Fire Department's failing ladder truck taken out of service

The Red Lodge Fire Department’s 25-year old ladder truck is no longer safe and has been taken out of service. The ladder truck, which is used to access burning buildings in order to rescue people and extinguish fires, will stay in the station through at least the winter although it will no longer be used. "The truck is actually called a quint and is used for more than just its ladder," explains Fire Chief Tom Kuntz. "It carries ground ladders, has a water tank and most importantly it was used as the City's second pumping engine." The truck was purchased in 2003 with grant funds and is one of only two fire trucks owned by the City of Red Lodge. “It may sometimes appear that we have a lot of equipment, but we respond with different types of equipment for many different types of emergencies including structure fires, wildland fires, ambulance calls, car accidents and search and rescue calls,” says Chief Kuntz. “In addition, it is difficult to tell the difference between a new modern truck and one that is 25-years old.” The ladder truck has mechanical and structural failures making it unsafe for fighting fires. According to Assistant Chief Tim Ryan, tests by Underwriters Laboratories have found the truck to have a corroded electrical system, delaminating corrosion on the gear box and cracked welds on the ladder. Additional serious electrical problems have been noted in the inspections including failure of the rung alignment indicator, failure of the electronic high idle control and failure of the rung illumination. Ryan also noted that additional issues were found following laboratory tests of the hydraulic fluid, including copper in the fluid, likely due to corrosion, and large amounts of water in the fluid, likely due to failure of the hydraulic swivel. "We have been working to keep the truck running for the past few years, but obtaining repair parts for the vehicle is almost impossible and has become cost prohibitive,” says fire Chief Kuntz. "It was a hard decision to take it out of service, but because it was unreliable and unsafe everyone agreed it was the only option." The City first purchased a ladder truck in the late 1980s after the Montana bank fire destroyed several historic downtown buildings. "After that devastating fire everyone recognized the need for our community to have a ladder truck," says former volunteer firefighter Don Williams. Williams was instrumental in getting the truck and when that truck became obsolete he helped write the grant to get the current truck. A ladder truck is important to the City's fire protection as it helps to lower insurance rates for city residents. The Red Lodge City Council agreed at a council meeting on Sept. 24 that no personnel should use the ladder portion of the ladder truck. City officials will determine the best options for replacing the truck as soon as possible.