Lincoln Disagreement on Firetruck-Pickup Test

May 29, 2013

Lincoln, Neb., fire officials still disagree on whether first responders with a geared-up pickup can adequately handle some calls that traditionally have been handled by firefighters with fully equipped firetruck.

Last May, the department outfitted a pickup and gave captains the authority to take it on minor medical calls.

Battalion Chief Eric Jones told the Lincoln Journal Star that department executives don’t want staffers going on calls with “the wrong tool,” noting that the Alternative Response Vehicle, or ARV, doesn’t have any firefighting equipment or protective clothing. “They’ve been doing a good job making the right decision,” he said of the fire captains.

Lincoln Fire and Rescue Capt. Jeff Gottbreht told the newspaper he concluded that the lack of equipment poses a risk. “Every time we take this ARV out instead of a firetruck, we roll the dice we won’t be able to handle the situation we’re on,” Gottbreht said.

But Jones said the yearlong test has provided firefighters another tool that allows the same level of service without risking firefighter safety.

“Our firefighters have the mindset that we’re prepared all the time for anything. The problem with that is we can’t have a fire station on every block,” he said.

The experiment was driven by money. The pickup cost less than $50,000 to buy and equip. A ladder truck costs about $800,000. The pickup gets about 15 miles to a gallon, versus the fire engine’s 2.4 miles to a gallon.

As it worked out, Jones said, the department didn’t save any money on fuel costs over the past year.

Jones still hopes the pickup will save money by keeping firetrucks off nonemergency medical calls. It’s his hope that if the department can cut a third of the calls previously assigned to a big rig, the big truck will last 15 years instead of the average 10-year lifespan.

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