SPFD tries out new gear before purchase

By Brandi Makuski

Stevens Point firefighters got a chance to “try before they buy” new extraction gear on Monday, part of their plan in purchasing updated equipment using a $78,790 FEMA grant they won in August.

Four companies are vying for the contract.

The former Joerns building was filled with chewed-up vehicles on Nov. 12—vehicles donated by Johnson’s Towing, and in space donated by Wayne Bushman—during the equipment evaluation conducted by the Stevens Point firefighters.

Lt. David Briggs, who wrote the grant application, said it was a unique opportunity for firefighters to get hands-on training with some of the latest equipment on the market. Firefighters used a score sheet to evaluate each set of tools, he said, which would be used to help determine the best match for SPFD.

“We’re limited in functionality now due to the materials the vehicles are made out of,” Briggs said, pointing to a Pontiac G6 being cut apart by his coworkers, “this one has so much boron and martensite (creep-resistant steel) in the pillars, that the tools we have would literally stop, they wouldn’t even cut it.”

Briggs said the department’s current equipment is cumbersome, requiring many steps to station properly before an entrapped victim can be safely cut from a vehicle.

The department’s equipment is hydraulic, which Lt. Victor Kedrowski said, which means a gas-powered generator, lengthy, cumbersome hoses, and hydraulic fluid. They’re all pieces of the process which can break down at any time and require weekly maintenance, he said.

“If you leave the choke on, you flood it out, a hose breaks and fluid leaks…it messes everything up. And you can’t just crank it up and let ‘er rip, you have to wait for it to warm up,” Kedrowski said. “This new equipment, this is tremendous; everything is self-contained now.”

Extraction is often overseen by fire crews from Plover and Hull, Briggs said, part of the Metro Fire agreement with neighboring municipalities to address staffing shortages at SPFD.

“You’ve got blocks you’re setting up under the vehicle to stabilize it, pumps, hydraulic hoses, the gas engine, the actual cutting tools,” Briggs said. “This new equipment will take less time with less [sic] people, so it’s more feasible for the city to do it with the staffing we have. And it’s quieter; if we can hear each other talking, we can hear the patient talking, and that’s just a benefit all around.”

The new equipment will be delivered 30-90 days after the department makes a decision, Briggs said, making it the first department in Portage Co. to have battery-powered gear.

The department will hold some kind of recognition event—“Maybe an open house or something,” he said—once it receives the equipment, and will eventually conduct training with neighboring departments.