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New firetrucks customized for Duluth's terrain

The Duluth Fire Department showed off one of the newly delivered customized fire engine on Feb. 13 at the Downtown station. The rigs will be added to the the Downtown and Lincoln Park stations to replace two 20-year-old recently retired trucks. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 5
Fire equipment operator Carmine Langlois demonstrates pulling a ladder from the back of the new custom built fire engine the Duluth Fire Department received this week. The ladder is easily accessible from the ground level. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 5
Duluth fire chief Dennis Edwards and fire engine operator Carmine Langlois look at one of two new Duluth Fire Department engines introduced last week. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 5
The two new Duluth Fire Department trucks haven't quite been outfitted with gear yet, but according to Fire chief Edwards, each compartment was designed to hold specific pieces of equipment. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 5
Fire chief Dennis Edwards said this new cab compartment was designed to aid cancer prevention. Firefighters will stow their outer clothing here after fires in order to reduce their exposure to cancer causing carcinogens. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)5 / 5

A lot of thought and a lot of time goes into the design of a new Duluth fire truck.

"It's built for here. There are a lot of things on this rig that are specific to the area," said fire engine operator Carmine Langlois, who worked with a small team of firefighters to design two new trucks for the city. "It was about two years from the start of the design to today. Generally it's about a year, but these ones took a little more time to design, plan and get the money for."

The Duluth Fire Department showed off one of the newly delivered customized fire engine on Feb. 13 at the Downtown station. The rigs will be added to the Downtown and Lincoln Park stations to replace two 20-year-old, recently retired trucks.

One of the new features Fire Chief Dennis Edwards highlighted were the new compartments added to help reduce firefighters exposure to smoke and chemicals left on clothing and gear. To promote cancer prevention, after dousing a fire, jackets, gloves and other gear will now be placed in separate sealed compartments to keep the carcinogens at bay.

"Firefighters are getting cancer at two to three times the rate of the general public. We're exposed to chemicals at fires, we all understand that, we all signed up for that," Edward said. "But the problem is getting that exposure over and over and over. We needed to do something to minimize that exposure."

If they're called to another fire, the compartments are easily accessible in case the firefighters need to get their gear back out. In extremely cold temperatures, the fighters will be able to keep their gear until they get back to the station, at which point the cab will be decontaminated. Langlois and Edwards also planned for these circumstances by replacing cab materials to make them easier to decontaminate.

"It now has more smooth surfaces, less carpeting and switching the seating material from a cloth to like a leather type seating to make them easier to decon," Langlois said.

Cancer prevention wasn't the only new safety feature added to the trucks. The trucks now feature back-up cameras, advanced communication technology and easier ground access. Firefighters should ideally be able to access equipment placed around the rig from the ground, preventing knee injuries and time.

"Even our ladders are at shoulder height so you can easily slide it out and go," Langlois said.

The trucks were built by Custom Fire Apparatus in Osceola, Wis. and cost $550,000 each.

"People might be shocked at price, but it should last for 25 years or longer, which makes it more cost-effective in the long run," Edwards said.

Why have a truck custom built?

"If Duluth was a small, flat city surrounded by other cities with full fire departments, we could probably buy standard, off-the-line engines and be just fine," Edwards said. "But we're a very unique city. We're long, we have hills and the winter to take into account."

Speaking of winter, the new trucks have some design features to help with the season. The design includes covers for side pump panels to protect technology from salt, dirt and debris. It has a galvanized single frame to prevent rust from salt, as opposed to a double frame that other rigs had which caused "rust to built from the inside out," Langlois said. The windows are designed to prevent the glass from fogging. And the trucks have an on-spot chain system.

"So when we go from downtown where it's raining, to the top of the hill where there's a layer of ice, we can just flip a switch and have chains unfold and spin underneath the tires to give us traction and keep us from slipping up or down the hill," Langlois said.

The most visible feature is the addition of black accents, especially around the cab. The black accents on the cab have a purpose as well, to reduce glare and head absorption.

Firefighters need to be trained on the rigs before going into service. The trucks are also in the process of being outfitted with gear.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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