Edgartown gets a new fire engine

Designed with the help of town’s firefighters, it’s a step toward the future.

Left to right: 1927 Mack custom, 1952 Mack custom, 1985 Ford Pumper, 2015 KME Rescue. — Photo by Sara Piazza

On November 1, the Edgartown Fire Department (EFD) received delivery of its newest piece of equipment, a 2014 KME Rescue Pumper built by Bulldog Fire Apparatus, which they designated Engine One. Packed to the gills with the latest technology and firefighting equipment, the truck will be the department’s go-to vehicle for responses to vehicular crashes, fuel spills and other calls for assistance.

It carries 700 gallons of water, almost 50 gallons of specialized firefighting foams, and its onboard pump has a maximum output of 1,500 gallons per minute. It has the ability to “pump and roll,” sending water at a fire while the truck is moving, unlike older trucks, in which the driver had to disengage the drivetrain in order to power the water pumps. It even has a bumper-mounted water nozzle controlled by a joystick in the cab.

What makes this truck special, however, goes beyond its sheet metal. It is the latest apparatus to serve as what is perhaps the EFD’s most storied engine company and a vehicle whose design and specifications are the result of over a year of hard work by a select group of Edgartown Fire Department members. What’s more, the truck represents a new direction for the department in the way that it approaches its fundamental mission.

The new vehicle perpetuates a tradition at the EFD. It is the latest in a long line of Engine Ones that have proudly served the town, and for proof of this history one needs to look no further than the small building adjacent to the fire station itself. Occupying the two bays at the Edgartown Fire Museum are two retired Mack fire engines, one built in 1927 and the other in 1952. Both served as Engine 1. The elder vehicle is a Mack custom fire engine, delivered in 1928. “Mack brought a demonstration truck to the Cape and to the Vineyard, and a committee recommended to the Town of Edgartown to buy it,” said retired Captain Richard Kelly, who served on Engine One for many years. That truck served as a front-line engine until 1952, when it was replaced by another Mack, this one assembled in Ocala, Florida. The ’52 featured major improvements over its predecessor, such as a roof and doors. That truck was replaced in 1985 by a pumper built on a commercial Ford chassis. That vehicle, like its replacement, was designed by a committee of EFD members and some readers may be familiar with it as a staple of Christmas in Edgartown parades. It has also responded to countless emergencies over its 29-year career.

The new Engine One may be continuing a tradition, but it has been designed from the ground up with a keen eye on the future. A committee of Edgartown firefighters and officers spent innumerable hours over the last several years poring over every detail of the truck’s configuration.

“We looked to see what was available, but there was a lack of flexibility in design,” deputy chief Alex Schaeffer said.

One of the department’s major requirements was that the truck had to have as short a wheelbase as possible. This followed a design feature from the most recently retired Engine One, whose short overall length allowed it to get down windy dirt roads and through tight corners when no other truck could. But despite its smaller length, the truck still had to fit everything that the department needed, a task not every manufacturer was able to meet.

“We went through several manufacturers, as we had a specific idea of what we wanted, Mr. Schaeffer said. “We didn’t want to settle for something that wasn’t exactly what we needed,”

In the end, the committee and Bulldog were able to tweak the design precisely to fit what was needed. For example, the rear seats were reduced in number from five to three, and those that remained were recessed into what had previously been dead space in order to create a cavernous rear cabin for firefighters to don their gear. Cabinets and storage was crammed into nearly every available space, allowing a huge amount of gear to be carried relative to the vehicle’s size.  “It was fantastic being able to design our own custom piece,” said Andrew Kelly, a member of the design committee and a lieutenant on both the previous and current Engine One.

The firefighters’  took particular careful with the design, not only in the name of responsible public service, but also because the truck represents an evolution in the operations of the Fire Department. Across the United States, volunteer fire departments face difficulties with maintaining their ranks, as an ever-changing economy and an evolving fire service have placed a multitude of demands on those who wish to serve, and this holds true of the firefighters and EMTs of Martha’s Vineyard. These circumstances, requiring multiple vehicles — and multiple crews — for an emergency response, have the potential to create problems down the road.

Previously, car crashes and other similar emergencies required the response of two vehicles: a pumper equipped with water and other fire suppression equipment and a rescue truck carrying specialized tools for technical rescue. Each vehicle had a separate crew and officers. Given potential staffing challenges, it could become increasingly difficult to require such a high number of fire personnel to respond.

The new Engine One is an adaptation to these circumstances: by combining the capabilities and missions of multiple older pieces of equipment into a single highly capable package, the new apparatus allows for more efficient and streamlined resource management. “Going forward,” Lt. Kelly said, “all of our equipment will be ‘mission-specific’ like this piece.”

Demonstrating this ethos is the department’s Engine Two, a pumper acquired in 2006, which is the front-line vehicle for responses to structure fires. Engine One will now be the first out the door to vehicular accidents and other rescue situations.

“Going into this,” Mr. Schaffer said, “we knew this truck will be in service for 25 years or more, and we wanted to build into it the capacity to evolve with the fire service in that time.”

This ability to adapt to the times is vital not only for the vehicles, but for the department itself, allowing it to continue to effectively serve the citizens that it is charged with protecting, now and into the future.

Micah Agnoli was born and raised in Edgartown and graduated from Tufts University in May with a degree in political science. He has been a member of the Edgartown Fire Department since his junior year of high school, when he started as a junior firefighter.