Sandoval County Fire and Rescue struggled to get to a house fire in Placitas on Feb. 2 because of the snowstorm that hit the area. A brush truck like this one, equipped with stronger tires that can better handle snow, was deployed to help put out the fire. Photo by Stephen Montoya, Sandoval County

In the aftermath of the winter storm that pummeled the area earlier this month, Sandoval County Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Masterson realized his department has just the thing to better withstand such treacherous conditions when responding to calls: brush trucks.

Between 10 and 12 of them countywide, in fact.

Masterson said the brush trucks, intended to fight fires in undeveloped areas and equipped with “beefy” tires, are built for higher clearance than fire engines. He said that type of vehicle’s usually built for backroads, muddy roads and other similar terrain, but it handled the snowy conditions well — which proved to be critical when a house-fire call emerged during that Feb. 2 snowstorm.

“In a unique circumstance, you’ve got to think outside the box,” he said. “… Sometimes, we have to get creative with our responses.”

An unconventional idea changes everything

Masterson said his firefighters responded to a house fire in Placitas that hazardous night.

Already limited on trucks that could head out there due to calls elsewhere, he said two fire trucks were ahead of him en route when trouble emerged.

“As they were ascending to get up to the location, both of them got stuck in the snow. It had accumulated that fast,” he said. “One of them was kind of at an angle because they started to slide… they were basically blocking the entire driveway up to the home.”

With those crew members smelling smoke and dealing with poor visibility, they still tried to make their way to the home. Masterson said conditions were so bad that a county firefighter and a Town of Bernalillo Fire Department firefighter decided to proceed on foot.

Once the firefighters reached the premises, Masterson said they found what looked like a chicken coop that caught fire near the back of the structure, eventually spreading to the home itself.

Then, a volunteer firefighter suggested using a brush truck to get up there because of its four-wheel drive capabilities. Although it was unconventional, Masterson’s ensuing order was simple: go for it.

As firefighters kept the flames in check with hand-held fire extinguishers, the brush truck soon arrived with an extra 300 gallons of water. Masterson said SCFR was able to put out most of the fire with the brush truck.

Three-quarters of the home was saved, he said.

The bigger picture

Masterson said a brush truck features deeper tire treads, which strengthens the grip on snow.

“All four tires are moving. That’s obviously what made the difference,” he said, adding it went through compacted snow just fine.

He said there are homes across the county where it’s hard just to reach the front door, so tools like brush trucks can be used to help subdue flames while waiting for more, larger trucks to arrive.

Should another fire happen during a snowstorm, he said he’d “absolutely” deploy a brush truck again.

“You have something that you didn’t think was part of your structure fire response plan that could absolutely be utilized if it needed to,” he said.