Boonsboro establishes forestry unit

October 27, 1997


Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - Boonsboro Fire Chief Oley Griffith stared at his newest piece of equipment Sunday afternoon and recalled a day he wished he had it.

It was during the massive blizzard in the winter of 1996 and a fire engine struggled up a steep hill before getting stuck in a mound of snow. Griffith said a handful of firefighters was forced to trudge through snow that was nearly waist-high to reach a home on Boonsboro Mountain Road.

"We ended up walking a mile and a half, carrying fire extinguishers, carrying ladders," he said.

Griffith said firefighters put out the blaze with fire extinguishers.

"You're starting to get people building houses up into the mountains and we're having a tough time," he said.

If the same dilemma presented itself today, however, the First Hose Co. of Boonsboro would have a new weapon: a converted military truck dubbed "Forestry 6."


The 22,000-pound vehicle, which firefighters sought for six months, went into service last week. Griffith said the forestry unit will be able reach houses in inaccessible areas that other fire trucks have difficulty reaching. It is also ideal for forest fires, brush fires and field blazes, he said.

The forestry unit, the only of its kind in Washington County, is similar to a vehicle housed in Charles Town, W.Va. They are the only two forestry units in the Tri-State area, according to fire officials, although volunteer firefighters in Myersville, Md., are working on one of their own.

Griffith said he expects it will be used to fight fires in other parts of Washington County, as well as Frederick County, Md., and perhaps parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"It's somewhat like a tank," said Jay Grimes, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association. "I think there's other places definitely that it will be used."

For all its uniqueness, Griffith said the fire company got the unit for a bargain. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which used it sparsely in Allegany County, Md., allowed Boonsboro to lease it free of charge.

Griffith estimated that the fire department has spent about $5,000 on it. Volunteers repainted the tan vehicle a vibrant red. They also added metal plating, a pumper and assorted fire equipment. Much of the material was donated and some businesses offered free labor.

"Everybody's been doing a little bit of something to keep the cost down," he said.

Forestry 6 looks modest. The Army used the 1954 vehicle to haul fuel, Griffith said. Its top speed is 45 mph.

But Griffith said it combines the best features of a brush truck and a fire engine.

"Once they get there, they can do so much more," he said. "We wanted something, not pretty, but very functional that can do the job."

It carries 750 gallons of water, about as much as a fire engine and more than twice as much as a typical brush truck. And at 22,000 pounds, the six-wheel-drive vehicle can knock down trees, tear through thick brush or power up blocked, narrow, country roads.

"They make their own paths," Griffith said.

Griffith said the truck carries all of the standard equipment of a brush truck: chain saws, hoses, rakes, shovels, flashlights, flares and other tools.

It has one other unique fire-fighting weapon: four spigots mounted on the front that can blast a wall of water 15 feet wide. That way, firefighters can put out field fires as they ride, Griffith said.

Jeffrey "Zeke" Seabright, a regional fire specialist with the Maryland DNR Forestry Service, said the state was not using the vehicle that much. Giving it to Boonsboro made sense, he said. In addition to its other attributes, he said it can double as a tanker for big fires.

"There was definitely a need for a heavy unit in Western Maryland," he said.

And while it has not seen action in Boonsboro yet, Griffith said he expects fall to bring its share of forest fires.

"This summer, it would have been useful a couple times," he said.

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