By Donald Wittkowski
The color isn’t an ordinary red. It is a special “Ocean City red.”
The dimensions are impressive, too. It is 42 feet long, 12 feet, 4 inches tall, weighs a hefty 70,800 pounds and has an aerial ladder that extends 107 feet into the air.
Costing just shy of $1.1 million, the Ocean City Fire Department’s new ladder truck is a high-tech wonder that will be a centerpiece of public safety.
“It continues the benchmark,” Fire Chief Jim Smith said of the city’s commitment to public safety while showing off the new truck on Tuesday.
Smith explained that the truck’s 107-foot-high boom arm is needed to fight high-rise fires that could strike the taller hotels and condominiums in town.
It will also give firefighters the ability to hover over homes and other smaller buildings and douse them with a spray of water.
In one example of the truck’s special features, stabilizers pop out on both sides to balance it when the aerial ladder is extended, preventing it from becoming top heavy and possibly tipping over.
Despite the ladder truck’s enormous size, its “assisted steering” will allow it to nimbly travel through narrow streets and fit into tight spaces to battle fires. A laser detection system allows the driver to see if the truck is too close to a car or another object.
City Council approved a contract in 2017 to buy the new fire truck from Pierce Manufacturing Inc. of Appleton, Wisc. A Fire Department delegation consisting of Deputy Chief Vito DiMarco, Capt. Rick Bickmore and Capt. Tom Shallcross traveled to Wisconsin three times during the past year to oversee customizing the truck for Ocean City’s needs.
“This is a 100 percent custom fire truck. There is not another one like it in the world,” Bickmore said.
Special touches include having the words “Ocean City, N.J. … America’s Greatest Family Resort” painted on the truck in a nod to the town’s marketing slogan. There are also tributes painted on the truck that honor the U.S. military and the firefighters who responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
All of Ocean City’s fire trucks are red. Smith noted that the Fire Department wanted to continue that tradition with the new ladder truck.
“This is Ocean City red,” he said. “That’s our color.”
The new model replaces a nearly 20-year-old ladder truck that required a lot of mechanical upkeep and tens of thousands of dollars in repairs bills in the last year alone.
City officials said the fire department had spent more than $60,000 since 2016 for repairs to the old ladder truck, as well as another fire vehicle that also dates to 1999. Now that the new ladder truck is in service, the old one has been traded in.
Firefighter Nick Foglio has already had a chance to drive the new truck. Comparing it to the old ladder truck, he said it is like going from a “Chevy to a Cadillac.”
“It’s like driving the Cadillac of fire trucks,” Foglio said. “All of the top-of-the-line safety features are built into it. It’s completely different technology.”
Ryan Clark, another firefighter, noted that the new ladder truck has more space than its predecessor for storing tools, gear and safety equipment. The extra room, he said, will allow firefighters to respond faster to emergencies.
“When people’s lives are at risk, speed is everything,” Clark said.
The new fire truck continues with the major upgrades Ocean City has been making with the fire department in the past two years. In August 2017, the city celebrated the grand opening of a new $2.1 million fire station on 29th Street and West Avenue that replaced a crumbling and storm-ravaged firehouse dating to the 1950s.