By Seth Daniel
When one purchases a new vehicle, the standard refrain is to get all the “bells and whistles,” right down to the computers and electric windows.
It’s not the case for firefighters, though, and the new Ladder 17 in the South End and Back Bay station on Columbus Avenue is special in that the computerized features are largely eliminated and the windows open with an old-style hand crank.
For the jakes on Ladder 17, that’s progress.
“This Ladder is 10 times better than what we had,” said John Daly, who regularly drives Ladder 17. “It’s easier to maneuver. It’s much easier to fit down the narrow streets we have to go down in Beacon Hill and the alleys behind Beacon Street or in the South End. It’s a sleek and simple engine. Just the basics. It’s really like when you buy a new car, they give you a package full of things that you don’t want, like electric windows. We don’t want electric windows because they break. You don’t want an entire apparatus out of service because the electric windows are broken and you can’t get the windows down. That’s why we prefer the old hand crank and we have that on this Ladder truck.”
John Nee of Ladder 17 said they are one of the busiest companies in the city, going on around 4,900 runs last year. He said they also have some of the most difficult streets to respond to in a neighborhood full of nooks, crannies and alleys.
The new Ladder has less of a boxy style to it, which cuts off 18 precious inches from side to side and makes all the difference when responding to a situation on a narrow street full of parked cars.
Additionally, Nee pointed out, the jacks that hold the Ladder in place on the ground during a fire call go straight down instead of out. That means they don’t end up hitting parked cars when trying to anchor down during an intense fire response.
“The rear axles also have only one double wheel instead of two,” he noted. “That reduces four tires and increases our ability to fit into areas we couldn’t fit before. It’s so much less bulky, and we also have better views from the windows because they are wider.”
Steve MacDonald of the Boston Fire Department said the investment in Ladder 17 is part of an overall investment in the apparatus by Mayor Martin Walsh.
Ladder 17 joins four other ladder trucks, which are located in South Boston, East Boston, Roxbury and Mattapan. Four ladder trucks were delivered earlier in the year, and that made nine replacements of the 20 total ladder trucks in City complete.
The total capital cost of these nine ladders was a $6.9 million investment.
“That’ really pretty unheard of for a large city to do that,” said MacDonald.
“My thanks to Mayor Walsh for his continued support of the Boston Fire Department,” said Commissioner Finn. “These new ladders will allow our firefighters to respond safely and quickly to incidents. Great thought went into their design and maneuverability to meet the challenges of a city like Boston: these ladders have a smaller wheelbase to increase their turning capability; they have a shorter jacking system to decrease the time needed to raise the aerial ladder; and they are much lighter and have vastly improved vision systems to assist the driver.”
MacDonald said it was the little things like the hand crank and the ladder storage being higher – as well as the streamlined wheelbase – that help shave minutes off of response times.
“A window in the fire truck should be a big problem and lead to taking them out of serve for repairs because they wouldn’t go down,” he said. “We stressed to the vendor that the firefighters wanted the old crank and they have that…It’s little things like that.”