Politics & Government
5:04 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

Grand Rapids Fire Department deploys new breed of fire trucks

The so-called quick response vehicles are a cross between a four-wheel-drive SUV used to respond to medical emergencies, and fire engines with all the equipment to put out fires.

Grand Rapids’ Deputy Fire Chief Frank Verburg says the department will deploy three of the quick response vehicles for now. They have a 300-gallon water tank and a small fire suppression foam system.

“We’re gonna study these over the next six months to see how they actually fit in and what they do, and really, how they respond for us. So rather than just buy all these and think they’re the greatest thing, we’re actually sampling these,” Verburg said.

The trial run is part of the city’s effort to make public safety services like the fire department more cost efficient. Three quick response vehicles cost a little less than a fully loaded fire engine.

A couple of years ago the City of Grand Rapids had to lay off police and fire officials. Around the same time, voters approved an increase on their income taxes to fund the city’s “transformation plan” to restructure city government and hopefully avoid future layoffs.

Deputy Fire Chief Frank Verburg says that fund will pay for these new quick response vehicles.

“We’re just trying to learn how to better manage and still give a good service,” Verburg said. He says the vehicles will allow more flexibility in how the fire department responds to calls.

He says some other fire departments are beginning to use similar vehicles too.

The firefighters' union president William E. Smith told The Grand Rapids Press/MLive in February some are skeptical that the option will prove viable to maintain costs in the long run.

“They’re not proven in our minds,” he said. “We are skeptical, but not to the point of real outlandish criticism because we really don’t know what this is and how it’s going to work. It’s just something completely different.

“Is it going to be the right fit for Grand Rapids? That’s yet to be determined.”

Smith said the key to maintaining fire service levels is to maintain fire staffing levels. Firefighters last month made concessions in a new labor contract to avoid layoffs, he said.

“What we need are boots on the ground when that call comes in,” Smith said. “In a fire engine you’re going to have three or four firefighters on it. In a ‘quick-response vehicle,’ you’re going to have two.”