RANTOUL — Rantoul Fire Capt. Chad Smith said the fire department has been looking at the need for a larger ladder truck to replace its 75-foot one since 1993 — the year Chanute Air Force Base closed.
That day has finally come. The village board last week voted to buy a 100-foot Pierce Ascendent platform ladder truck for $1.287 million from MacQueen Equipment, St. Paul, Minn.
The board, meeting in special session, approved the purchase by 4-1 vote with Trustee Sherry Johnson voting "no" and Trustee Gary Wilson voting "present" because he is a member of the fire department. Trustee Terry Workman was absent. Because of the margin of the vote, Mayor Chuck Smith also voted with the majority.
Chuck Smith said it was necessary to hold a special meeting to approve the purchase because at least four other departments were interested in buying the used truck.
Fire Chief Ken Waters said because the truck is a demonstration model (it has about 28,000 miles on it with less than 1,000 hours on the engine), the village bought it for about $300,000 less than an unused truck would have cost.
The truck went back to the manufacturer in Appleton, Wis., for upgrades and for a complete inspection, according to MacQueen sales representative Larry Graves.
"And now that it has been purchased, the other options that Rantoul (needs) to meet their operational needs will also be installed," Graves said. "Once it is complete and all the retesting is done, it will be ready for delivery to Rantoul."
Waters said the company will install new tires on the truck. He anticipates it will be delivered in May.
The truck has been to Rantoul before, and firefighters got to check it out. The village was one of the stops the company made to exhibit the new model — hence the number of miles on it.
Graves said the company will provide three eight-hour training sessions on the new truck.
Waters said the ladder truck is a necessity.
"With the higher buildings ... like Credit Union 1, Holiday Inn Express," a larger ladder truck is needed, he said. "The walls at (Vista Outdoor, west of I-57), they’re 40 feet high. It’s a much-needed piece of equipment."
He said the department has done rescues with the current ladder truck, including bringing an injured roofer down from the top of the United Methodist Church and a worker at one of the factories in the industrial park, but they would have been safer with a larger platform ladder truck.
The department also brought a man down who had climbed one of the village water towers. Chad Smith said the new truck would have allowed the man to be brought down on the platform instead of having to secure him and have him climb down. An Urbana rescue team was called in to assist in that case.
Chad Smith said the larger ladder truck will be safer and enhances firefighters’ firefighting ability.
He gave several examples of large fires where it was necessary to use a ladder truck, including the Martin building on North Ohio Avenue.
Like fighting a fire in a tin can
"It was a metal-construction steel shed. Very dangerous for firemen to be inside," Smith said. "Very unpredictable what’s going to happen. It’s like fighting fire in a tin can."
Two ladder trucks (Paxton responded with its 105-foot unit) fought the January fire at the Marion Valentine building in the 100 block of South Tanner Street. A day before that, Rantoul’s ladder truck was used to fight a fire that did $100,000 damage to the Burger King restaurant.
Smith said a ladder truck is preferable for safety purposes and ease of access to the top of buildings.
"Smoke and heat rise," Smith said. "As you have a fire, that smoke is going to work to the uppermost part of the structure. Then it will work its way down."
He said fires burn quicker and hotter these days due to more petroleum-based household products.
He said firefighters often have to go into buildings with no visibility.
"You’re simply relying on your sense of hearing, your sense of touch," Smith said. "Getting on the roof makes our job safer (it makes ventilating buildings easier) and makes it more efficient to find any victims."
Current truck bought in 1985
The current 1985 ladder truck cost the district $280,000. Only one firefighter can stand atop that unit. Climbing the ladder, with at least 70 pounds of equipment, is tiring and time-consuming. The new platform ladder will allow up to four firefighters on top and provides easier access by lifting firefighters where they need to go.
The new truck will provide twice the water flow (2,000 gallons a minute with two monitors compared to 1,000 gallons with one monitor). Firefighters will also be better protected from the blast of a fire due to heat shields.
The new truck will also allow the platform to go left or right, whereas the current unit only goes up or down. Smith said the new truck would also be available to help in grain bin accidents.
"Every single family home in Rantoul that is over one story tall, this piece of (equipment) comes into play," Smith said. "It’s not just big downtown buildings."
He said there are many multi-family facilities such as Pheasant Ridge apartments, Hope Meadows, Falcon Way apartments, South Pointe Commons.
"Some of these structures are over 30-feet tall," Smith said. "We need to get to the top of those onto the roof areas as quickly as possible."
A larger ladder truck would also help in fighting a fire at the Walmart building, even though it is only one story.
He also cited the airport hangars, the AT&T building, Rantoul Foods, Conair, Eagle Wings, Lincoln’s Challenge Academy campus and assisted-living facilities as sites where the truck could be used. If an older person has to be evacuated, a platform ladder would be preferable over having them climb down a ladder.
Smith said Rantoul has an ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating of 3.0, which he called "very good for a paid on-call department." He said ratings are docked if departments don’t have adequate equipment.
Coverage area doubled
Smith said when Chanute closed, the department’s coverage area in town doubled. The department opted to wait to make its request for a larger ladder truck until the village was more fiscally sound.
Waters said the department is examining whether to keep the 75-foot ladder truck. If it is retained, it would likely be stored at the department’s Station 3 at the fire-training site on South Perimeter Road.
He said the village might also build a sub station near the new sports complex in west Rantoul that would be combined with a police and village maintenance facility.
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said the village will use money in the electric fund to pay for the truck. The money will be paid back at $100,000 a year over 15 years at 2 percent interest. Seventy percent of the payback to the electric fund would come as a result of a new gaming machine tax ($1,000 a year per machine) passed by the village board this month. The remainder of the payback would come "from the proposed capital plan," Eisenhauer said.