VFD seeks new ladder truck
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
April 21, 2014
Click for larger picture
2001 Stuphen tower ladder truck operated by the Cranberry VFD.

CRANBERRY TWP — One million dollars can buy a lot.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., $1 million could get you a five-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Or, you could opt for three Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series sports cars — at a smidgen less than $300,000 each.

In Montana, $1 million would pay for a 189-acre farm-ranch with a 1,400-square foot home with creek and mountain views.

However, for officials in Cranberry Township the $1 million they're looking to spend is for something more critical: a new aerial ladder fire truck.

After an April 1 decision by township supervisors, officials from the township's volunteer fire department are one step closer to acquiring the new truck, which could cost as much as $1 million depending on which company wins the bid to build it.

The fire department already has one aerial ladder truck, said Fire Chief Brian Kovac, but officials have decided that because of the expected commercial and population growth and the kinds of buildings to be built, there is a need for a second truck that can reach high places for rescue or water dispersal.

“We went back a few years and did a study, took the strategic plan for the township to see what we need in the fire department to best suit the residents,” Kovac said. “We figured out what trucks we needed, that would be a second aerial truck. We spent the last 18 months designing it. Ladder trucks are very expensive.”

According to Kovac, the new truck would have a 75-foot ladder that could be raised into the air, room for six firefighters in the cab, a 500-gallon water tank, airbags, and three rearview cameras. It also would be able to pump water or fire suppressant foam from the ladder.

The department has an aerial truck with a 100-foot ladder.

“Now, we're looking for a truck to get into more defined spaces,” Kovac said of the smaller truck. “The first one is a classic one where you have a basket — two people get into the basket. This one is just a ladder, it has a nozzle for water.”

With plans done and desired features decided upon, the next phase is the bid process when fire truck manufacturing companies will vie for the job of building the truck.

One of the companies that may bid is KME Fire Apparatus, in Nesquehoning, Pa., which is one of the leading fire truck production firms in the country.

The company has built fire trucks for fire departments in major cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City. It employs more than 900 workers in four production facilities in Pennsylvania, Virginia, California and New York.

Peter Hoherchak, the aerial products manager for KME, said one of the reasons that an aerial ladder fire truck is so expensive is because it takes thousands of manpower hours to build as well as specialized parts such as pumps, wheels and the engine.

“It's because of the labor involved,” Hoherchak explained. “All of the welding for the structure, it could be anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 man hours. A lot of engineering goes into it.”

Hoherchak said the company builds a variety of aerial ladder trucks, ranging from 55 feet to 123 feet in length, and each truck is built to the specific needs of the fire department that is buying it.

“It is dependent on several factors,” Hoherchak said of the truck's design and equipment. “Depending on the kind of fire truck they want, the ladder may carry water, it may carry a pump. It could have a foam dispersal system.”

While a fire truck is designed by the requesting department, Hoherchak said all fire trucks must adhere to guidelines of the National Fire Protection Agency.

Other aspects of an aerial ladder vehicle which make it more expensive than other firefighting vehicles include the torque box — which is the mechanism that controls and elevates the ladder; extendible ground stabilizer arms that help secure a fire truck when it's in use; and extra individual ladders carried on the truck.

In addition, the truck is usually outfitted with a Cummins diesel engine ranging from 450 to 600 horsepower, costing from $30,000 to $60,000; at least one water pump, usually costing $5,000 to $20,000 per pump; a specialized transmission, costing from $12,000 to $20,000; and anywhere from six to 10 aluminum wheels. The tires for the truck are the same as those found on a semi-tractor trailer and are made by Goodyear.

All that complicated and specialized equipment must be maintained and repaired by specialized mechanics who are certified in fire truck repair. The ladder truck — like all fire vehicles — has annual inspections and testing of equipment to ensure it is in safe working order. According to Kovac, the average life span of an aerial ladder truck is 30 years or so.

Hoherchak also noted that the design and engineering of the aerial trucks is specific and precise, and that normal vehicle parts such as brakes, engine, and axel need to be extra durable and powerful enough to support all the weight of the vehicle and equipment.

“It is really safety driven,” Hoherchak added. “You need to be able to stop the truck, be able to accelerate. They have to get it 'spec' written with the options they want.”

Normally, an aerial ladder truck is one of the most expensive vehicles in a fire department's fleet, Hoherchak said, with pricing ranging from a low of $550,000 to a high of $1.3 million.

Representatives from KME brought a demonstration aerial ladder truck to Cranberry in December to showcase what they can produce. However Hoherchak said he does not know if the company will bid on the Cranberry truck until it can see the specifications required.

Kovac said that although the new truck has an estimated arrival time frame of as long as a year from now, he and others in the fire company are excited to get a new vehicle.

“It'll take about 10 months to build,” Kovac said. “It's going to be exciting to be finally getting it after all the planning.”


The Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company has 13 vehicles. It is expected to add a 14th vehicle in the next 18 months, its second aerial ladder truck.

Here are its vehicles:

• 3 engines

• 1 aerial ladder truck

• 1 rescue truck

• 1 brush truck

• 2 squad vehicles

• 3 command vehicles

• 2 fire police vehicles