Leader Blues

Friday, July 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> South Bend buys two new fire trucks

By JONATHAN FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

The South Bend Volunteer Fire Department received two new water-tanker trucks on Wednesday. The trucks, which together cost $112,820, will enable the department to better serve the areas that are not connected to city water.

“These trucks will be a real asset to the department because they are more up-to-date. That’s something that we’ve been working toward for almost 10 years now,” Chief Kenneth Fraley said.

The department is responsible for protecting 85 square miles of in rural Lonoke and Pulaski counties. New equipment is always a cause for celebration at a department with such a huge territory to protect.

The fire crew understands the importance of the new tankers.

“We average about 400 calls a year for fires, car accidents and medical emergencies,” public information officer Hubert Chapman said.

That’s a lot of demand for a 40-person crew that is entirely volunteer. Plus, fighting fires in rural areas is anything but routine.

About a third of the South Bend district uses well water. In those areas, the firefighters do not have access to fire hydrants.

South Bend already had a fire engine with a small tanker built in, and an inflatable pool that carries hundreds of gallons of water. But the new trucks’ sole purpose is to carry 1,850 gallons each. They can pump 375 gallons per minute.

Both trucks are ’92 GMC Kodiaks. They were refurbished by Deep South Fire Trucks based in Seminary, Miss.

“We custom build new and used big tankers,” Deep South Fire Truck’s Arkansas representative Danny Avera said.

The department seemed happy with its purchase at a dedication ceremony Wednesday evening. The firefighters gathered, along with community members, for a prayer led by chaplain Jim Schmidt. He and his wife Suzy lead the congregation of Full-time Christian Church outside Jacksonville.

“We open every meeting we have with a prayer,” Chapman said.

But the department isn’t just about fighting fires.

“We treat people out here like our customers,” Chapman said.

He says South Bend firefighters never forget they are there to serve their community.

The South Bend Fire Association holds a free breakfast Saturday every month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Every Friday at 6 p.m., the fire association hosts bingo with cash prizes. Bingo helps the association to raise money for other community-service programs like its Christmas food and gift drive.

“There are approximately 973 fire departments in Arkansas and 920 are volunteer, so the paid departments are the minority,” Chapman said.

“We’re all unpaid, we get no reimbursements. It’s about giving back,” he said.