It’s been more than 20 years since the all-volunteer Kings Mountain Fire Department has been able to upgrade its fire engines. That isn’t because it doesn’t need the equipment. The mountain community is far removed from other emergency services, and often the volunteer fire department is the first agency to respond to the scene.
But now it has something new, Engine 56, and Assistant Chief Hank Stern said the new truck would increase the reliability of fire service to the 400 families living in the area from Highway 92 up to Highway 35 to Bear Gulch Reservoir.
In 2019, Stern said the department responded to about 330 calls, nearly one per day. Most were fairly routine, but the potential for something worse is constant. The community is located at a high elevation, surrounded by redwood trees and is particularly vulnerable to flooding and wildfires.
For four years, the department, which consists of two assistant chiefs and 14 volunteer firefighters, has been working on securing a new engine. The department is overseen by the nonprofit organization, the Kings Mountain Fire Brigade. The nonprofit funded the engine largely from the money raised during the annual Kings Mountain Art Fair.
Hank estimated the new engine cost between $600,000 and $900,000.
One of the significant upgrades is that the engine can hold six firefighters.
“The older engine could only fit three firefighters, and so if you respond to a structure fire it would be difficult to do without additional apparatus responding,” Assistant Chief Ann Gabrys said. Firefighters say that to enter a building on fire, there needs to be a minimum of four people on the scene.
The extra space also allows firefighters to attach their breathing protection inside the vehicle, which can save minutes in response time.
Additionally, Engine 56 is also better equipped to maneuver the roads with enhanced traction and suspension.
“This is a wooded area with narrow steep roads and driveways so the access could be limited,” Stern said.
As the department went about testing the engine, crews brought it down each of the roads in its coverage area to make sure there was adequate access.
Inside, the engine is equipped with control panels that allow firefighters to communicate with dispatch, navigate, and utilize the computer-assisted pump technology.
On the sides of the engine there are multiple compartments holding medical equipment, chainsaws, ropes and shovels, and extra oxygen tanks.
“Everything has its place,” Gabrys said.
The engine also carries different size hose lines, which allows firefighters flexibility in securing water access and ability to move easily.
“Here, many of the fire hydrants are far away or not large enough,” Stern said. “Having three-inch lines give us the flexibility of putting longer hose lays on the ground and the ability to get a water supply where normally you could not.”
Engine 56, which was delivered in November, has already been responding to calls.
“Having our own engine in our own control gives us a lot more say in providing protection to the community,” Stern said. “… Regardless of the incident, this provides the appropriate response.”