By Ralph Echtinaw
St. Louis Fire Board members got a welcome treat at the end of last week’s meeting, a tour of the fire hall and explanation of the department’s many pieces of equipment by Fire Chief Bill Coty.
The volunteer department covers not only St. Louis, but also Bethany and Jasper townships with 25 firefighters, including 17 who are qualified as medical first responders.
So far this year they have responded to 30 general calls, 30 mutual aid calls (working with other departments) and 166 medical calls.
Coty and company made an informal study of response times from July 25 to Aug. 6 (covering a dozen runs), and found that trucks are rolling out the door in less than three minutes. “It’s impressive,” Coty said. “Our people stepped up to the plate big time. They’re enjoying what they’re doing, and they’re doing a good job of it.”
They’re getting an average turnout of 13 firefighters for fire and mutual aid runs and five responders for medical calls.
The department is eager to receive a new medical truck that has already been authorized and ordered, but a semiconductor shortages has delayed delivery.
“This (medical) truck will be operated by our on-duty shift officer and respond directly to scenes eliminating the delay of responding to the fire station to pick up the rescue truck,” Coty said. “This truck will be fully equipped and licensed as a medical first responder unit and will also include extrication tools. Our response times will be far shorter by responding direct and not detouring to the fire station. This truck will also be equipped with all the fire investigation tools such as thermal imaging cameras, CO and flammable gas monitors. This will be a great addition to the department with large contributions for this equipment coming from the USDA.”
Another USDA grant along with one from the Gerstacker Foundation, was used to cover 98 percent of the cost of nine new air packs ($58,077).
Two grants from the Gratiot Community Foundation ($8,524) and Wolverine Pipeline ($2,000) will cover roughly a third of the cost of upgrading the department’s fire hose, some of which is 30 years old. “These grants combined with the previous grant from the Midland Community Foundation along with our budgeted funds allowed us to complete this extensive upgrade,” Coty said. The new hose is expected to last 30 years. All told, the hose replacement project will cost $34,000 with $22,500 of that coming from grants.
Coty told Fire Board members Kevin Beeson (Pine River Township supervisor), Carmen Bajena (Jasper Township supervisor), Greg Mikek (Bethany Township supervisor) and Bobbie Marr (St. Louis finance director) that the department installed 18 smoke detectors and three carbon dioxide detectors in seven homes since the last meeting.
This is part of the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign where “they provide us with free smoke detectors to install as needed throughout the community,” Coty said. “Generally this happens as we are making medical runs to homes and noticing immobility concerns and lack of detectors. We then have products to install. Residents in need of smoke detectors can contact the fire station, and we will do our best to get someone out to install them. (However), we cannot give out smoke detectors. We must come install them per our agreement with the Red Cross. CO detectors were provided to us through Home Depot. The grant is directed towards the elderly and veterans. So we do also have a limited quantity of CO detectors.”
Fire board members approved a request by Coty to trade a six-year-old enclosed trailer used to haul the department’s utility task vehicle (UTV) for an open trailer with the Legend company of Alma.
“The trailer is here to haul the UTV, which is a Yamaha Viking,” Coty said. “In 2016 Lakeside Motorsports had a program to give fire departments UTVs to use. They replaced them annually at no cost. At that time we purchased an enclosed trailer for transport. After a couple years of swapping UTVs we ended up with a larger-framed unit. Our trailer is six feet wide. The UTV is five feet wide, not leaving much room to get a driver in and out of the UTV once it’s in the trailer. Since then, the program has gone away, and we ended up purchasing the demo they provided. Therefore, an open trailer will suit our needs much better. There is no cost to trade from the six-year-old enclosed trailer to a brand-new open trailer. This will happen in the very near future, next few weeks.”
The new trailer will be 7×14 foot aluminum, single axle vehicle from Legend.
Fire board members and this reporter were interested to get the cook’s tour from Coty, who explained anything and everything.
For example, each fire truck is plugged into outside electric power to keep batteries charged, and some have umbilicals to charge air brakes. The lines detach automatically when the truck is started, saving valuable time when a call comes in.
In a quiet revolution, the department is moving away from gas-powered equipment in favor of battery power, as the latter is more convenient and easier to maintain.
“We’re in the process of going more electric anyway that we can,” Coty said, pulling a Dewalt K12 metal saw out of a fire engine. “Gasoline engines are just a problem. We’re continuously working on them. Trying to keep them running. Battery is definitely the way to go. Put the battery in, squeeze the trigger and you’re instantly running.”
The hydraulic spreaders more commonly known as Jaws of Life have also been replaced by battery-powered tools.
“Before, what we were doing is stretching hoses, and they had to go to a hydraulic motor that was run by a gas engine,” Coty said. “Hook them all up. Pull pull pull. All that stuff. Now we just hit the power button and we’re ready to start cutting cars. We’re popping doors 300 times faster than we were before.”
As almost a bonus, battery-powered tools make arson investigations simpler because there’s no stray gas lying around for arson dogs to detect. “One drop of gas and that dog will pick it up like you’ve never seen,” Coty said.
Foaming at the hose
Another quiet revelation in firefighting is in the use of foam as an additive to water.
“It’s a high concentration of soap,” Coty said. “Some of the same companies that sell the fire foam like this are selling it as a wallpaper remover.”
The department pays $76 for a five-gallon bucket of foam. Last year it used 22 five-gallon buckets.
The foam is poured into tanks on fire engines and mixed automatically with water. It works great on car fires, structure fires, tire fires; just about any fire, actually, and saves water, too.
“Fifteen years ago it was very common to use 10,000 gallons or more on a very standard house fire, whereas today it’s not uncommon to extinguish fires with 300-400 gallons,” Coty said. “This is due to many changes within the fire service: Thermal imaging cameras to help locate the fire, foam to blanket and smother. Improved ventilation techniques and training. There are many pieces to that puzzle, which should also include smoke alarms for early notification. Yes, in many cases we are using much less water which causes much less damage, but the foam is only one of those puzzle pieces.”
The department will have a “dry hydrant” installed soon near the intersection on Laporte and Geneva in a private pond. “This is basically a plumbing system with fire truck adapters to draft water from pond to fill tankers in a rural location to limit the amount time it takes to run back to a hydrant to fill,” Coty said. “This will cut the turn-around time down considerably with tanker operations into Jasper and northern Bethany Township.”
Firefighters Chad Williams and Brad Hines have resigned but are partly offset by new hire John Henry, a firefighter/paramedic with more than 15 years of experience.