West Hills ladder truck fire

Smoke billows from West Hills Regional Fire Department’s ladder truck Thursday night. Jan. 3, 2019, after the vehicle caught fire in Ferndale. Chief Robert Tauber said the vehicle was heavily damaged by the blaze.

It wasn’t the first vehicle fire West Hills Regional firefighters had seen, but Thursday night’s alarm was personal. 

The volunteer fire company’s ladder truck – its primary response vehicle for structure fires – erupted in flames on a street in Ferndale, fire Chief Robert Tauber said. 

“We’ve had better days,” Tauber said on Friday. 

At the time of the fire, the truck was being used for driver training, allowing new members to become acquainted with the regional fire department’s service area, Tauber explained.

“They heard a pop,” he said, “then shortly they had flames coming from under the cab.”

All of those on the truck escaped without injury as additional firefighters responded with the department pumper and other equipment.

“When we got there, there was heavy fire in the cab and engine area,” Tauber said.

Although crews were able to contain the flames to those areas, the truck was heavily damaged.

“We are working with the insurance company,” Tauber said. “We’re going to have to roll with the punches with whatever they decide.”

Although the cause has not been pinpointed, Tauber said it appears to be a mechanical issue.

“There was no fault of any of the operators or anybody else,” he said. 

Neighboring fire companies will roll ladder trucks to West Hills communities as needed, Tauber said. 

“For the communities, they will see no difference in response at all,” he said, explaining that Cambria County 911 dispatchers have already added those mutual aid trucks to West Hills alarm sequence. 

The 1994 ladder truck has been in service in the Westmont area since the mid-1990s, Tauber said. It was refurbished in 2003. New ladder trucks today can cost from $800,000 to more than $1 million, depending on make, model and equipment, he said. 

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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