Locally-built fire engines battling CA blazes

Kent County
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WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — In California, firefighting is a whole different ballgame, especially when the Santa Ana winds pick up.  

“The fire behavior is just crazy out there, just crazy,” said Chief Jeffrey Hunt, who leads the Beaver Dam Littlefield Fire District in northwest Arizona near the Nevada border.

When a big one sparks, it’s all hands on deck. Hunt is a veteran of providing help to nearby states during wildfire season, including California. The equipment they take to the battle is important.

“My Type 3 engine is in (southern) California at the Woolsey (wildfire) as we speak,” Hunt told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday. “You’re going to get off road. You’re going to go up steep hills. You’re going to go into places where there are no roads.”

Hunt and his crew were in Wyoming Thursday to price out a new fire engine at the HME Ahrens-Fox plant on Chicago Drive. One of the company’s specialty products is the Type 3 Wildland Interface engine, jargon for a rig with special capabilities to take on severe conditions in often isolated areas amid wildfires.

“They’re all-wheel drive. They have very high ground clearance. … They can move and deploy water or foam while they’re moving,” HME President Jim Monterusso listed.

These days, Monterusso worries about his customers as much as the company’s bottom line, especially when he turns on the TV and sees the fires rage in California. The wildfire in Northern California, referred to as the Camp Fire, is the deadliest in the state’s history

HME has built hundreds of the special engines for fire department throughout California, including the state’s two main firefighting agencies, CAL Fire and the California Office of Emergency Services.

“This is a very personal businesses. The firefighter community is small. Everybody knows one another. It’s a big deal when there’s a big fire,” Monterusso said. “They become your friends over the years. You worry about them a little bit. Usually, that’s what we’re thinking about more than our shiny red trucks.”

Still, there is battle to be waged. Monterusso says HME is doing what it can to help win the war.  

“I think we’d all be a lot happier if the problems didn’t exist, but it does,” Monterusso said. “And we’re happy to try to contribute.”

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