APPLETON - At about 100 feet when fully extended, climbing to the top of the Merrill Fire Department's new ladder truck isn't for the faint of heart.
"It's a pretty cool feeling," firefighter Rick Sparks said.
But both standing 100 feet in the air and flat on the ground, Sparks was happy to look at his new truck from all sides.
"From the first ideas of a new ladder to seeing it here today and being able to go up on that platform was pretty neat," Sparks said.
Sparks and four other Merrill firefighters drove to Appleton this week to pick up their new 100-foot ladder truck from Pierce Manufacturing, Inc.
Chief Dave Savone and his team inspected just about every inch of the unit before taking it home.
"We just heard they build about 1,500 rigs a year so they know what the heck they're doing," Savone said of the Pierce team.
Merrill started the process to replace its 1998 ladder truck about a year ago. Merrill bought the truck used from a department in Oregon in 1999.
MFD worked with representatives from Fire Apparatus and Equipment, which is a Pierce equipment distributor, to make sure the somewhat custom-built truck was exactly how the department wanted it. Those details went right down to handle placement, USB ports, and paint color.
But with the latest technology, safety features, and a ladder 15 feet longer than before, the new truck wasn't cheap. The Merrill city council agreed to pay about $1,050,000 for the new truck. That was the cost after trading in the old truck to Pierce.
"Directly or indirectly it's going to affect the citizens and their safety," Savone said. "If the firefighters are safe when they're coming to do their job as firefighters, they're going to be able to save our citizens we protect."
In order to help keep Merrill's 10,000 people safe, it takes a team of about 2,000 people working for months on design and construction.
"[Our workers have] what I would call a servant's heart and they put firefighters first in every aspect of their career," Pierce Sales and Marketing Director Dan Meyer said.
Pierce was founded in Appleton in 1913. It's now a division of Oshkosh Corporation. About 30,000 fire trucks (or, as Meyer estimates, one in three nationwide) on the road today feature a Pierce logo.
"Every weld has to be perfect, every bolt and screw needs to be tightened perfectly," Meyer said. "They have high expectations, our customers do, and rightfully so. Because what they're doing, lives are on the line."
Pierce makes trucks for departments across the U.S., Canada, and even China, but Meyer says the employees take special pride in making a truck for a Wisconsin department.
"Maybe someone from our manufacturing team vacations or fishes up in the... Merrill area, and so the ability to go and know that they worked on that product and it's potentially protecting their family, that's a pretty substantial impact," Meyer said.
Thanks to that dedication, Merrill firefighters can proudly drive a life-saving truck home.
"Hopefully it never rolls down the streets of Merrill, but you know, if we need it, it'll be there," Savone said.
Merrill drove the truck home Tuesday night. Wednesday, they started training with a Pierce worker. The truck should be ready to go into service in about a week.