Fire chief says it’s time to update their 22-year-old ‘jaws of life’
© Compass file photo
Harbour Grace Fire Chief Ray Verge has been a member of the brigade for 20 years and has seen fire fighting technology change over that time.
Imagine driving down Veterans Memorial Highway heading from Bay Roberts to Harbour Grace in a brand new SUV.
Although it’s a rainy day and there is water buildup on the road, you drive just over the speed limit because your vehicle came with an excellent safety rating.
The rating is because of its new and durable steel material so the impact during a potential crash would make it less vulnerable to destruction.
You reach over to change the station on the radio and hit a puddle of water. You swerve into the next lane where your brand new car ends up in a nearby ditch.
When members of the fire department arrive, they deploy their hydraulic extrication tool, commonly known as the “jaws of life,” and attempt to remove you from your vehicle, with no success.
The new durable metal is too strong for the 22-year-old equipment.
Although this situation is fictional, it’s one that the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Brigade hopes to avoid in the future.
“Our current piece of equipment has about 39,000 PSI (pounds per square inch) cutting power,” Fire Chief Ray Verge explains during a phone interview with The Compass. “The new one we are going to purchase has 208,000 PSI.”
Verge says the extrication tools are in excellent condition and were well maintained, but are no longer suitable with the change in technology.
“Things were different 15 to 20 years ago,” he says. “Things have changed. Technology has changed. We can no longer cut every type of metal in a vehicle."
What Verge and the other firefighters are hoping is to avoid situations where their current equipment will fail, such as in the example above.
“A lot of the (fire) departments are going through this now,” he adds. “That’s what we are setting out to accomplish.”
There is no plan yet for the old equipment, but Verge believes the department will decide to keep it as a training tool.
Buying new equipment
Verge states the department does not want to “boast” about the equipment, but rather wants to ensure when it needs to use it, it is there. Members hope they will not have to wait on another department in a different community in serious, time-sensitive situations.
“It’s about getting (the equipment) out in the field,” he explains. “We are very active in trying to obtain the best equipment that we can and provide the best service when we need to.”
The department is regularly using the current hydraulic extrication tools. They even had two accidents in one weekend where the tools were needed.
“We had one accident up on the ridge in Victoria and another in Western Bay,” Verge says.
The Town of Harbour Grace approved for the brigade to begin the tender process for the new tools at a council meeting Aug. 26. The equipment was not allotted in this year’s budget, but town leaders agreed they needed to start the process so it could be included in next year’s budget.
The six-piece set of tools — spreader, cutter, ram, mini-cutter, hydraulic pump and manual pump — is expected to cost some $35,000. The department has an annual operating budget of $100,000.
“Any purchase over $10,000 has to be approved by the town,” Verge says, adding he expects the equipment to arrive around Christmas.
Twenty years of service
Since Verge was 19 years old he has been a member of the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Brigade.
This year he will celebrate 20 years, a notable milestone for firefighting in the province and the country.
“Here at the department we celebrate five, 10 and 15 years as well,” Verge exclaims. “But when you reach 20 years of service, the provincial and federal governments give out medals.”
That is something he says he is very excited to experience for his long-term dedication to the department and to helping those in need.
Verge — who is a three-term fire chief — will receive the honour at the department’s fireman’s ball on Nov. 9.