When it comes to trucks, smaller is better for Ottawa firefighters

What started as an exercise to save money for Ottawa's fleet of fire trucks has yielded the added advantage of smaller fire engines better suited for the city's urban areas, says a veteran firefighter.

City's newer, nimbler fire trucks better suited for urban areas, officials say

Capt. Bruce Griffin stands beside the newest addition to the fire engine fleet at Ottawa's Station 57 on Beechwood Avenue. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

What started as an exercise to save money for Ottawa's fleet of fire trucks has yielded the added advantage of smaller fire engines better suited for the city's urban areas, says a veteran firefighter.

"This is like driving a race car," said Ottawa Fire Services Capt. Bruce Griffin. "It's a small, nimble, little truck. It's fast, it stops on a dime, and it turns on a dime."

By reducing the truck's overall length and wheelbase by about 60 centimetres, the turning radius has been cut by 120 centimetres, says Griffin, meaning firefighters can get this pumper closer to the actual fire in some settings, such as apartment and townhouse complexes. 

"Previously we'd have to jimmy back and forth to get a truck into a parking lot area or to make a turn, but now we can just do a simple U-turn," he said. "When we're sneaking through, with the way parked cars are now with the snowbanks, every little bit counts."

Ottawa's newest fire trucks are 61 centimetres shorter, which helps drivers make tighter turns and potentially get closer to fires on narrower streets and parking lots. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Sticker shock led to change

Fighting fires in Ottawa for the past 23 years, Griffin was tasked with helping the city purchase 14 new pumper trucks to replace ones nearing retirement, which had originally cost the city about $650,000 per pumper in the mid-2000s.

He said the process hit a snag when it became evident the price tag to replace the existing pumpers with similarly scaled trucks would easily exceed $1 million each.

"Ultimately the catalyst was cost," said Griffin. "Our management asked us to come up with ways we could reduce cost, and one of them was to reduce the overall size of the truck."

Each new, smaller pumper cost the city roughly $700,000, yet they have the same water tank and crew capacity, four firefighters, as the model they replace, which was also a key factor given Ottawa's range of neighbourhoods, Griffin said.

"By having the smaller-size trucks, we got a truck that works really well in the urban setting and the suburban setting," he said.

Ottawa firefighter and driver Helena Inaloz, right, says the smaller truck has been a pleasant surprise to drive in the downtown compared to the model it replaces. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Easier to drive and quicker to respond

The repositioning of the pumper's control post — previously mounted on the upper-mid section of the truck — allows the trucks to be smaller. It is now located on either side of the vehicle.

In addition to being shorter, the new truck is also lighter, which pleases Ottawa firefighter and fire engine driver Helena Inaloz.

"It makes it a lot easier for us to be able to stay safe," said Inaloz. "It's really smooth, it turns really sharp, so overall I'm really happy with it." 

In all, 14 of the new smaller fire trucks will join the Ottawa Fire Services fleet by the end of 2022, officials say. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The smaller engine also lowers the cost of fuel, Griffin said. 

Eight of the smaller trucks are now being used in Ottawa, starting last summer, with another six expected to be added by the end of 2022. 

The trucks are used at fire station on Beechwood Avenue, where Griffin and Inaloz are based, as well as at stations in the Little Italy, Sandy Hill, Alta Vista and Overbrook areas.


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