Ashcroft fire chief Josh White beside the new primary engine.

Ashcroft firefighters welcome new primary engine

Fire chief Josh White kept the engine's arrival a secret until the firefighters gathered for their last meeting of the year.

Members of the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department got an early Christmas gift on December 20, when the village’s new fire engine rolled into town.

Fire Chief Josh White and Deputy Fire Chief Steve Anderson were in on the secret, and managed to keep it from other members of the department until moments before new Engine 3 rolled down Railway Avenue during the last fire practice of the year.

“Steve and I decided on the surprise,” says White. The truck was delivered earlier in the day, then hidden at the public works yard. At the beginning of the practice White showed some pictures and video of the new engine, which he said was still in Abbotsford. Then, having alerted Anderson to start the drive down from the works yard, he added, “Why don’t we go and see the real thing?” to the audible delight of the assembled firefighters.

Insurance rules mean that villages of Ashcroft’s size need to have a primary engine that is no more than 20 years old. The village’s current primary engine is a 1992 Volvo (the village applied for, and received, a five-year extension regarding the primary engine), meaning that a new primary engine was more than due.

In 2015, an Alternative Approval Process to authorize a loan for a new engine passed. That left White and Ashcroft chief financial officer Yogi Bhalla to discuss what the village needed and wanted in terms of a new primary engine.

“The engine needed to be built to meet our community’s requirements,” says White. “Terrain, climate, conditions: they all had to be taken into consideration.”

White put together a list of what was necessary for the new engine, what would be nice, and what wasn’t needed; then he and Bhalla sat down to hammer out the many details of the request for proposal (RFP).

“It was quite the process,” says Bhalla. “Quality and support were very important, as well as the price. And we were very conscious of the safety factors.” The RFP went through a good deal of revision before being posted; then the resulting bids were gone through and scored, before the contract was ultimately awarded to HUB in Abbotsford.

The new engine contains many more safety features, large and small, than the 1992 Volvo, including LED lighting under the steps beneath the cab which illuminates the terrain firefighters will be stepping onto in the dark. A back-up camera shows the driver what is behind the engine, and all five firefighters sit inside an air-conditioned, heated cab; the Volvo only has room in the cab for two, and no air conditioning, meaning the other firefighters on board sit outside in the elements.

Members of the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department with the new engine on December 20. Photo by Barbara Roden.

Communication with them was via shouting through a window. Now all five firefighters have headsets with microphones, and White says that climate control, as well as the headsets, will go a long way to reducing stress.

“We get called to lift assists and highway rescues, but a structure fire really gets firefighters’ adrenaline pumping,” notes White. “When you have to yell orders out the back window, or there’s no air conditioning, it adds to the stress levels. In winter, when it’s -20, it’s pretty cold back there.”

The Freightliner’s 350HP engine is an improvement on the Volvo’s 190HP, and means it can tackle the area’s hills more easily. “Unless something happens in downtown Ashcroft, pretty much everywhere involves hills.” The new engine also has air suspension, as opposed to the coil suspension on the original order. Coil had been chosen in order to save money, but a mix-up at the factory in the States that built the chassis meant that air suspension was included instead, at no extra charge. Bhalla says that various factors, including free upgrades, meant a saving of $20,000 on the original purchase price.

The ladders on the new engine are stored on top of it, rather than beside, and raised and lowered electronically. This makes things easier for the firefighters, and allows for more storage space.

White says that training on the new engine will begin in earnest at the first fire practice of 2017, on January 10, but that members of the public shouldn’t be surprised to see Engine 3 out and about between now and then, as members of the AVFD are keen to get going.

“A lot is different [on the new engine] from what we had,” says White, noting that the department has leapt forward 25 years, technology-wise. “People have to know where the switches are, what the start-up procedure is. I’m not going to throw people on the new engine. It will take a lot of training.” He estimates that by March 2017, all members of the AVFD will be trained up on the new engine (only White and Anderson are currently trained on it).

The 1992 Volvo will continue to serve the village as a secondary truck, and White acknowledges it has seen a lot over a quarter-of-a-century. “It’s served this community very well over the years, and seen some significant fires. It should serve the community for another 20 years.”

Another major acquisition for the AVFD in 2016 was a new compressor and 12 new (to Ashcroft) self-contained breathing apparatus units, with 24 new air tanks. The new compressor fills three tanks at a time, as opposed to the old one’s two, in a shorter time, and three large back-up tanks can fill between 45 and 50 of the individual tanks in the case of a power outage.

New SCBA equipment at the Ashcroft fire hall. Photo by Barbara Roden.

The new individual tanks contain 45 minutes’-worth of air (compared with 30 minutes’-worth in the old ones). They also weigh five pounds less than the old ones; an important consideration, says White, pointing out that a firefighter in full turn-out gear and wearing an SCBA is weighted down by up to 70 pounds of equipment. “Shaving five pounds off someone’s back makes a huge difference.”

Looking back at 2016, White—who is entering his second two-year term as chief—notes that the AVFD took part in every community event, in ways large and small, throughout the year. “It’s something I’m really proud of; and I’m really proud of the men and women of the department. We’ve really pushed to get out into the community, and be out there to help. We have a group of people who are willing to put their lives on the line one day, and work with kids the next.”

He adds that anyone who has questions about fire safety can call the department at any time. This includes people who want to know the best place to site a smoke detector or fire extinguisher, or who are having problems with a nuisance smoke detector that keeps going off. The department will even install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers for those who are unable to do so themselves.

White says the AVFD has held fire extinguisher safety demonstrations for local groups and businesses, including People’s Drug Mart, the Ashcroft and District Health Care Auxiliary, and the staff of the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Services. “They went over very well.”

The department has also expanded its fire prevention program in schools. Formerly, the program included Grades Pre-K to 3; now it reaches to grade 6, where the message gets more serious.

“It’s been an excellent year,” says White. “I couldn’t be prouder of our crew. They’re a great group of people, and have set the bar so high.”

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