Why a ladder truck? KVFD replaces rumors with facts
KENT — Matt Starr, the new chief of the Kent Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD), made a presentation at the annual town meeting on Jan. 19 explaining why the company needs a new ladder truck.First Selectman Bruce Adams introduced Starr by saying, “I have asked Matt and the other KVFD members who are present to set the record straight once and for all on an issue that has been going on in this town for years. “There is so much rumor and misinformation, and so many things that have changed over the years, I felt this would be a good time to try and set the record straight on what is called by the department an aerial apparatus, or in common terminology, a ladder truck.”Starr said the KVFD has talked about the need for a ladder truck for a long time. He also noted that all the older trucks had to be special ordered so they would fit in the old firehouse (which has since been replaced by a new facility). Explaining why Kent needs a ladder truck, Starr said the number one reason fire departments have such apparatus is to rescue victims and firefighters from burning buildings when things go wrong. The chief said that while Kent does not have a lot of structure fires, when they do happen, proper equipment is needed. And while there are not a lot of rescues, more and more firefighters are needing to be rescued from fires because of the type of construction of buildings and/or the contents that are burning.Currently, KVFD has arrangements with other area volunteer fire departments to respond to fires in Kent when called for mutual aid. The downside of this cooperation is that it can take 25 to 35 minutes for fire crews with aerial apparatus from neighboring towns to reach Kent. Starr said, “Safety is the biggest reason, in my opinion, that we need a ladder truck. It enables the firefighters to safely do their job.” Starr said one of the challenges facing the volunteers is homes being built with metal roofing. “The snow slides off but so do the firemen.”In addition to his own weight, a fireman usually carries breathing apparatus plus 100 pounds of gear, making the whole package very heavy.Another challenge for today’s firefighters is getting them out of buildings quickly when the need arises. Starr said with an aerial apparatus, one firefighter by himself can quickly move the ladder where and when it is needed, whereas a ground ladder has to be moved and repositioned by multiple firefighters.Newer building are more and more airtight, with more energy-efficient insulation. Unfortunately, many of these new materials are highly toxic for firefighters. “We have to vent that smoke, heat and gas out of the building quickly.” Starr said the best way to do that is to vent the roof so the volunteers can clear out all the toxic materials and search for survivors.Without a lot of industry or large businesses in Kent, volunteer manpower has always been a challenge for the KVFD. As a result, KVFD has older firefighters, such as the 47-year-old chief, rather than 18 to 30 year olds. Starr said that, “Luckily for Kent, with unemployment so high, we currently have a number of full-time volunteer firefighters.”KVFD currently has a 24-foot and 35-foot ground ladder — ladders that rest on the ground, independent of the fire trucks. The company’s current trucks do not have the length to accommodate larger ground ladders. Starr said that many of the roofs and peaks at the Kent School are higher than the ground ladders the company is using now.Connecting ladders, or “hooking” them in fire department parlance, to go higher is not considered safe by the National Fire Protection Agency, nor is being on a roof without a ladder. Starr said having an aerial apparatus would help KVFD eliminate many of these safety issues.It was also explained that the length of a ground ladder does not provide full access to the same height as a ladder truck. Ground ladders must be positioned away from the building to provide proper support. This results in the top of the ladder being lower against the building than its full height.Starr showed photos of various types of aerial apparatus. Most are regular fire trucks with the addition of a mounted ladder. Some ladders are mounted at the front of trucks, others in the middle or rear.The KVFD is not locked into any particular configuration. They are also open to purchasing a used or new truck, depending on availability and price. Some used ladder trucks are available for under $100,000. New ones can cost up to a million dollars or more.If the five-year capital plan is approved, $125,000 will be available annually for each year of the plan. The Board of Selectmen will vote on the draft plan in the near future.