Columbus purchases Polk’s first ladder truck

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 11, 2018

Vehicle purchased without financing, tax increases

COLUMBUS — Starting in late June, if people in Polk County need a ladder truck for fires or rescue, the Columbus Fire Department has their back.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, and heard from Columbus Fire Chief Tony Priester, who announced his department had recently purchased a 75-foot ladder truck. The truck was purchased without any tax increases or financing, he said.

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The used truck cost the department $60,000, Priester said. The Columbus Fire Department will take delivery of the vehicle on June 21. 

Columbus Fire Chief
Tony Priester

The truck carries 500 gallons of water, 30 gallons of foam and has a 1,250-gallon-per-minute pump, which Priester said will work out great for the Columbus water system.

“It is a piece of equipment that is long overdue in this county and in our district,” Priester said. “The best part of all is we did not have to raise taxes this year to purchase this truck.”

Priester said the department paid off another truck two years ago and saved the debt service money to purchase the new ladder vehicle outright. He said the unit will be available to other parts of the county as a multi-use truck that can be used for rescue, firefighting and many other operations.

Priester also told commissioners some reasons the department needed a ladder truck.

He explained that, right now, if someone was trapped in a multi-story building in the county, no local department has a safe way to handle the rescue.

An example is if the heating and air unit at Food Lion caught fire. Priester said firefighters currently would have to set up two ground ladders: one to access the building and fight the fire, and a second in case something went wrong and they had to evacuate quickly.

To fight the fire, firefighters would have to drag a hose across the roof, and the operation would take a minimum of 15 personnel, Priester said. With a ladder truck, the operation would take a minimum of four to do the same job, he said.

Another example is a two-story residential home, with a fire in an upstairs room or the attic. Priester said with a ladder truck, firefighters could raise the ladder to the window and spray water on the fire and minimize the potential of someone getting hurt or a large loss of property.

“It will keep our firefighters safe, and would be a benefit to all in Polk County,” Priester said.

Priester also discussed ISO ratings, with Columbus recently lowering its number from a 9 to a 5, which means savings on homeowners and business insurance rates. 

With the new growth Columbus is starting to see, the North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal is requiring that fire departments be able to protect a structure with 3,500 gallon per minute or greater fire flow with different equipment other than a basic fire engine, Priester said. He said if the OSFM requires a piece of equipment and the department does not have it, the ISO rating could be raised.

“We could lose our 5 and go back up to a 7 or a 9, and we don’t want to see that,” Priester said. “Our men and women of the Columbus Fire Department work very hard to lower our rating. The lower the ISO rating, the harder it is to maintain. You are required to have training, specialized equipment and specialized trucks.”

Commissioners congratulated Priester and other Columbus Fire Department personnel who attended the meeting for their accomplishment, particularly with no tax increases.

The Columbus Police Department started in the late 1940s and, at the time, also served the communities Mill Spring, Sunny View and Green Creek before they had their own departments.

Priester said the Columbus Fire Department is the biggest department in Polk County, with an average of over 1,400 calls per year. Columbus has responded to approximately 500 calls so far this year.

“We are mutual aid to every department in Polk County and to Landrum,” Priester said. “We are staffed 24/7, 365 days of the year. We have three personnel on shift every day, and Monday through Friday from 8 to 5, it’s four on shift.”

He also said Columbus has an outstanding volunteer staff of 28 personnel, all of whom have firefighter as well as medical training.

“We have a structured department with one goal in mind, and that is to serve our communities with pride and to help those who have, for whatever reason, called 911,” Priester said.