Late Monday night Omaha firefighters were called to the Siena Francis House Apartments for a report of a fire with people possibly trapped. The firefighters of Truck 1 arrived shortly after dispatch and started evacuating residents. However, one vital life-saving tool was unavailable to the firefighters; their 100 foot hydraulically driven ladder.
An Omaha Fire Department source with direct knowledge of the incident stated that the primary apparatus, a 3-year-old 105 foot "Smeal", that Truck 1 operates on has been down due to mechanical problems for close to six weeks. As a result the firefighters of Truck 1 have been operating on reserve rig Truck 59, a 2001 100 foot "E-One".
Early Monday night the firefighters of Truck 1 were forced to go out of service due to mechanical issues with their replacement apparatus, Truck 59, according to the source. The Vehicle Maintenance Shop reportedly did not have a functional replacement truck to give the firefighters as at least four other ladder trucks were undergoing repairs at the time the source said.
"Vehicle Maintenance never has enough help," the source said. "And when they do, they move 'em all into the orange trucks."
The firefighters of Truck 1 were forced to use Truck 29, another spare apparatus from the late 1990s that is housed at the Public Safety Training Center. Because of mechanical issues the 100 foot ladder on Truck 29 was also inoperable; however, it was the only remaining running ladder apparatus that was available the source said.
The firefighters of Truck 1 decided to test the ladder on Truck 29 first since it "just sits there," the source said. The firefighters were unable to get it to operate.
After hours of trying to find a functional truck the firefighters of Truck 1 were faced with a difficult decision - remain out of service for hours longer awaiting repairs or go back into service and make do with what they had.
Truck 1 went back into service on the inoperable Truck 29 providing coverage for their fire zones which mainly consist of large commercial and high-rise properties in Downtown, Midtown and Eastern Omaha.
According to the source, the firefighters of Truck 1 were forced to provide coverage with an inoperable ladder for close to 10 hours or more hoping that they would not receive a life-threatening call that required that piece of equipment.
Around 11:15 p.m. Monday night Douglas County Communications received a call for a fire in the T.V. room of 1139 N 18th Street, Siena Francis House Apartments. The Siena Francis House Apartments has a total of 48 units that primarily house chronically homeless and disabled individuals.
Truck 1 on replacement Truck 29 was dispatched as the first due truck company on the assignment. While enroute firefighters were notified that there were parties possibly trapped inside the structure.
Upon arrival fire crews began evacuations of the apartments and quickly located and knocked down the fire according to scanner traffic.
On the scene of structure fires, truck companies can be used for a wide range of tasks from providing an elevated stream of water to providing a rapid means of egress and rescue for civilians and firefighters alike.
By sheer luck, the fire at the Siena Francis House Apartments was minor enough that it did not trap anyone on the second floor requiring rapid rescue from a ladder; this time.
"Truck 1 is crazy busy," the source said. "If a high-rise fire came in, in the downtown Omaha area, Truck 1 was useless."