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August Theme: Municipal Vehicles

By Marek Krasuski

The evolution of municipal vehicles in remote communities underscore the real-life challenges and opportunities.
Municipalities represent a huge market for truck builders and up-fitters that modify vehicles for specialty applications – think sewage trucks, trucks with man-lifts, street sweepers, chippers, emergency vehicles, etc. Many of those builders have come to rely on the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA) which assists members with pre-clearance application review services and NSMs – National Safety Marks, essential requirements for any business tendering a contract for municipal work. NSMs are split, initially, into two categories; truck and trailer. Trucks are further segmented into three additional categories, namely “final stage,” “intermediate stage” and “altered stage.” Beyond this, there are further categorizations for body and equipment installation, wheelbase modification and gross axle weight/gross vehicle weight modification.
Municipalities generally know what they are looking for in the design and functionality of their equipment, so equipment suppliers offering their products know what’s in store. Municipalities tender for the equipment with a set of detailed specifications that must be complied with in order to be awarded the equipment and install. This type of work is customized to each municipality’s needs and wants. The result is a lot of one-off builds in the customization process. Builders, therefore, do well to monitor the exact number of labour hours and equipment invested in the building and up-fitting process.
To be sure, the list of customization options is extensive. Consider, for example, the amount of refinements required for emergency equipment such as fully functioning fire trucks, known as Pumpers.
Mike Benson is Fire Chief for the Gogama Fire Department in a small unorganized community in Northern Ontario. The department faces challenges not normally found in organized municipalities. Funding, for example, is not guaranteed as with organized municipalities with budgets dedicated to emergency services. Instead, this local fire department earns its operating income from the number of calls it responds to on the neighbouring highway that runs from Sudbury to Timmins. For each hour spent on an out-of-town emergency call – typically a vehicular accident – the Department receives $410.00. If the call is shorter – say 20 minutes for a vehicle rollover – it gets paid only for the length of the call. Occasionally they will respond to calls that last much longer. Last year, for example, the Fire Department was dispatched to an event where a propane truck had overturned. It took 23.5 hours from arrival to departure which represented a significant financial infusion to a struggling organization.
To date, the Department has responded to over 50 highway calls this year, enough, says Benson, to keep the department operationally viable. The major fire fighting vehicle is the Pumper Fire Truck. Like fire trucks elsewhere a control panel is mounted behind the driver door with various affixed dials and gauges which collectively function as water control. The pump pressurizes the equipment to ensure consistent water pressure at the end of the hose. There is about 350 gallons of reserve water in the back of the truck, sufficient to last while a continuous supply is secured from a water hydrant, lake or creek, depending on location of the fire. Water is discharged at 65 psi, enough to blow an average person off their feet. Typically two firefighters work the nozzle – the first to direct the nozzle onto the targeted area, the second to secure the footing of the first. When needed, pressure can be raised to 100 psi. About 5,000 feet of hose is on hand, and standard fire hoses are 2.5 inches, though 5 inch hoses will be used in what Benson describes as a “major event.”
Smaller communities can be unique in many ways. In the case of this Department they need additional equipment to meet the demands of the community and region. For example, Highway 144, the only artery running direct from Sudbury to Timmins, has virtually no shoulders to enable safe pullovers. Consequently the Department has on hand a Mark 3 and Mark 5 ambulance employed to protect a highway accident scene and alert drivers to an approaching accident site. They cannot be legally used as ambulances, but have functioned as triage vehicles to assist paramedics. Adding to the fleet is a utility rescue vehicle and Hydrant Kit which serves as a substitute when the Pumper is out of town. The unit is equipped with compressed air firefighting foam (CAF) and has the equivalent firefighting output of the Pumper. The CAF has 2,000 ft. of standard hosing and another 500 ft. of 1.5 inch hose.
Small emergency response teams in remote communities depend on a dedicated staff who are nothing but resourceful. In larger towns and cities the division of labour and responsibilities is clearly defined. Not so here where a lack of resources requires staff to use their wits to perform a multitude of tasks. For example, the fire department performs much of the maintenance on its own vehicles and will try to pinpoint mechanical problems before calling in a mechanic from Timmins. There is no parts outlet in Gogama so mechanics need to be apprised of the problem before making the 120 kilometer service call. The Fire Department will respond to calls better suited to ambulance services when, for example, an ambulance is unavailable. To this end all firefighters are trained in critical instinct management, first aid, and related tasks.
Firefighters at the Gogama Fire Department work on a strictly voluntary basis save for a symbolic annual stipend. All have jobs, families or businesses to care for. Given the amount of responsibility involved in initial training, as well as preparedness for emergency response at any time of day or night, and ongoing education, these positions call for individuals who are resourceful, selfless and brave. And it is a job most unsuited for the faint of heart. “We see awful stuff on the highway. Bodies have imploded, others have been burnt with only skeletal remains left, and sometimes we have to break limbs to extricate survivors from vehicles,” Benson explained, ruminating on the severity of the job’s hazards.
In addition to initial training which costs about $13,000 and requires successful completion of final exams, each firefighter must undertake 130 hours of on-the-job training each year. Mike Benson speaks with evident pride regarding the extraneous efforts his team will go to in addressing the needs of the community and the team’s prompt response to emergency highway calls. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team of dedicated people,” he continued.
Currently there are 4 officers, 9 certified firefighters and an additional five volunteers in the process of achieving certification. For a community of some 300 full time residents this alone stands as a considerable achievement. Yet according to Mike Benson the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office holds this tiny department as a “shining star” compared to other communities of similar size. Of note is its status as a “self-sustaining” corporation. In all of Ontario, Gogama residents pay just $43.00 per year per household for their fire protection service; this compared to the next lowest where household taxes for the same service stands at $765.00 per year – another benchmark that earns this small department in this small, remote community a nod of admiration from local residents and professional counterparts further afield.

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