An extreme makeover gives new transports to firefighters

By Jennifer Turner

Division of Forestry

Two Kentucky Division of Forestry firefighters who saw the danger of using old, broken bulldozer transports during fire season put their heads together about three years ago, and decided to do something about it.

“During fire season, moving dozers is a top priority and we had to find a better way than what we were doing,” said Fire Management Program Specialist Mike Harp.  “Through months of investigating, not only did we come up with an idea that was possible, but the finished product would potentially be better than anything the division currently operated.”

What Harp and firefighting equipment screener Ranger Sammy Allen came up with was a modification of Freightliner tractor trucks previously used by the U.S. Army.

“This was one of the first projects I was aware of when I became director in February,” said Bill Steele, director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF). “I have been around heavy equipment all my life, but transforming a semi into a bulldozer transport was something totally new.”

While the bull dozer is the most important wildland firefighting tool used by KDF, it’s the transport that gets it to the action. The KDF operates 48 dozer units across Kentucky for wildfire suppression and more than half (60 percent) are more than 20 years old.

Each season the division spends thousands of dollars to maintain them with parts for some of the older units becoming increasingly harder to find, which adds to the time a transport is out of service. For every day one of these units is out of service, public safety is put at risk of wildfires.

Harp and Allen came across Freightliner tractor trucks on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) online bidding site that everyone in the Firefighter Program has access to. By using equipment that had been previously used by the Army to haul their tractors, the pair came up with the idea of extending the frame on the units, and installing a bed that would turn them into transports capable of hauling any dozer in the division’s fleet.   “We knew this would work,” said Harp. “Our biggest obstacle was selling the idea and finding the right people to bring it to life.”

Last summer, the division acquired five Freightliners through a program sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the DOD that allows the division to acquire at no cost de-militarized equipment and vehicles that can be used to combat wildland fires.   Along with committed United States Department of Agriculture grant funds, the division was able to pay for the frame extension and fabrication of the beds so that they can be used to haul division dozers.

The trucks were then painted through the services of inmates, with the education department of the Federal Correctional Institution Ashland.

Steele said he has been impressed with the project. “The ideas and innovations of our KDF employees are invigorating and something I hope to see more of.”

KDF shared their idea and design with all their partners in the southern states. Now several states like Alabama, Florida and Georgia are converting Freightliners for use in their firefighting efforts.

“To say that the finished project went well is an understatement.  When I saw the first converted Freightliner pull up with a new JD550 dozer on it, I was speechless,” Harp said. “The paint job by the Correctional Institution was spotless and the frame and bed work exceeded my expectations.”

These “made over” transports will be in service this fall and KDF employees will once again be at the ready to respond to wildfires as they occur with a little more confidence as they arrive on scene with some “new to them” transports.


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