's Eastholme (Home for the Aged), soon we'll have the new (seniors') apartment building, we have the arenas and 250 Clark”. Mousseau adds the aerial truck will also make it much easier to fight fires involving two-storey homes. Mousseau said the fact that Ladder 1 is 20 years old won't affect its service with the department. Regulations state that any department's frontline pumper can't be more than 20 years old. But Ladder 1 won't serve as the department's frontline pumper since another vehicle already operates in that capacity. Mousseau says it means Ladder 1 won't have to be put out of commission any time soon and “we'll be able to keep it as long as we like.'. “Also the nature of small towns is we don't put a lot of kilometres on fire trucks so we should be able to stretch out its lifespan,” Mousseau said. “As long as it's still serviceable, we'll use it.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget