Technology changes the way fires are fought at the Rhinelander/Oneida County airport
It looks like a cross between a moon rover and an army tank but in reality, it represents the changing technology of fire fighting.
The Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport took delivery of a new fire truck last week and the vehicle resembles nothing like the traditional, bright red equipment seen at most blazes. This one is lime green and its capabilities are astonishing. For instance, a fire can be fought from inside its cab.
“It’s a lot different technology than what traditional trucks have today,” said Ken Orton, an 18-year veteran in aircraft rescue and fire fighting at the airport in addition to being a volunteer fire fighter for the Crescent Fire Department.
The machine was manufactured by the Rosenbauer Company out of Wyoming, Minn. It can hold 1,500 gallons of water and 200 gallons of fire fighting foam. It’s 12 feet high, 10 feet wide, 33 feet long and its top speed is 70 miles per hour.
The truck is equipped with all kinds of unique fire fighting technology. For instance, water is applied to a fire through “turrets” mounted on the roof and the bumper of the truck. Inside the spacious cab, the driver and passenger of the vehicle have complete command on where to aim the spouting turrets through controls that look like part of a video game. The bumper turret can shoot water close to 300 yards and the upper turret close to 500 yards. It even waters itself which allows the truck and its occupants to stay cool during instances when the vehicle has to be really close to a fire.
“This is a perfect vehicle for fighting aircraft fires,” said Orton. “It will even shoot water while the truck is moving.”
In addition to the turrets the truck is equipped with more than 600 feet of hose if that is needed plus several powerful lights if there is a blaze at night. It also has an on board generator and a forward looking infrared camera or FLIR.
“This camera can detect areas in the environment that are hot or cold so you can drive this if it is extremely foggy or there is a blizzard,” said Orton.
In a normal year there are between two to three instances when a vehicle like this is needed at the airport.
“We’ve had several times when planes have come in and their landing gear wouldn’t come down,” said Orton. “Then you have to be on standby is case of an emergency. Thankfully we haven’t had any bad fires in recent years.”
While the instances of fires have been nominal at Rhinelander’s airport, adequate and up to date firefighting equipment is mandatory through the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) at every airport across the country. In addition, there are strict parameters the FAA requires when using airport firefighting equipment.
“The FAA requires that firefighting equipment has to be at the midpoint of the longest runway within three minutes of an emergency,” said Orton. “Every year they come out and we have to do a drill. They have a stop watch and stand at the midpoint of our longest runway. We have three minutes to get our gear on, be ready to fight a fire and be at that particular spot in that amount of time.”
The former fire truck was a 1993 Oshkosh model and needed to be replaced according to Joe Brauer, director of the Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport.
“The FFA has pretty strict rules on what equipment is required and the old truck was outdated,” he said. “We will put the old truck up for bid and that money will be used for airport improvements.”
The new fire truck cost $600,000 with 90 percent of the cost paid through a federal grant, five percent came from state funds and five percent came from airport sponsors from money raised through local user fees.
“In reality all the money used to purchase this truck came from user fees across the country,” said Brauer. “That is how the money is collected.”
When the truck was delivered last week, the manufacturers of the vehicle spent the day training airport personnel on all its unique features. This fall more training will be needed to learn how to maintain the truck.
Thanks to Brauer who was instrumental in procuring the vehicle, the Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport is the first in the country to have a truck of this caliber for a facility of its size.
“Even though we are a smaller airport this truck makes this facility safer,” he said. “And that has always been a very important goal of mine.”