It's one of Lawrence's most versatile and expensive pieces of equipment. It's also almost useless by itself.
Ladder 1, Douglas County Fire & Medical's ladder truck, is so understaffed its crew can't begin to attack a fire until another engine arrives.
"It's frustrating," said Lt. Russell Brickell, who spends half of his shifts on Ladder 1. "You just do your job the best you can ... what else can you do?"
Lawrence city commissioners have said repeatedly they intended to make public safety a top priority during negotiations on the 2004 budget. Yet for at least the third year in a row, the commissioners denied Fire & Medical's request for a third firefighter for Ladder 1.
"Right now we have two people per 24-hour shift assigned to the ladder truck," Deputy Chief Mark Bradford said. "National standards say we should have five under certain circumstances."
Bradford says his crews don't typically encounter the types of situations requiring five firefighters, but they do regularly encounter situations that meet the requirements for four. If Ladder 1 is the first engine on a scene, the crew must wait for a second unit to arrive and the crews to merge before they can attack a fire. Brickell says the understaffing means his job takes much longer, putting the public in danger.
"Fire doubles every three or four minutes," Brickell said. With only two staffers, Brickell says tasks that should take only one minute could take three minutes.
The staffing levels also cause problems with other engines. Linking up with Ladder 1 means another engine or ambulance has significantly reduced effectiveness, or sits idle. The combination reduces the effectiveness of the entire department, especially in the first few critical minutes on scene.
"We understand it's a tough budget year," Bradford said. "But for us, there shouldn't be anything higher on the list for public officials than public safety."