After over a year of waiting, a new custom designed and built fire engine has arrived in Patagonia and is already in use. The impressive new truck, which carries 3,200 gallons of water and is outfitted with state of the art features, replaces the 1982 fire engine that has served Patagonia Volunteer Fire & Rescue (PVFR) for over 40 years.
“Patagonia’s new truck is a huge asset,” said Sonoita-Elgin Fire District Chief Marc Meredith. “It adds [tremendous firefighting] capability to the whole Santa Cruz County region.”
The fire engine’s chassis, built by Freightliner in Gaffney, South Carolina consists of the cab and base frame, including the wheels. The finished truck was custom built in rural Illinois by OSCO, a small fire truck manufacturing company. Because of supply chain issues, it took an entire year for Freightliner to build the chassis once the order was placed. Four months later, OSCO delivered the finished truck.
“OSCO was a dream to work with,” said PVFR firefighter Tim Regan. “Together we made use of every inch of available space. A year of meeting back and forth with lots of changes over time, including ten change orders, produced the specialized truck PVFR has today.”
All the firefighters and members of PVFR were involved in numerous discussions leading to the specifications for the truck, a real community effort. “Who will give us the most for our money?” was the big question. Humorously, the biggest “argument” involved the choice of trim color. The paint color to match the trim of the other trucks was unavailable, and there were many options. Black was the ultimate choice.
The finished truck is a 20-ton vehicle with a polycarbonate body which will never rust, won’t dent, and is lighter than steel. On the front end is a unique feature, a hose capable of spraying 750 gallons of water per minute while the truck is rolling, called “pump and roll” in firefighting lingo.
This is a major safety advantage because when approaching a motor vehicle fire along a roadside, the firefighter(s) can remain inside the truck while putting out the fire. In fact, while ideally there would be two personnel, one person can both drive and fight the fire at the same time.
Another huge asset of this truck is its portable water tank. When a compartment on the right side is opened, a large tank can be unfolded, lowered to the ground and detached. All 3,200 gallons of available water can be pumped into this tank, which looks like a kids’ swimming pool. This water is available for pumping to fight a fire while the truck returns to the water source to get another 3,200 gallons and returns to the fire site with a new load.
There are other large and small compartments for everything from portable generators, safety equipment and gear, to a large space for cold drinks and nutritional snacks, necessary when fighting a wildland fire miles from potable water.
Additionally, there are two large, mounted lights on each side of the body to light up a night scene and more hose connections on the rear end along with built-in compartments for extra hoses. Today, with the 3,200 gallons of water held by the new truck and the 2,000 gallons on the 1982 truck (which will still be available for use), PVFR has a combined 5,000 gallons ready to roll.
“We could never afford to buy this truck on our own,” said PVFR Chief Ike Isakson. PVFR was awarded a FEMA grant of $350,000, which paid for 95% of the cost of this truck. Another $30,000 came from donations from the community, and $10,000 was donated by the Town of Patagonia for equipment.
FEMA annually awards grants to fire companies throughout the nation for multiple purposes including buildings, equipment, and fire trucks. Grants for 86 fire trucks across the U.S. were awarded in 2021. The only truck grant in Arizona was to PVFR. “We were surprised to get it,” said PVFR Board President Bob Ollerton. Over the years the company has applied for and received many small grants. There have also been many rejections, but the company just kept writing and improving, making connections leading to more grants.
While all members were involved in the process of writing and gathering information for this FEMA grant, the principal writer was Tim Regan. Before moving to the area and joining PVFR, Regan was a firefighter living in New Jersey where he gained experience in grant writing.
The completed FEMA grant application package included 50 written pages, photos, and demographic information, taking over 300 man hours to complete. A big hurdle was correcting data in different agencies so that all the info jibed. Addresses, phone numbers, personnel information had to be identical in various state, county, federal and local listings. A glitch would mean that the grant would be rejected. The last three days when they were “down to the wire” were intense, and the company got the application in just before the deadline.
Regan was in Washington, DC on a fire assignment in June 2021 when he received an email at 3:30 in the morning that PVFR had been awarded the $350,000 grant for 2022 for a new fire truck. He waited until morning Arizona time to call PVFR with the news.
The company then deliberated for the next four months just how to best use the grant money to get the ideal truck for their use. Finally, on a cold December morning in 2022 the new truck was delivered by a professional driver who test drove it all the way from Illinois.
The new truck and crew have rolled to at least three calls to date, and will be part of the 2023 Graduation Parade honoring Patagonia Union High School’s graduates.