Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

The Baker City Fire Department’s new truck can do all sorts of useful and potentially life-saving tasks in addition to dousing blazes, but first you have to climb aboard.

And quite a climb it is.

“You about need a rope ladder,” Fire Chief Tom Wills said Thursday morning as he grabbed a metal handle and hoisted himself up into the driver’s seat.

Way up.

From ground level you’re gazing at the driver’s boots rather than his eyes, unless you crane your neck to an uncomfortable angle.

From his elevated perch Wills commands a four-wheel drive behemoth that far surpasses any of the department’s other machines in its abilities to deal with brush, grass or forest fires.

Also, it was free.

Well, sort of.

The city didn’t pay anything earlier this spring to acquire the 2003 Freightliner, which amassed most of its 106,000 miles in the firefighting fleet of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

But Wills estimates the city will spend about $16,000 to outfit the diesel truck, including $5,000 to $6,000 for new tires (the rig, with dual rear-wheels, has six of them, and they stand as tall as some elementary school students).

The city has received a $9,375 state grant to help retrofit the truck, however.

The city is dividing its share of the truck’s cost between the fire and public works departments, Wills said. The truck is a boon for the public works department, he said, because it could be used to fight fires in the watershed and at the sewage treatment plant about a mile north of town.

“We’re real excited,” Wills said. “Where else are you going to get a free fire engine?”

He said the truck would have cost about $170,000 when it was new.

A current equivalent would fetch almost twice that much.

Wills said the city’s search for a truck capable of fighting wildland fires — in the city’s 10,000-acre, heavily forested watershed, for instance — dates back a few years to his predecessor, Mark John.

The city’s previous wildland-capable truck was a standard pickup augmented with a 120-gallon tank and a pump that could spew water at a rate of 50 gallons per minute.

The new truck carries 500 gallons and its pump can push 500 gallons per minute to a network of hose nozzles. The rig bristles with hookups, rather like a World War II B-17 bomber that had machine guns jutting from several parts of the fuselage.

(The city donated the pickup truck to a fire department in Central Oregon.)

The new truck is officially designated as 2481.

But Wills said it acquired its unofficial, but more descriptive, nickname the moment it rolled into the fire department’s driveway on Second Street about two months ago.

“The first thing anyone said when it pulled in is, ‘that’s a beast,’ ” Wills said with a chuckle.

The Beast it became.

See more in the June 1, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.