How a new brush truck is expected to help Onekama Twp.’s fire department

ONEKAMA — The Onekama Township Fire Rescue Department now has a new brush truck that is replacing its 15-year-old vehicle with one that is expected to make fighting wildfires a little easier and responding to ice rescue situations a little faster. Rob Johnson, assistant Onekama Township fire chief, said the department utilizes a rotating vehicle schedule that means the department seeks to replace the oldest vehicle in the fleet about every 10 to 15 years. “What we did was we put £50,000 a year away of taxpayers’ money for about five years to fund this,” Johnson said. “This truck is 100% bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Onekama.”

He said the custom truck is fully equipped and it costs about £230,000.

“Without them (taxpayers) we don’t have this, and if we don’t have his, we can’t go help them,” Johnson said. “It’s a give and take.” The 2021 Ford 550 vehicle replaced the department’s 2006 brush truck which was sold to another fire department in the region over the weekend. Johnson said the custom vehicle is outfitted with a list of features that make it easier to fight wildfires.

“What we’re really excited about is the four-door cab versus the two-door so we can only haul two people versus four, and then with the modern electronics allow us to (better respond),” he said. One piece that differs from other larger fire trucks in the fleet is that it is smaller and more agile and it has a smaller circumference hose to enable easier dragging through tricky brush spots. The vehicle also has the ability to spray water from the front hood area while also spraying from spray bars that distribute water as the vehicle is moving.

The truck can hold about 300 gallons of water and the tank can also use 10 gallons of firefighting foam as well. Johnson said the vehicle is considered multi-use and can also carry ice-rescue gear the department needs, but will mainly it be used as a brush fire truck. The truck was built by Allied Fire Sales and Service based out of Ottawa County.

Josh Mausolf, president of Allied Fire Sales and Service, said the vehicle also saw a chassis upgrade and horsepower improvements compared to the truck being replaced. “It is going to allow them to get into some places that they probably can’t (before this),” Mausolf said. “Some of the upgraded suspension components within this truck and the little bit more aggressive setup that this one has will allow them to get into some of those more significant areas that they probably can’t get into (before) when it relates to a brush fire or something like that.” Johnson noted that aside from brush fires, the department responds to remote areas where houses are located.

“We have some quarter-mile driveways that go through the woods.

And (when) everybody is taking care of their yard and doing things and something gets out of control — we gotta get back to that quarter mile back through basically a tunnel of trees and then from there,” he said adding that the department’s side-by-side vehicle can also be hauled in and used once the team is closer to the site. “We’ll use this in that situation where that driveway is so tight that we can’t get (our bigger trucks) down, we’ll actually use this as a lead to laying lines for a structure fire as well.” This means that in case of a house fire, the vehicle wouldn’t be the primary response in attacking the fire, but it would allow the department better access to get back and getting water to an area. Johnson said the vehicle will also be able to haul the department’s Ranger utility task vehicle that can get into tougher spots during a wildfire.

“We have a lot of woodland areas and we have quite a few brush fires,” he said. “Other townships have the same problem, so we quite frequently work with Bear Lake, Arcadia, Manistee Township on brush fires. This will allow us to transport more firefighters and haul more equipment to that location and then we can get back into the woods further with our Ranger.” The new truck also has more compartment space for ice rescue gear and the vehicle’s layout means firefighters can respond to an ice rescue situation faster than it could with the 2006 truck.

“(Before) we come into the department and suit up for ice rescue and then go to wherever we have to go. This will allow us more room in the back so they don’t have to get all the way suited. They can just get the legs in, jump in and finish up in there,” Johnson said.

Mausolf said the build and customization took about a year to complete. There are about a dozen volunteer firefighters in the department. The vehicle’s final inspection took place at the department on Friday and members of the fire department were also expected to have training on operation of the truck.

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