SPANISH FORK — Once Utah County officials found out what a TATRA was, they knew Utah County could hardly do without one.
Thursday morning, Utah County firefighters fired up the county's brand-new TATRA Ultra XT specialized fire response vehicle and put on a show, blanketing the side of a county building with thick white foam. The Czech Republic-built TATRA, which arrived Saturday after 2 1/2 years of planning, is Utah County's newest front line against wildland fires.
"The TATRA gives us a capability that greatly enhances our ability to suppress those real violent type of fires that occur up in that wildland and urban interface area," Utah County Sheriff James O. Tracy said. Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge and Sundance are some areas he said fall into that category.
The $412,000 TATRA will supplement the trucks the county already operates but which it exceeds in most every aspect. The 2,000-gallon capacity of the TATRA nearly triples the 750-gallon capacity of the Type-4 trucks currently in use. Additionally, the TATRA can carry 50 gallons of foam which, along with the water, can be dispersed through a cannon mounted on the front bumper.
The six-wheel-drive truck holds a crew of six and has a central tire inflation system, which allows for tire pressure adjustment as the terrain changes. While the cab and chassis were manufactured in the Czech Republic, the outfitting of the truck to specification with firefighting equipment took place in Indiana, where some of the firefighters received specialized training on the truck.
"We got twice as much of everything," Utah County Assistant Fire Warden Kevin Cortez said. "So for the money, I think we did really well with it." His department needed an apparatus with greater capacity, Cortez said, and one that would give them greater access to many of the areas in Utah County that are susceptible to wildland fires, especially to some of the sandy areas in the west of the county.
"We have a huge risk in this county for (wildland) fire," Tracy said. "And we don't want to end up in the same bed that California is at, where they're losing hundreds of homes."
Trucks from Utah are already out on assignments in California, with Utah's fire season right around the corner. Tracy noted that in addition to fighting wildland fires locally, the TATRA will be available for use by other agencies outside of the county and even outside the state. "It will pay for itself, plus generate excess revenue that helps offset those costs—our fixed costs—that we have to have for a standing fire team in Utah County at all times," Tracy said.
He expects the demand and the use of the vehicle to be quite high. Of 26 such trucks in the nation, he said only six belong to municipalities—the Bureau of Land Management operates the other 20. California and the Colorado Rocky Mountain areas are some possible locations for truck's use, and Tracy said demand for the truck could come from as far away as Florida.
County firefighter Patrick Carlson said he was surprised by the TATRA when he finally laid eyes on it.
"This is beyond what I ever thought it would be," Carlson said. "This is a great thing to have here."