Roxana Fire Company reaching new heights with 100-foot ladder


The Roxana Volunteer Fire Company has a shiny new apparatus on the way, but Tower 90 is no toy.

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Clay Johnson, Chief Andy Johnson and Jamie Killen show that the new ladder truck, Tower 90, can extend nearly 100 feet straight out or nearly straight up, if need be, thanks to the truck’s hydraulic jacks, that stabilize the truck.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
Clay Johnson, Chief Andy Johnson and Jamie Killen show that the new ladder truck, Tower 90, can extend nearly 100 feet straight out or nearly straight up, if need be, thanks to the truck’s hydraulic jacks, that stabilize the truck.

In June, a brand new 100-foot ladder truck will replace an existing ladder truck whose engine overheated and more or less blew up. The RVFC used the old ladder truck for around nine years, and they had recently begun considering how to upgrade the deteriorating 25-year-old truck before it broke down and forced them to find a replacement – and fast.

When they needed a new ladder truck, or tower, the Pierce manufacturing company provided a new 2010 demonstration truck. It costs $889,000, plus several more thousands for official lettering and installation of equipment-hanging brackets, which make the truck a fireman’s “toolbox.”

RVFC Fire Chief Andy Johnson said the new truck operates smoother, and the ladder is 5 feet longer than the one on the old truck. The 40-ton truck holds about 50 gallons of fuel.

The ladder shoots up to a height of 97 feet at a 72-degree angle, although it might seem closer to 90 degrees when looking down from the top. Holding three or four people, the ladder and basket can lower down, assisting with operations such as bridge rescues. Medical stretchers can attach to the basket for human transport.

Meanwhile, a small computer screen shows basket and truck operators statistics including the ladder height, atmosphere temperature and so forth.
Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: The inside of the truck.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
The inside of the truck.

A ladder pipe on the truck can pump 2,000 gallons of water per minute from a hydrant, Johnson said. Four hoses also connect to the truck’s own 300-gallon tank at ground level.

Among all this, perhaps the most striking aspect is the truck itself. Before releasing the ladder, the truck releases four hydraulic jacks, two on each side, front and back. Each gigantic leg appears at a right angle, presses a jack to the ground and then lifts the entire truck.

Once the stabilized weight is readjusted at the tires, the ladder can rise and move smoothly in a full 360-degree circle.

Only swaying slightly in the wind, the fully extended ladder will be used in weather conditions including up to 40 or 50 miles-per-hour winds, although Johnson said he will use the apparatus regardless of the conditions if a human life is on the line.

Raising a tower ladder is generally considered safer than placing ladders directly against houses because homes often have multi-level roofs that are difficult to climb, requiring several ladders just to access them.
Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: Mike Magee navigates the ladder on the new ladder truck.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
Mike Magee navigates the ladder on the new ladder truck.

In an emergency situation, Johnson said, the tower could be parked, propped and extended to full height within one minute.

The tower should be operational for 25 years. It will be tested annually against a thorough 40 pages worth of standards.

Because three fire stations are routinely dispatched to every local fire, Johnson said other stations are providing ladder service while Roxana’s existing truck is out of service.

Tower 90 will be fully operational by June, after all the equipment is mounted within it and after firefighters are trained to operate the truck and its lift.