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Fire District 3 gets new ladder truck

WHITE CITY - A fire district that protects lumber mills, industries like Eastman Kodak and three cities stretching across 15 river miles now boasts the region's tallest ladder truck.

A 105-foot, lime green Pierce aerial recently rolled off the Appleton, Wis., assembly line to augment Jackson County Fire District 3's arsenal of equipment that protects $1.87 billion worth of homes, ranches and businesses in a 220-square-mile area.

A firefighter can climb the steel rungs to the ladder's top and battle a blaze with 1,000 gallons of water per minute or control the aerial nozzle tip from the ground if the fire is too hot or dangerous, said James Gillin, fire engineer.

"We're ahead with new technology by 30 years," Gillin said.

The 2001 Pierce cost $600,000, part of which was paid for by White City Urban Renewal.

The ladder truck could be used to extinguish a blaze at Timber Products' chip bins, for example, protect the Grange Co-op's grain elevator in Central Point or save a person trapped inside a house fire in Eagle Point. The new rig carries 300 gallons of water, 133 feet of ground ladders, a foam system for car or industrial fires, flood lights, salvage and rescue equipment and a generator.

Fully loaded, the lime-green machine weighs 59,000 pounds and is 40 feet long, but drives like a sedan, Gillin said. It's powered by a Detroit diesel engine that gets about 5 miles per gallon. There are four computers on board, including one to operate hydraulic jacks that stabilize the beast when the ladder is in the air.

The ladder can move in any direction at any angle and the hose can still shoot out 1,000 gallons per minute, Gillin said.

With its gold-leaf lettering and small mural depicting Table Rock and Mount McLoughlin, the ladder truck is custom built. It was designed by a Fire District — team that spent 18 months researching similar trucks around the country.

This is the third ladder truck in Fire District's 3's history, Gillin said. Jackson Electric bought the first one and uses it to change lights. The second one, which has an 85-foot aluminum ladder, will be sold to the highest bidder.

Fire District — protects 45,000 people who live in and around the cities of Central Point, Eagle Point, Gold Hill, as well as businesses in the White City Industrial Park and ranches in Sams Valley. The district rescues rafters and anglers along 10 to 15 river miles and responds to vehicle accidents on about 8 miles of Interstate 5 and 10 miles of Crater Lake Highway. There are 45 employees, 75 volunteers and seven stations.

Before the lime green rig rolled into town, the Medford city and rural fire districts, which protect about 80,000 people, boasted the tallest, a 1999 Pierce 100-foot aerial. Medford's is different because it has a platform or bucket that holds two or three fire fighters.

"You don't use aerials very often but when you need one, there's nothing else that does the job and provides the vertical or horizontal reach," said Mark Burns, Medford Fire Department's operations chief.

Medford used its new ladder recently on a White City mill fire that started before Fire District 3's new rig arrived.

Gillin said the new truck may find itself dousing fires that ignite on wind-whipped sawdust piles at Biomass One, Boise Cascade or Royal Oak Enterprises.

"It will probably be the most used vehicle in their fleet," said Rex Hughes, owner of Hughes Fire Equipment in Eugene, which sold three Pierce aerials in Oregon this year. "It will be a tremendous benefit to the community."

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail