Howard Fire Company (HFC) is a 100% volunteer fire company located just outside State College, Centre County, PA. We operate 2 engines (1979 and 2000), rescue (1990), tanker (1980), QRS unit, and marine unit (avg. apparatus age: 24 yrs) out of a single station. HFC’s first due response area is an expansive 115 sq miles (pop 3,982) across Marion Twp, Curtin Twp, Howard Twp, Howard Borough, and parts of Liberty Twp. Additionally, HFC has mutual aid agreements with 9 surrounding townships that increase our total response area to 445 sq mi and a total population protected of 24,420.
HFC provides structural and wildland fire suppression, QRS, operations level HAZMAT, technical level rescue, and fire prevention services to a largely agricultural/forested (85%) and residential (15%) population.
Notably, only 1% of this expansive rural response district is protected by hydrants and tanker operations are absolutely critical for effective fire protection. In 2010, HFC responded to 251 emergencies, a 32% increase since 2008. Also notable, the number of fire (non-EMS) responses has increased more than 75% in the same time period. Each of these responses has the potential to require an established water supply using tanker operations.
HFC is responsible for protecting numerous hazards within the district, including a relatively dense residential and small commercial borough center/main street, 2 occupied structures more than 3 stories tall, an elementary school with >100 students, and a large shopping center in excess of 50’ x 100’. HFC also protects an 8-mile length of the Nittany and Bald Eagle Freight Railroad which carries coal and various hazmats through our first-due response area daily to connect with the Norfolk Southern Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway. Additionally, HFC is mutual aid to a 7.5 mile stretch of I-80, and first due to a 12 mile stretch of SR 150, and a 10 mile length of SR 26, each carrying significant heavy truck, commercial, and passenger vehicle traffic. As a result of our close proximity to the Pennsylvania State University, traffic on these roads increases exponentially during the fall college football season – in turn, so do our responses.
A 1,730-acre lake, an active open-face quarry, and numerous abandoned quarries are also scattered throughout our first due and present their own unique response challenges. Perhaps our most challenging hazards are related to critical infrastructure. There are numerous Marcellus Shale natural gas wells being operated throughout our district and additional wells are continually drilled. Over the past 2 years several high-pressure natural gas pipelines have also been put in place or are planned and heavy truck traffic has
increased significantly. These natural gas wells present significant hazards in terms of the complex equipment, dangerous chemicals, and explosive potential that have already proven to be a test for our dedicated members and firefighters across the state.
HFC has an immediate need to replace a deteriorating and unsafe 31 year old tanker. This truck was originally a milk truck that HFC converted to a tanker by adding a 2000 gal tank and unrated pump (250 GPM approx). Repeated pump failures, growing rust, broken tank baffles, continuous tank leaks, lighting/electrical system failures, oil leaks, transmission issues, mismatched tires, and an overweight truck are all serious safety issues that also place the truck out of service >3 months each year and at this point it is permanently out of service. To address this critical need, HFC has contracted to purchase an NFPA 1901 compliant tanker/tender. This apparatus will be equipped with an 2200 gal Poly tank/500 GPM pump, 3 10” automatic dump valves, increased compartment space and hose storage, a portable dump tank, and seating for 5 FFs.
Importantly, the tanker will be equipped with the latest safety features including NFPA-compliant tank baffles, 3-point seat belts for all riding positions, seat belt alarms, positively secured equipment in the cab, cab helmet storage, back-up camera, door ajar alarms, and vehicle data recorder. This purchase to cost $390,000 ($190,000 Federal sharefrom a FEMA grant).
Our existing tanker has already been permanently removed from service and will be sold to a water company, farm or for scrap as it is reckless to encourage its continued use in the fire service. We are short a critical piece of equipment until the new tanker is built and delivered - a 9 month process.
Evaluated over an anticipated lifespan of 25 years, this purchase will effectively cost only $1.91 per person per year. The fully amortized cost drops even lower when considering the population covered in our expansive mutual aid response territory. Since there are so few tankers in the area, the only viable solution to our water supply problem other than replacing the current tanker is to install fire hydrants throughout our district. Since a hydrant infrastructure project is entirely impractical due to cost and time, it goes without saying that the purchase of a reliable tanker is decidedly more cost-effective.
A new tanker will also reduce recurring maintenance costs which will generate estimated savings of $3-5K per year. Generous warranties offered by the manufacturers on the tank and body will further reduce future expenses and these funds can subsequently be reallocated to other critical purchases such as turnout gear and SCBA replacement. A competitive bid process with detailed performance specifications, performance bond, and penalties for non-compliance has also maximized the value of the investment.
Aside from the obvious financial benefits, permanent removal of the old and unsafe tanker will substantially improve firefighter safety. It is a miracle that the numerous documented failures of the current tanker have not caused a severe injury or Line of Duty Death (LODD). In fact, we are surprised that the tank hasn’t completely sheared off the truck yet.
Since the cab lacks adequate seat belts, rollover protection, or other safety measures, the result of an accident could have been tragic. When considering that Federal and State LODD benefits exceed $340K, it only makes sense to replace the tanker with a new truck that is safe to operate and can provide ultimate firefighter protection. Therefore, removing the old and unsafe tanker will not only improve firefighter safety, but the investment will have a significant ROI if it prevents an LODD or disability. Since the old tanker was “an accident waiting to happen,” it was only a matter of time before these near-miss incidents become life-altering tragedies for our firefighters and our department.
Lastly, from an operational standpoint, our old tanker is permanently out-of-service due to maintenance and safety concerns. However, the cost of not having a tanker is significant given that there are so few tankers in the area. Response times for the first-due mutual aid tanker can be up to 20 minutes. Therefore, if we can’t replace our tanker, our inability to quickly supply sufficient water at a structure fire will essentially eliminate fire protection services for our district. HFC is in dire need to raise the balance of the funds to pay for the new tanker. We appreciate any support that people inside and especially outside of our service area can contribute.