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Ladder truck gets trial runThe fire board could authorize purchase next month.
"The last words one hears before shooting into the sky - in a basket, no less - are not reassuring:It's very rare that someone falls out.But the words come with a wry grin from the operator, and seconds later, one is at the end of a 100-foot ladder, at eye level with a nearby cell-phone tower and looking down on a good portion of the central island.Local firefighters took their own turns in the basket last week, as the department tried out a sophisticated ladder truck under consideration for purchase.We feel the time to do this is now, said Ken Guy, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department.Fire officials have had such an apparatus on their list of capital needs for a decade. Over the past year or so the discussion has gotten more serious, with different sizes and configurations under formal study.Guy said that while there may be an impression that Bainbridge doesn't have enough tall buildings to warrant such equipment, that's changing, and the ladder would come into play in a variety of emergency situations.Rescues from high windows and balconies are just part of it - firefighters must access roofs to cut vents and allow heat to escape burning buildings. The elevated basket would also allow firefighters to turn a stream of water onto a blaze from above, a tactic in defensive battles.In addition to the ladder, the truck would carry a water tank and an array of other rescue equipment and hand ladders.Based on past calls, Guy estimates that the truck would roll out every three days. The demand will increase, officials say, as buildings in the downtown core can now hit four stories with underground parking.It's going to be more than just a ladder on wheels, Guy said.Last week, firefighters got to play with a ladder apparatus built by Metz Aerials of Karlsruhe, Germany. The company has been making fire apparatus for more than a century. While its sales have to date been in Europe, Asia and New Zealand, the company recently opened an office in Pennsylvania to cultivate the American market.The truck, minus a water tank and side panels, has been touring the United States for display at fire conventions and tryouts by interested departments. At 38 feet in length, Guy said, it was about the right size for the Bainbridge department's needs.The Metz model is said to be considerably more advanced than those of domestic design. The chassis and ladder mount can tilt off-access - automatically adjusted by an onboard computer - to make sure the ladder is always level, even as it turns on axis.It's really safe, Bainbridge firefighter Arnie Jackson said. You can't take this into a situation where you could turn it over.Also impressive to those on hand was the equipment's ease of use. The ladder can be operated from a control seat on the chassis, or from within the basket itself via joystick. Several firefighters wasted no time in sending themselves into the air.If you know how to do Nintendo, you could operate it easily, Guy said.Some trials were held in the parking area of the Madison Avenue Retirement Center, one of the island's taller multi-family structures, and firefighters discussed the strategies the ladder truck might make possible.The truck was steered down into a narrow service alleyway next to the building. With its basket extended over the roof and next to various balconies, it drew curious MARC residents out of their apartments to watch.Trials suggested that a crew could pull the truck up to a fire, put down its stabilizers, and have the ladder at full extension in 60 seconds. While impressed with the Metz apparatus, Guy said the department could go with a domestic model. Cost is estimated at $675,000, although that could hit $800,000 depending on the truck's size and outfitting. The department will pay for the truck out of current revenues, rather than floating a special bond issue, Guy said.The issue will go before the fire board in March. "