Fortuna Fire buys new ladder truck to serve Eel River Valley

New vehicle replaces one in service 30 years

The new aerial ladder truck purchased by the Fortuna Fire Protection District is expected to serve for the next 30 years. The vehicle replaces a truck that has seen 30 years of service in the Eel River Valley. (Fortuna Fire — contributed)
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It’s a move that’s been in the works for three decades and it took careful planning, frugal use of district funds and the expertise of several people to accomplish. Thursday will bear the fruit of that labor.

The Fortuna Fire Protection District purchased a new ladder truck and it will replace a vehicle that has 30 years of service on its resume. The district purchased a new Pierce 100-foot aerial truck and paid for the entire cost up front, which in the end saved taxpayers nearly $70,000.

“We have a policy at Fortuna Fire to replace our trucks every 30 years, whether that’s an engine or an aerial,” said Don Nicholson, chair of the five-member district board of commissioners. “If we hadn’t replaced the old truck, the taxpayers would be paying higher insurance premiums. It’s an absolute upgrade on the old truck which we purchased used. We got our use out of it but it’s at the point where it was costing us money simply because of the age of the vehicle.”

Nicholson said the fire district is in excellent financial shape and that’s due to the conscientiousness of previous board members. The district is debt-free, according to Nicholson, and the new ladder truck was purchased outright for $1,780,000 and that saved $69,000 on the total cost.

“We knew we were going to have to replace the aerial, we’ve known that for 30 years and we’ve steadily been putting money aside,” Nicholson said. “I will say it’s the biggest darn check I’ve ever signed and past boards have left us in very good financial shape. We owe absolutely nothing to no one.”

The new aerial truck will arrive in Fortuna on Thursday and from there it will be a few weeks until the apparatus starts making runs. Firefighters need to be trained on the new truck; equipment has to be switched from the old truck to the new and just getting familiar with the vehicle will take some time.

Fortuna Fire worked closely with the manufacturer, Pierce, to fit the truck to the department’s needs and according to Rus Brown, division chief, that input was crucial to the project.

“We put together a committee of the current firefighters assigned to the truck company to let them spec out the truck for what we needed to fit our department now and into the future and you have to get this right because the truck will be around for 30 years,” Brown said, adding that the new truck is very similar to the older model except for modern safety upgrades and new communications equipment. “The operations of a ladder truck haven’t changed much in 30 years — we’re just getting the 2019 version. The truck company provided the input on what they needed and they checked out a lot of apparatuses before making the decision. This design offered everything they were looking for.”

The importance of having a 100-foot aerial ladder in the Eel River Valley impacts the communities in different ways.

The Fortuna Fire Protection District has purchased a new aerial ladder truck to replace this veteran apparatus that saw 30 years of service. The new truck will be delivered Thursday. (Fortuna Fire — contributed)

The truck adds another layer of mutual aid to countywide responses. The truck will provide coverage to the Eel River Valley and if needed, outlying areas. Fortuna has an aerial truck along with the ladder truck at Humboldt Bay Fire and the aerial truck in Arcata means there is a truck available for most responses in the county.

Representatives from Pierce will be on hand for delivery of the truck on Thursday and they will provide firefighters with a walk-through of the vehicle to cover the basic operations. Technicians will then return at the end of March to conduct two-and-a-half days of training to ensure firefighters are properly trained to use the vehicle for its designed purpose.

“We’ve probably got a week’s worth of figuring out where we will put all the equipment and it will be idle in our station for four or five weeks,” Brown said. “We will do basic training on Thursday and the Pierce reps will come out and give us aerial training. It will probably be about two months before it’s in service and online.”

The truck will roll with four firefighters for responses within the city and up to as many as six firefighters for mutual aid calls. Brown also made a call for more volunteers, pointing out that employment in the valley has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Nowadays, most people leave the city to work elsewhere, leaving daytime staffing for volunteer positions vacant.

From Brown’s standpoint, it’s a win for everyone in the Eel River Valley.

“I’ve been here 34 years and I’ve seen a lot of commissioners,” he said. “They have always been responsible to the community and for the citizen’s money and they prioritize the best they can to best serve the community.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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