Fire officials and volunteers hope a federal grant will do the heavy lifting of a fund-raising campaign to buy a new air and light fire truck.
On Nov. 24, the City Council authorized the fire department to apply for a $450,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program for the truck, which volunteers use to fill air bottles, supply additional lighting and provide other on-scene assistance to exhausted firefighters.
The grant would require the city to put up a 10 percent match.
The city should find out by the middle of next year whether it gets the funding for the truck, which would replace the 22-year-old vehicle, known as Utility 1. It has been showing its age.
The members of the Mansfield Citizens Fire Academy Alumni Association have relied on the old air-and-light truck to ferry water, ice, food, an awning for shade and – perhaps most importantly – the capability to refill depleted air cylinders on site.
They said they dodged a bullet during a recent, late-night house fire, which firefighters snuffed out quickly and well before they would have needed the truck. It was discovered later that the regulator on the truck’s compressor was on the blink, rendering the truck useless for its main purpose.
Without it, empty air cylinders have to be rounded up and hauled back to a fire station for refilling, said Jud Ladd, the association’s director of training
“We want a truck that when firefighters are on the scene, they can count on us to do what we’re supposed to do,” Ladd said.
The fire department purchased the truck, which was built on a 1992 Chevrolet chassis, from the Arlington Fire Department several years ago after Arlington bought a new utility truck. Assistant Fire Chief Eric Peterson said that as soon as Utility 1 is replaced, it would go on the auction block.
A new truck would have much more storage so volunteers could pack more refreshments, more spare air packs, larger ice coolers, portable heating and cooling systems, chairs and cots. It also would have a pull-out awning, a better lighting tower and a state-of-the-art compressor system that also would take up much less space on the truck.
“It would be a place to get firefighters in the shade,” Peterson said. “Currently, what we have is a pop-up tent.”
Ladd is one of four alumni who have taken the required training to drive an air and light truck on what they call operation support and rehabilitation. Several other alumni take their own vehicles to the fire scene to help with the rehab.
All fire trucks carry six to eight back-up air cylinders, enough for most fires. Utility 1 and the volunteers are most valuable at major fires that go on for hours, when firefighters come out for air refills and a cool drink or snack, Peterson said. Some come away from a blaze suffering from heat exhaustion and need to be monitored while they recover, he said.
The alumni association had already begun the process fund-raising and – with the exception of a $10,000 donation from the new Baylor Emergency Medical Center – found little financial charity. The account has a $500 donation from a church and a $100 gift certificate from a major retail store, said alumnus Debbie Rosenstein, who helps in rehab.
The alumni knew the truck would cost several hundred thousand dollars when they started fund-raising, she said.
“If we can apply for a grant, and it can help us with our ultimate goal of purchasing a new utility truck, that’s wonderful,” Rosenstein said. But, she added, they’re prepared to continue fund-raising with or without the grant.