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New engines will soon be in service
• $2.8 million in new firefighting apparatus for the Ceres Fire
Jeff Serpa and new engine
Ceres Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa shows off the new Engine #18 which was customized for the needs in Ceres. The engine is one of four new vehicles delivered recently after being delayed slightly because of the coronavirus restrictions that affected manufacturers. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Four new fire vehicles worth $2.8 million have been delivered to Ceres Fire Department and will be put to use at month’s end following training.

The quest to get new apparatus began about five years ago with the development of specifications for a new ladder truck. The city tried to get a federal grant to replace the aging truck but lost out in a very competitive process. In November 2019 the Ceres City Council approved the financing of $2.8 million worth of new firefighting apparatus for the department.

The city ordered a new:

• $1.09 million quint ladder truck;

• Two fire engines at $596,000 apiece; 

• A $378,000 Type 3 engine to fight brush fires.

“Usually what departments do is buy one at a time – we were way beyond that,” said Ceres Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa.

Fire engines typically last 10 years for first-line use before they are put on reserve status for another decade. The last time Ceres purchased an engine was back in 2006. The older engines tend to go to the shop more often for costly repairs. From 2013 to 2018, the city spent $740,981 on repairs in the fire fleet. The savings of not having to put out expensive maintenance on old engines will help the city pay the loan payments on the new apparatus, which will cost about $295,000 annually.

“Our fleet was in such bad shape that we needed to do a complete fleet replacement,” said Serpa.

The downtown Ceres station and the one on Service Road will have one of the new Type 1 pumper engines while the Fowler Station will have the new Quint ladder truck.

All fire trucks are built to different needs, said Serpa, and countless hours were placed into designing the trucks based on the needs in Ceres.

“Nothing is standard on these things. Every fire engine is custom built to the department that buys it.”

Street size, terrain, type of building construction, water supply and distances traveled all factor into designs.

“An engine for Ceres is going to be a lot different than let’s say Sonora. The streets are more narrow up there. You have hills where here we have flat ground. The things we have to worry about are roundabouts, cul-de-sacs, things like that. We’re high run; we’re very, very busy so we really need to think about all these things when we go to specify an engine of this type.”

For safety of personnel, the new trucks are designed to store items outside the cab to prevent objects from flying forward and hitting personnel in the event there is a crash.

One significant change in the new engines is that turnouts and equipment exposed during firefighting will be stored inside of the cab because of the high incidence of cancer due to exposure to carcinogens.

“We wanted what we call ‘clean cab’ concept which is getting all of the gear out of the cab to help that.”

The cabin is designed with no cloth – there are non-porous panels and vinyl seats – that could absorb dangerous chemical.

“We have a policy in place that says how we transport dirty gear back to the station. We’re actually the first fire department to order what is called the clean air system.”

The system involved a dual set of filters in the crew cabin to filter out dangerous elements that could be expelled from the pores of firefighters who’ve just been exposed to smoke. Those filters are changed out every few months.

Rear-facing seats for the crew riding in the back were eliminated in favor of forward-facing seats. That’s beneficial because personnel can now see what situation they are facing rolling up onto a scene, whether it’s a fire or car accident. Serpa said firefighters are trained to be observant about type of construction in the event of a house fire because the attack could be affected.

Type 1engines include a water pump, carry a water tank and carry hoses. It will service just about every call.

“We engineered so that the things that the firefighters use the most are closest to where they come out. All they have to do is open a door and they have forceable entry tools. So now we don’t have to climb to the top of the rig to get hand tools.”

The engines were also designed with hose beds about two feet lower to allow for easier access for firefighters to begin dragging out hoses and prevent injury.

“This is 64-and-a-half inches off the ground,” said Serpa, pointing to the hose bed. “No agency around us has a lower hose bed than ours and we do that for a couple of reasons. One, ergonomics. Getting up on the roof steps, grabbing hose, then stepping off, lots of knee injuries, back injuries, so we want to limit that as much as possible. Two, we get faster deployment.”

The aluminum hose bed’s cover is hydraulic powered to prevent injuries since the traditional gas shock lifts have been known to fail and drop onto firefighters as they are removing or replacing hoses.

“Again, we’re trying to prevent injury (with the design),” said Serpa.

The trucks were designed with 12-volt LED scene lights which replace halogen lights that required generators.

Doors were made shorter to clear potential barriers on the freeway.

All “dead space” on the engine was used for the shortage of equipment, such as air pack bottles and tools for Ceres’ three-man engine companies consisting of a captain, engineer and firefighter.

The quint engine has an aerial ladder which can be used to direct water streams over an extended area; as well as help firefighters access rooftops.

Even the city’s shop mechanics had a say in the design. As a result of the collaboration,  panels were designed for easy access to the pumps.

The four vehicles were built over a 14-month spread at various Rosenbauer Fire Apparatus manufacturing plants in Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota owned by using the Sourcewell consortium for greater purchasing power. COVID-19 caused a three-month delay in the delivery of the vehicles, said Serpa.

To fund the new expensive apparatus, the council approved a loan from the city’s sewer fund to the General Fund. The debt will be repaid at a much lower interest rate back to the sewer fund versus than the city could have obtained through traditional financing. Serpa praised former City Manager Toby Wells for coming up with the idea. He also expressed appreciation for the Ceres City Council for supporting the purchase of the new vehicles as well as using Measure H and general fund dollars to buy $250,000 worth of items such as extraction tools, battery-powered ventilation fans, new fire hoses and new chainsaws.

Fire bell Ceres
This shiny bell attached to the passenger side of the new Ceres fire engines is designed to alert pedestrians and bicyclists when rolling down the street. Bells were deemed better than blowing off the air horn at 140 decibels or a siren just as loud. - photo by Jeff Benziger