Mola Lenghi, Arlington Journalist
Arlington Fire Department looks to use SUVs on calls that don't require a traditional fire truck.
When you think about your local fire department, those familiar ladder trucks probably come to mind.
But in Arlington, you won't be seeing those engines as often.
The Arlington Fire Department is expanding the use of highly equipped sport utility vehicles to respond to lower-priority medical calls. The SUVs are already in use at one fire station.
The majority of calls the department responds to are medical calls.
“They may be anything from a stomachache to breathing difficulty, an injured person or a gunshot wound,” Lt. Darrel Whitfield said.
Fire engines show up, resulting in a lot of needless wear and tear on the $600,000 trucks.
“If this engine is tied up on a medical call and a fire happens in this district right here, then another fire truck from a surrounding district has to respond,” Whitfield said.
Arlington fire engines typically last five to seven years before having to be replaced. Whitfield said the vehicles are very expensive to buy and maintain.
"If you have a vehicle that costs $600,000-plus and it only lasts five to seven years, that's a big cost to the citizens and taxpayers of Arlington," Whitfield said.
The city could go through 12 SUVs for the price of one fire engine. That, along with the better fuel costs and quicker response times, has sparked an effort to expand the use of the SUVs to at least one more station.
Lt. Keith Copeman said the SUVs basically have “the same capabilities as the engine except squirting water."
"It has tools. It has air packs for the firefighters ... to make entry with. It has all the gear they need for that," he said.
While the SUV units have proven to be efficient and more cost-effective, the traditional fire engine is still king, firefighters said. They said they will continue to turn to the engines to do what they do best -- fight fires.