FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It started as a call from a concerned taxpayer who wanted to know why so many South Florida fire and police departments are filling their fleets with what appear to be expensive “monster” looking trucks with big wheels and tires.
Turns out, these vehicles aren’t there to show off. In South Florida, they have become irreplaceable and cost-effective.
Pictures shared by Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue show first responders rescuing people with the lifted trucks during last April’s record rain and flash floods.
“I think a lot of people may have laughed at us until this past April,” Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Chief Steve Gollan said.
FLFR now has six raised or lifted pickup trucks, which were the only emergency vehicles that could access many people who needed help.
“If we had tried to perform the same type of rescues in our engines and lost just one fire truck, we are looking at a 30-month replacement for a fire truck to be built and a cost of over 1 million dollars,” Gollan said.
The first truck was lifted in 2019, as Fort Lauderdale officials searched for a solution to deal with king tides and afternoon storms that caused difficulties.
The trucks are used on a daily basis by battalion chiefs, ensuring they are always ready and don’t just sit. The cost to replace the suspension and lift it is $7,500 per truck.
Gollan acknowledges that on sunny days, there may be public perception issues, but he emphasizes that they are not show trucks.
“We immediately put the lettering on the side of the vehicle to indicate why the vehicle is higher than normal,” he said.
Ed Federkeil, a retired Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue battalion chief and owner of California Custom and Sport Trucks, shared his perspective.
“It’s nothing about flashy,” he said. “It’s all about function.”
While the bulk of his customers are ordinary citizens who want cool trucks, his latest lifts are two Hollywood Fire Rescue pickups.
“We have lost apparatus, and so have other departments down here,” Hollywood Fire Rescue Division Chief James Russo said. “We want to make sure we have access to patients.”
Federkeil said his company’s involvement with the trucks started with BSFR, and then Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood’s fire rescue departments joined in.
“We have also given quotes to other agencies, not just coastal, but some that are further west that during these heavy heavy rains have a hard time accessing patients, evacuation and so on,” he said.
Gollan called the vehicle “irreplaceable.”
Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood’s police departments also have the trucks and the Miami Police Department also sent its high-water rescue response vehicles and officers to Fort Myers Beach in September to provide assistance after Hurricane Ian.
As the weather changes, we will likely be seeing more of the trucks.
“Without these agencies being proactive, people could be waiting a long time to get rescued,” Federkeil said.