Robins compact fire truck has more capability at lower cost

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- The Air Force strives to be more efficient in everything, even fighting fires.

Robins Air Force Base is one of the first bases to get the new P-34 compact fire truck, which will replace one twice its size, the P-19.

However, thanks to ultra-high pressure technology, the P-34 brings even more firefighting capability at less than half the cost, said Robins Fire Chief Forest Johnson.

The P-34 carries about 500 gallons of water and foam, but it puts out smaller water-droplet spray that gives it the same capability of a standard truck with 1,500 gallons of water. The P-19 carries 1,000 gallons, and costs $564,000, while the P-34 costs $160,000. Robins is slated to get one more P-34. Johnson pointed out that two P-34s cost less than one P-19 yet would bring three times the fire fighting capability.

“That’s where you really get your bang for your buck,” he said.

With the potential of a huge C-5 or C-17 crashing, the department will still need its largest fire trucks. Those carry 3,300 gallons, but the P-34 gives fire fighters the capability to go off road and get to a crash faster than the big trucks.

“It gives us a lot more capability in being able to maneuver,” he said. “That vehicle can go places those larger trucks can’t.”

Capt. Javie Blanco gave a demonstration of the truck’s capabilities Tuesday. He said it is particularly adept at fighting vehicle fires and fuel fires.

It has a turret in the front that can be operated by controls inside the truck, so one of its key advantages is firefighters can begin laying water on a fire the instant the truck reaches the blaze.

That happened at the air show in April. The flames from a jet-powered school bus started a grass fire, and the P-34 rushed up to it and instantly put it out.

“They never got out of the truck,” Johnson said. “It was like something at a racetrack.”

The biggest use of the P-34 so far has been in responding to medical calls, which are the most common calls that come into the department. The P-34 allows the fire department to reach victims faster and more safely than one of the big trucks.

The Air Force is buying at least 207 of the trucks, which are based on a Ford F-550 chassis. The Air Force expects a potential savings of $84 million over replacement with a standard truck. By doing medical calls, the P-34 also prevents wear and tear on the larger trucks.

Personnel at Robins are in charge of sustainment of all Air Force fire trucks and worked with personnel at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in development of the truck.

Johnson said the base got the truck about a year ago. That was about two years early, so Robins engineers involved with the program would have one nearby. In fact, he said, early on they identified an issue, and engineers were able to resolve it by working with the truck at Robins.

Johnson said as far as he knows, the Air Force is the first to use the technology in the U.S. He believes it could have a future in civilian firefighting as departments look for ways to cut costs.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.