The Springettsbury Traffic Unit
Nothing in this story is intended to denigrate or otherwise embarrass the municipality, Fire Department (now restructured again), or any persons. It is offered as a factual account of the efforts of the writer and several supportive Police, FD and EMS members. This account is to show that the FIGHT FOR FIRE POLICE goes on regardless of the type, location, or affluence of the Fire Department.
Two separate volunteer Fire Companies in the same wealthy Township were led into a merger after numerous years of paid fire and EMS providers. The restructuring resulted in one Fire Department of three groups - the paid (and a few volunteer) firefighters, the paid (and a few volunteer) EMTs, and the volunteer Fire Police. Operationally, a Chief supervised three Captains and had full line authority over paid and volunteer alike. When this writer joined the Fire Police ranks, there were three active Fire Police officers, one of whom didn't respond after dark. Three additional Fire Police officers were available for non-emergency situations and paid details.
Two pick-up trucks were available for the Fire Police; however, these were rarely, if ever, used. One was equipped with 24, 36" cones and a manual arrow board that required the user to climb up on the truck bed to release the catch screws. The second pickup had no special equipment. Neither had Fire Police radios or other Fire Police equipment, and the emergency lighting on both was clearly an afterthought, not conforming to the national standards of either NFPA or SAE. Responses were typically done with personal vehicles. The Captain drove a tiny little car that could carry about 10, 18" cones, the Lieutenant has a pickup with cones, and the third guy drives a pickup without equipment or emergency lights. One member lives within two blocks of the Fire Station housing the pickup with the Arrow Board, but preferred to use his own pickup. The area served include two, 4-lane high volume roads, Interstate 83 and US 30. The area is typically suburban, with 36 traffic signals and several main roads crossing the area.
Advance Warning Signs, a set of reflective stop/slow paddles, and detour arrows were purchased. The question immediately arose as to how to carry the equipment. Due to large tool chests in both pickup truck beds, the signs didn't fit into just one. The second pickup was pressed into service with half the signs and cones were added. The signs were split freeway versus local road needs.
This didn't work.
The pickups are used to plow snow. They are used to haul hose from scenes. Material is loaded at suppliers and brought back to the station. The truck bed full of signs and cones would have to be unloaded, the material gathered, and the equipment restored. One pickup was used for firefighters to go to training - the truck bed provided no security for the expensive signs, nor was there shelter from the weather. Both pickups had their emergency lighting upgraded and fire police radios were added. It just was simply not the best solution.
The Captain brought up at the October meeting that it may be time to obtain a dedicated vehicle for Fire Police. The Police Department was not planning on replacing their SUV, so meetings and exploration began to determine the best vehicle for our needs. We had a regular van brought over from a car dealership and stacked some of our equipment inside, examining the ability to access it, and the need for shelving. We decided this was too small, then discovered a step-van was difficult to obtain, and was too large. We stumbled on a covered utility body in use by an electrician, and knew we had the right style. One local car dealer had a covered utility body in stock, so we went from stem to stern checking it for our needs. Perfect. (See photo to right)
We came back to the December meeting with several quotes and options accompanied by high hopes. There we learned that the Relief Association had an irregular meeting and denied funding. Things really got ugly then, with one Relief person resigning when pressure was brought to bear. Considering that virtually all of the volunteers are Fire Police Officers, how in the world could this denial be justified? We had nearly $300K in the Relief Account, so it wasn't like we're broke. We then turned toward the truck fund - $800K, and were flat out denied. The message was that Fire Police are simply not important.
After several months, I wrote a "justification study" to obtain the truck - it was distributed to the municipality, the police and the fire department. The fight came back around, and the Relief Association relented once we proved that we did our homework. Unfortunately, we got stuck with a stripped leftover that does not have the heavy duty alternator or battery. Guess they'd rather pay extra down the road.
The truck was displayed raw at a Township function the end of the following September - yep, one week short of a year after it was first approved. The truck then went in for stripes. The rear was painted red, and high-visibility white chevrons were laid. We had originally thought just doing the doors would be enough, but it must have been a (insert term here) moment for me, because when the doors are opened, we'd have lost everything... So, we did the entire rear. Our paid people were merging with a neighboring FD who used blue stripes with blue borders. We used red with blue borders. I guessed - incorrectly - that the new FD would go blue with red borders, and that's what we put on the sides of the truck, with the blue being the high-intensity. We also ran an outline of white on the white sides, to give a better visual as to the truck's size and position.
During one of the meetings with the police, they indicated they wanted their patch on the truck. I jokingly asked if they wanted the lights red and blue, and they said yes. Typically - and especially with LED which cannot have its colors changed - I would have stayed all red. However, we found a way of adding a little bit of blue front, rear and sides so that we do not look like a police vehicle. Blue appears much brighter than red at night, so for our safety, we did the combination. The lighting is all Federal Signal, and all LED. A Smart Siren™ performs controls for the emergency lights, the siren, and the SignalMaster Traffic Control Emergency Directional Light Assembly - all in one compact package. Given the suburban setting with large, dangerous intersections, we also added the Federal Signal Rumbler siren enhancer. We installed the lights & siren systems ourselves. Federal has flashers that conform to NFPA and also to the KKK ambulance specifications. We chose patterns that actually comply with both standards, so that if ever we have to defend ourselves, we're covered from that aspect. I said we chose patterns - plural - we did. We have a response pattern which provides a lot of excitement, and an "on-scene" pattern which provides the maximum visual clues as to the location of our vehicle. There is a significant science behind emergency lighting.
Given that a pick-up truck already had an Arrow Board, we opted for a Message Board. This is 40" x 70" (the larger size) and can store an inventory of up to 99 messages. We did lots of brainstorming, and have come up with over 50 messages so far that have been programmed into the system. The system can also do limited graphics - think of a drawing 24 dots high by 40 dots wide and you get the idea as to the limitations. At a recent Township event, we had the sign state "PARKING LOT FULL / DROP-OFF ONLY". Compared to previous years, only a tiny fraction of people stopped for information at the Traffic Control Point. At a recently back-logged crash, the message sign was set for "CRASH AHEAD / STOPPED TRAFFIC AHEAD". We only had one near miss in the backlog, which was obscured by a curve. The Message Board's been a great success!
Two periscope floodlights were added with power provided from an inverter (the inverter did not do well and was later replaced by an on-board gas generator). The "periscope floods" can raise about 3 1/2 feet from the rooftop, and can swivel to any direction. Two separate tri-pod lights, 12' tall, were also purchased, with choice of power from the truck through extension cords, or from individual small generators. Even though we're primarily suburban, some areas of the Township can get awfully dark, especially if the power's out...
The usual minor stuff was added, and the vehicle went into service - a year and a half after being first approved. Four months of that was a denial of permission to use the completed truck because no one wanted to give the "go-ahead". Incredible.
You're not alone in your fight. It takes perseverance, thick skin, and a willingness to prove that you have done your homework. If you don't have EVOC, HazMat, ICS, NIMS, and training related to the MUTCD - go get it. Get it now. Without having these courses, we do not stand a chance of getting equipment for which we are actually not properly trained to use! We have three people now fully authorized on the truck. We've done after-meeting training on various equipment on the truck, so it can be properly used on the street. Without the training, the truck would have been a waste of dollars.
Finally, the cost of this vehicle was $32K. Add $10K for the striping, lights & siren, another $12K for the floodlights, generators, & inverter, $11K for the large message board, and $5K for incidentals - total $70,000. Compare that to the cost of an ambulance or a fire truck!
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