Shawnee Fire Department puts new $1.2 million aerial ladder truck into service

The new $1.2 million tiller truck has a 107-foot aerial ladder. Photos credit Mike Frizzell.

The Shawnee Fire Department officially welcomed a new team member this past Sunday: a $1.2 million aerial ladder truck.

The truck, a custom-built 2019 Pierce Velocity tractor-drawn aerial, will be known as Ladder 71. A tractor-drawn aerial which is often called a tiller in the fire service has an articulating center which allows it to bend, much like a tractor-trailer.

Fire Chief John Mattox says the new tiller is 64 feet in overall length and carries an aerial ladder which fully extends to 107 feet.

The articulating center allows for increased maneuverability.

While its overall length may sound cumbersome, Mattox says the tiller design offers improved maneuverability over the 2010 Pierce Velocity 105 foot aerial truck, known as Truck 71, which it replaces in front-line service. The tiller’s articulating center will allow firefighters to position the aerial device more efficiently than an aerial apparatus which isn’t tractor-drawn.

“When we started planning for the replacement, we brought Lenexa’s tiller over and had them follow us in Truck 71, in places that we can’t make the corner or have to back up two or three times,” Mattox said. “Never once did that tiller have to back up.”

The improved maneuverability comes from the addition of a second driving position, known in the fire service as a tillerman. The tillerman sits in a small cab at the rear of the trailer portion, steering the rear wheels, allowing the trailer section to make tight turns with ease.

Ladder 71 is the second in the department’s fleet to display their updated gray over burgundy color scheme, a nod to the department’s history. The burgundy is very near the color of the department’s 1930 REO Speed Wagon pumper.

Other features of the new Ladder 71 include a compartment for the driver to store their firefighting gear and vinyl-like seats which can easily be wiped down to help keep the cab clear of cancer-causing contaminants. It also has side-mounted cameras to help the driver know that they have enough room to extend the support outriggers which must be extended when the aerial device is used.

Ladder 71 will run calls out of the John B. Glaser Fire Station, also known as Station 71, which is located at 6501 Quivira Road.

The new Pierce apparatus comes at the cost of just over $1.2 million and replaces The older truck will become a reserve apparatus and will be kept ready to go back into service in the event a front-line piece of equipment were to be down for maintenance or otherwise unavailable.

“This ladder truck is just another example of the tremendous support we receive from the community and our governing body in providing us with outstanding fire equipment,” Chief Mattox said. 

Mattox says that support helped the department achieve accreditation and more recently helped in attaining a Class I certification with the Insurance Service Office.

“Which means we are providing the city of Shawnee and the citizens of Shawnee with the best fire protection anywhere in the country,” Mattox said.