Sister Lakes Fire Department adds new tanker to fleet

SISTER LAKES — Thanks to some creative partnerships and a little wheeling and dealing, the Sister Lakes Fire Department now has some extra firepower — or waterpower, rather — in its arsenal.

Last week, the local firehouse, located at 92282 County Road 690, welcomed the newest addition to its fleet, a custom-built pumper tanker vehicle. Capable of holding up to 3,500 gallons of water, which the vehicle can discharge at a rate of 500 gallons per minute, the gargantuan truck is expected to become a substantial player in the department’s fire response, helping supply other engines with more than enough water to put out residential and other blazes in the area, said Anthony Lozada, chief of the volunteer fire department.

Such a vehicle would normally cost a fire department $600,000 or more to purchase. Thanks to the assistance of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, however, leaders of the Sister Lakes Fire Department spent just under $55,000 to transform a former U.S. military semi-trailer, once employed to transport materials across warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq, into a functioning part of the fire house fleet, Lozada said.

“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, that will benefit this community for a long time,” Lozada said.

The fire chief said he first learned about the DNR’s program, which provides surplus military equipment to state fire departments, after one of his firefighters mentioned the program to the rest of the station around a year and half ago. Lozada and other leaders with the department then applied to receive a vehicle through the program, which they got their hands on the former military vehicle, free of charge, in October 2016.

The station then sent the semi-trailer to Etankers, a business that specializes in repurposing and customizing vehicles for fire department use, located outside Lansing. After selling the company two of its older vehicles, the Sister Lakes fire house was able to drive the price tag down to $55,000.

The pumper tanker is the second vehicle to join the Sister Lakes Fire Department fleet this year.

In March, the fire house purchased a used 2005 HME Inc. fire engine — similar to the 2008 model it uses as its main workhorse — from a dealer in Alabama for just $145,000 — the vehicle would normally run between $400,000 to $500,000, Lozada said.

After being repainted and customized, the fire engine entered service on June 25. The machine is currently being used as a rescue vehicle for the department, equipped with around $50,000 worth of new tools, like the Jaws of Life, to help safely extract people from car accidents and other dangerous situations.

Both the new rescue engine and tanker would have cost the department more than $1 million to purchase through conventional methods, Lozada said. However, as small volunteer departments such as Sister Lakes deal with smaller and smaller budgets, it falls on the ingenuity of its leaders and members to ensure that crews have the equipment they need to protect the public.

“We have to be creative with the ways we manage tax payer dollars,” Lozada said. “We saw a way to expand our capabilities at 25 percent of the cost it would have otherwise. We just had to shop around and find the right programs.”

The department, which has 35 volunteer firefighters among its ranks at the moment, serves portions of Silver Creek, Bainbridge and Keeler townships in the Sister Lakes area, and regularly assists on other calls in the area. Lozada said he hopes that the new vehicles and equipment will help lower the Insurance Service Office fire rating in the Sister Lakes area from 7 to 6, which in turn will lead to lower insurance rates for residents.

At the end of the day, however, Lozada said the new equipment is meant to first and foremost keep the people of Sister Lakes safe and secure.

“This is their equipment; it was their money that paid for it,” he said. “They just trust us to operate it.”

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