Little Dixie Fire District adds custom engine to fleet

Little Dixie Fire District adds custom engine to fleet
Little Dixie Fire Protection District Chief Bill Albus points out some of the electronic features on the district’s new fire truck. LDFPD firefighters average 400 calls per year, ranging from injuries to blazes. [Dave Faries photo]
Dave Faries

Although it looks from the street to be just another brand new fire engine, Little Dixie Fire Protection District’s new truck comes with a number of features. There are sets of quick attack lines, ready to go without fumbling. There are electronic devices that allow crews to set a desired hose pressure. The suspension and water tank work in tandem to prevent dangerous weight shifts while the truck rushes around a turn.

In the cab, special lighting allows firefighters to jump into action without battling that moment when their eyes react to a burst of sunlight – or the cloak of night. The tank itself holds more than the district’s existing engines, some 1,200 gallons, while the pumps are rated at 1,500 gallons a minute.

All of these modern touches are designed to shave critical seconds, or even minutes, off a fire crew’s response time. And as fire chief Bill Albus points out, the faster they can go into action the quicker they can tamp down a fire.
“It’s state of the art,” he added. “We’re very fortunate.”

The engine is a 2020 HME Ahrens-Fox, custom designed and built from scratch in Michigan to LDFPD specifications – an important factor, considering that the district’s main fire station on Agricultural Road in Mexico is too small for most commercially produced trucks. It replaces a dated 1999 model that lacked many of the electronic presets and time-saving features.

It comes at what might seem like a staggering cost – $465,000 – but the LDFPD and its board of directors had been saving for several years. They were able to make the purchase without asking for a grant or additional taxes.
“Our board is conservative and progressive,” Albus observes. “They are good stewards of taxpayer money, but they get us good equipment.”

The final cost may be lower. Although an older model, the outgoing ’99 remains serviceable. The district is currently taking bids on the truck, which it originally bought for $300,000.

The 2020 HME Ahrens-Fox joined LDFPD’s fleet of 15 vehicles two weeks ago. Albus and his team of 40 volunteer firefighters have been training on it since, focusing particularly on the updated electronics.

“We’re more used to a commercial chassis,” the chief said with a laugh.

Albus explains that despite the prevalence of smoke alarms in homes, synthetic fibers used in modern upholstery and carpeting tends to flare up quickly. The few minutes afforded by the custom-made engine gives fire crews more of a chance.

The chief, board members and firefighters formed a committee in 2018 to determine what safety and firefighting features they needed on a new truck. In October of 2019 they were able to place the order, meeting with representatives of the bid winner and touring the factory.
In addition to the engine, the district invested in 40 new medical bags. Fire crews respond to calls for injury and illness, sometimes arriving before the ambulance. Some of the district’s existing medical bags and equipment were 30 years old.

Funds for the medical bags came through a grant from the Miriam Arnold Edmundston Foundation. The district approached the trust at the suggestion of State Farm agent Kirk Ekern, a foundation board member.

Also on the way are three new automatic defibrillators and some wildland gear, all using grant money.

“We want to get four-gas meters,” Albus added, referring to portable readers that detect potentially deadly gases. “They’re not cheap, either.”

As far as engines go, the department is set for awhile.

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