West Barnstable Fire Department gets ready for spring

2022-05-29 16:32:19 By : Ms. Janice Lo

Early spring brings increased activity in and around the village of West Barnstable, including several happenings in the Fire District, so on a recent Thursday morning, this reporter pulled up in front of the West Barnstable Fire Station on Route 149 to hear more about what’s new, including one weighty, 5-ton addition.

West Barnstable Fire Chief Joseph Maruca extended a welcome and offered a close-up look at the new addition to the department’s fleet of fire and rescue vehicles. We headed through the apparatus bay, passing through a tall canyon of red and silver vehicles parked close in the space, while firefighter Luke Walsh eased the new truck outside into the driveway to afford a better look.

According to Maruca, the department’s new All-Hazards truck, known as Forestry-295, comes with an interesting construction story. It was built by members of the West Barnstable Fire Department, assisted by a local Cape mechanic whom Maruca described as “highly skilled with military vehicles.” The truck, which took several years to complete, was constructed on the chassis of a military surplus vehicle with 6-wheel drive, obtained through the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. When such a truck is built in-house like this, he said, the department can sometimes “cannibalize other vehicles” to find needed parts.

For Forestry-295, such parts included a “skid unit” comprising a 600-gallon water tank, pump and hose reel; and, from another source, the truck box and other accessories that added various compartments and on-board capabilities.

Maruca said the “multi-mission” truck carries a crew of three and gives access to beach, woods and areas impossible to access with other vehicles. It’s capable of responding to emergencies such as fire in a beach camper or RV; brush fires in a wooded area; or evacuation of an injured person from otherwise inaccessible terrain. It’s also equipped for deep water (waist-deep) rescues. Tires automatically inflate or deflate to adjust to the terrain.

The new truck, said Maruca, is now finished and “good to go.” Along with a second, lighter multi-terrain vehicle that was built from a pickup truck chassis, the two vehicles will replace the old “brush breaker” trucks formerly used by the department on similar missions. Ordered new, he said, a vehicle like Forestry-295 would cost between $120,000 and $150,000, but constructed in-house the cost is closer to $25,000 to $30,000.

In another harbinger of spring, the department will soon begin training a new group of volunteer firefighters. Maruca said that between eight and 12 new recruits will start sometime in April, and by mid-July they’ll be ready for what Maruca called “limited” responses to various calls. Training continues through the year, culminating in the state exam in early 2022, when volunteers are state-certified, to national standards.

The West Barnstable Fire Station currently numbers five full-time firefighters and 45 volunteers. People may not realize, Maruca said, how dependent fire departments are on volunteers. In the United States as a whole, he noted, 60 to 70 percent of all firefighters fall into the volunteer category.

West Barnstable, he added, is one of the few local fire districts to have a waiting list of hopeful volunteer recruits. This year, for instance, more than 40 applied for consideration. “We have one of the best training programs in the region,” he said. More than half the training hours are designated for firefighting instruction, with closer to 20 percent for EMS preparation and somewhat lesser amounts for such areas as motor vehicle accident response, driver training, hazmat and other specializations.

Locally, the majority of calls to the West Barnstable department are for medical assistance. Surprisingly, Maruca said, the COVID crisis actually “held down the number of medical calls,” possibly because of people’s reluctance to be transported to a hospital at the height of the contagion. The department worked closely with Cape Cod Community College, Barnstable County and Cape Cod Hospital to manage the 4Cs testing site last year, and provided “safety officers” throughout the busy testing period.

Chief Maruca has been involved in the fire service since 1977, when he began as a volunteer, working in Longmeadow, Sandwich and then West Barnstable. Besides his work as a volunteer, he partnered in a local law firm for many years, becoming West Barnstable’s fire chief in 2005. 

“It’s a CEO kind of job” with “a command function,” he noted, waving a hand over the mountain of paperwork on his desk. In addition, like all the other firefighters, Maruca is on call when needed for emergencies.

There’ll be more department news in the coming weeks. The West Barnstable Fire District holds its annual meeting on April 28, to be held outdoors at the station. As part of the meeting agenda, they’ll be seeking funds to replace their 35-year-old Engine-Tanker 296, which first saw service in 1985. The truck, a mainstay of the fleet, has seen heavy duty service, but no longer meets many of the safety standards now required on firefighting vehicles. The classic truck comes with a storied history, but has far surpassed the length of service typical for vehicles of its kind.