2012-10-05 / In the Know

Insurance and age factors in truck request

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

Last week I explained the first two of the top 10 reasons why the fire department has requested the replacement of Ladder 2 in this fiscal year, firefighter safety and the truck committee’s recommendation.

This week I will cover the town’s ISO rating, firefighting strategy and tactics and the age and condition of the current ladder truck.

Last winter the Scarborough Fire Department was re-evaluated by the Insurance Services Office.

The Insurance Services Office conducts very detailed evaluations of all fire departments across the nation approximately every 10 years.

The evaluations are used to establish a public fire protection classification rating for each community, which is used by the various insurance companies to set rates. We were very pleased that our ISO rating increased five full grades from a split class 3/9 to a 3/4 rating, which makes us one of the top seven rated departments in Maine.

There are several factors that go into determining a community’s ISO classification. The three main categories include communications/dispatch, fire department and water supply.

Within the fire department category they evaluate a variety of factors including staffing levels, firefighter training, apparatus equipment and appliances, response time to structure fires and the number and distribution of fire apparatus.

Scarborough is 54 square miles in size which negatively affects our response time due to travel distances. In order to achieve maximum ISO credit for aerial coverage, ladder companies can’t be located any farther than five miles away from each other and protect an area no larger than 15 square miles.

Scarborough clearly doesn’t meet that standard with our current two aerial trucks, and eliminating one would negatively impact our excellent ISO rating. Because most insurance companies use the standardized ISO ratings to set their rates, a reduction in our rating would likely cost home and business owners more in fire insurance premiums every year.

One of the questions we often hear is, “Why do we need a ladder truck since we don’t have that many multi story commercial buildings?”

From a tactics and strategy perspective it is important to remember that it isn’t all about the aerial device. Naturally an apparatus mounted aerial is more stable and safer to work from and is essential for elevated master stream operations. But ladder trucks also serve as giant tool boxes carrying the necessary equipment to perform the various company operations required at a fire scene.

Those include search and rescue, ventilation, forcible entry, salvage, overhaul, high-angle-technical rescue, exposure protection and rapid intervention team activities.

These functions require specialized tools and equipment that are carried on the ladder truck. The age and condition of the current Ladder 2 was one of the other reasons we are recommending replacement.

Ladder 2 will be serving its 25th year when replaced. If it were a passenger car it could legally be registered as an antique at that age.

We are blessed to have a very capable and qualified maintenance department at Public Works in Scarborough that maintains all municipal and school vehicles. Because of their excellent care over the years, Ladder 2 continues to pass its annual third-party aerial certification tests each year.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, the experts at Public Works have been carefully monitoring some serious frame corrosion.

Because the public demands black roads shortly after a snowstorm ends, many communities and the Maine Department of Transportation, have started using liquid calcium products to treat the roads in the winter to prevent ice and speed the melting process.

The chemicals work very well, but one of the unintended consequences is these chemicals are very corrosive. I’m confident many of you have experienced an increased frequency of needing to replace brake and fuel lines on your personal vehicles due to the same type of corrosion that we are seeing on plow trucks, police cruisers and fire apparatus.

Even though we employ a special bottom washing system at Public Works that blasts the undercarriage of our trucks with high-pressure water to clean them in the winter, Ladder 2’s frame is showing signs of significant corrosion and delamination.

Public Works has researched the cost of properly repairing this corrosion, but when they considered the age of the truck and its trade or sale value, they determined it wasn’t cost effective to make that kind of investment in a 25- year-old truck with a limited remaining life span.

Next week we will finish this series of articles with the remaining top 10 reasons we have recommended replacement. If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue you can contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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