Fire chief Darnell Fullum likes the old saying that goes something like this: “If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem is going to look like a nail.” That saying used to apply to Fullum’s DeKalb County, Ga., Fire Rescue Department. In the past, the department sent a large fire truck on every single call.
“It didn’t matter if we were going on a cut finger or we were going on a house fire — we would send the large fire trucks,” Fullum said.
The department doesn’t do that anymore. It has added smaller rapid response vehicles to its “toolbox” to respond to emergency medical and fire suppression calls and by the end of 2019 will have 10 in service. Fullum said the vehicles — which are 2018 Chevrolet 3500 HD single-rear-wheel crew cabs with long beds — are less expensive to operate than larger fire trucks and carry a 30-gallon water/foam tank that uses compressed air and can be used for car fires and grass fires, plus emergency response equipment and medical supplies.
Addressing High Call Volume
The department operates 26 fire stations and responded to 87,000 calls in 2018. Some stations ran more than 7,000 calls per year, and several larger apparatus have run more than 4,500 calls annually. That’s a lot of nails and not enough hammers.
“For the fire industry, that’s a pretty busy unit,” Fullum said. “When a single unit is running that many calls a year, that’s generally when you want to start looking at how you relieve that unit of call volume.”
Relieving Overtaxed Crew
To provide that call volume relief, in 2017, DeKalb County Fire Rescue began working on getting just the right tool for the job. The department started out by designing a prototype of the vehicle it wanted. The team responsible for the design and specs chose a 6.6L V-8 diesel engine with Allison transmission. Team members handled production and inspected the truck after it initially arrived at the department.
“We believe it would be important to design this truck to fit our needs,” Fullum said. “So we started with a pickup truck and added compartments designed to hold the equipment in the manner we wanted the tools to be laid out.”
The department conducted a pilot program with one of the smaller trucks. Among the benefits of the smaller vehicles that the pilot project uncovered: Using the smaller truck for non-fire calls eased the number of calls for crew members. The smaller unit requires two firefighters. The larger engine requires a crew of three to four.
Now, Fullum said, “We’re sending what the incident dictates. We’re sending a smaller unit with two members that can handle that call and leaving the larger truck that has the firefighting capabilities and other capabilities available for a call that may be appropriate for its primary use.”
That means less wear and tear on the larger vehicles. A normal replacement cycle for a fire truck is 10 years, but DeKalb County’s heavy use meant it replaced the vehicles earlier. Acquiring the smaller trucks means extending the life of the larger trucks.
More Nimble Trucks Allow for Easier Maneuvering
The smaller, more maneuverable trucks make getting to calls easier.
Last summer, a Caribbean festival took place in the county, with more than 20,000 attendees. Multiple medical-related calls were dispatched to the event. The rapid response vehicle was able to maneuver through the crowd much easier than the fire truck, responding to patients at locations that would have been very difficult in the larger apparatus. Crews were able to administer on-scene care without carrying equipment over long distances throughout the crowd.
“I heard that our rapid response vehicle was a blessing,” Fullum said. “Crews said the larger fire trucks would have had a difficult time maneuvering through the crowd, making entrance and exit to the event more challenging.”
More Vehicles Coming Soon
After the successful pilot of the smaller vehicle, the county secured $2 million through a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) to purchase a total of 10 vehicles.
The county received delivery of its first new unit in April and the second and third units in early May. The prototype will be placed on reserve, bringing the total to three in service. Ten of the units will be in service by the end of this year, helping the county avoid using a hammer for every situation that looks like a nail.