ERMA — The Erma Volunteer Fire Company has come up with a logical solution to a big problem: decaying bridges to Diamond Beach built around 1940 that can no longer handle the weight of a fire truck.
Instead of waiting years or decades for the Middle Thorofare Bridge and its companion bridges to be replaced, the fire company came up with a less expensive and timelier solution: order a lighter weight fire truck.
The Middle Thorofare Bridge connects Route 109 at the terminus of the Garden State Parkway with Diamond Beach and neighboring Wildwood Crest. Why do fire trucks cross bridges from the mainland to answer fire calls in beach community of Diamond Beach? The community is a part of Lower Township and is served by the Erma Volunteer Fire Company located at the county airport.
In September 2007, Erma Volunteer Fire Company Chief Warner Muller informed Lower Township Police Chief Edward Donohue and the mayors of Lower Township, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest that the Middle Thorofare Bridge was rated for a maximum load of 15 tons but a fire truck fully loaded with water could weigh 25 tons.
At that time, Donohue stated in a letter that fire trucks should be diverted to the George Redding Bridge which meant firefighters had to drive through Rio Grande and Wildwood to reach Diamond Beach.
This created a travel time of 18 minutes under the most ideal traffic conditions.
“Going through Rio Grande is a nightmare,” said Muller.
Donohue’s letter stated in the event of confirmed report of smoke or fire, Wildwood Crest Volunteer Fire Department would respond as per a countywide mutual aid agreement. Donohue requested an emergency services substation be constructed in Diamond Beach to have a fire truck available on a 24-hour-per-day ready status. That has not happened.
Muller’s solution was to purchase a new fire truck weighing 14 tons from Emergency One in Ocala, Fla. The truck is a 2013 International cab and chassis and holds a five man crew in the cab, he told the Herald.
He called it a” basic, bare bones” pumper with 1,500 gallon per minute pump and 400 gallon water tank.
“The reason why the tank is so small is because of the light weight to go over the toll bridge,” said Muller.
Some manufacturers told Muller they could not build a 14 ton fire truck. Other Erma Volunteer Fire Company trucks weigh 23 to 25 tons.
“Originally, we were going to end up with a pickup truck style like a brush truck, a small, mini attack truck which is not sufficient for Diamond Beach and the high rise buildings,” he said.
A larger pump is needed to send water to that height, said Muller. The truck is also equipped to handle a high rise building fire, said Muller.
The truck was not an off the shelf vehicle but was 100 percent custom made.
Muller said waiting for the county to build new bridges was not an option.
The fire company had been sending a rescue unit to Diamond Beach using the Middle Thorofare Bridge while a pumper took the long route through Rio Grande and Wildwood.
“Now we can stay in our own township and not run through three different municipalities to get back to where we should be going,” said Muller.
In 2009, Jeff VanMourik, Erma Fire Company Vice Chairman of Fire District 3 asked to lease a parcel of township-owned land to build a fire station in Diamond Beach. At that time, he said the public had concerns about the lack of a firehouse in the community of expensive condominiums including 12-story Grand Resort.
Muller said estimated the cost of building a substation several years ago was over $1 million. The township applied for a federal grant but did not receive it. The new pumper cost less than $300,000.
A larger problem is how to staff a substation when the fire company’s volunteers live on the mainland. Muller said it would probably require paid staff.
The brand new truck is a pleasure to drive, said Muller. He compared it to driving a large pickup truck.