LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas State Forestry recently put into service nine new Kenworth T800s outfitted with flatbeds to transport mid-size bulldozers to help assist in the event of wildfires. The department has six more Kenworth T800s on order, funded in part by an American Recovery & Reinvestment Act grant, according to Kenworth.
"Over the last 10 years, our state has had an average of nearly 1,800 wildfires per year," said Don McBride, assistant state forester, resource protection, for the state of Arkansas. "Last year, we had more than 24,000 acres burn and it could have been much worse if we didn't have mobile units ready to cut fire lines to help control the amount of fuel (trees and brush) that the fire could consume."
The Kenworth T800s are spec'd with 350-hp engines and driven through 10-speed manual or automated transmissions. Since the trucks are driven as far into the woods as they can safely go, off-road air ride suspensions were specified. Heavy-duty lug drive tires give the vehicles added traction.
The state has 103 truck and dozer fire suppression units spread throughout Arkansas. "Each county has one or two of the units on standby along with drivers, who also run the dozers," said McBride. "Several of our drivers are former long-haul truckers, while others used to operate heavy equipment and then got their CDLs. Each has been thoroughly trained by our department in wildfire suppression techniques."
The units are called upon when a wildfire occurs. Since many wildfires are small, only a few units may go into action, although all units are on standby. "Our guys are full-time employees, and during the fire season they may work seven days a week and be on call around the clock," said McBride. "In the slower months we do a lot of wildfire prevention work, such as prescribed burning to reduce hazardous fuels that could be problems down the road. We also work with private non-industrial landowners with forest management projects.
McBride said the new Kenworth T800s will put on about 4,000 to 5,000 miles annually. "We keep our trucks for a long time, and most are stored outside and exposed to the weather. We're certain these Kenworth T800s will stand the test of time," McBride said. "I did a walk-around when the trucks were delivered, and I was very impressed with the cab construction. The T800s are well-built, solid and quiet. And we know they'll be durable. Driver reaction to the T800s has been very positive, especially regarding performance and the nice turning radius."
While the fire fighting units were purchased to protect Arkansas, it is the state's obligation to help others in need. "We belong to the Southeast/South Central Forest Fire Protection Compact - a working agreement to share equipment and personnel among 13 southern states," said McBride. "In the past, we've been called to help fight wildfires in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida. Hopefully, we won't get the call this season, but if we do, we'll be ready."