New tanker will bring more water to fires in Valley Falls
Bill Klenklen modified this International truck into a 3,500-gallon tanker for Jefferson County Fire District No. 11. Since his retirement from Goodyear, Klenklen has modified 16 trucks for the department.
Story and photo by Monty Davis
When an emergency happens in Valley Falls, Bill Klenklen is on the scene, along with the equipment he has built for the fire department during the last 17 years.
In 1986, Klenklen, 77, retired after 35 years as a shipping foreman at the Goodyear Distribution Center in Topeka. Since then, he was put much of his energy into building and fabricating equipment for the fire department.
“I was counting up last night, I’ve done 16 trucks from scratch since I’ve been on the department,” said Klenklen, who is now a captain with the department.
His most recent project was fabricating a 2005 International truck into a tanker with the capacity to transport 3,500 gallons of water. The project, which he completed in December, took him about three months.
Before starting, Klenklen drew a blueprint, taking into account that the truck would have to be built around the size of the water tank. The tank came off an older truck that needed repair.
“It replaced a 1970 International we had,” he said. “It needed a major repair so we decided to get a newer chassis because we had trouble getting parts for it.”
Although he did much of the work himself, Klenklen credits Fire Chief John Gordon and local businessman Larry Heinen for much-needed help and supplies. Heinen donated all the metal that went into the fabrication of the truck.
“You don’t find many donations in this day and age,” he said. “I have to beg for a few resources. Everybody is good because they know it’s saving their tax money.”
The truck is complete with lights, air horns, water pump and a 3,000-gallon capacity portable tank that can be filled at the scene so the truck can leave and refill. An equivalent factory-produced truck would cost nearly $200,000. Klenklen said the department invested about $35,000 in the vehicle.
“It saves the community a lot of money,” Klenklen said of his work. “They get good equipment for a minimum price.”
With the completion of this truck, the department can respond to a fire with 9,000 gallons of water.
“We have to fight a fire in the city just like we do in the country because the city hydrants don’t have that much pressure,” he said.
It’s not unusual for the department to need that much water. Klenklen recalls the night that the Golden Pizza restaurant burned in downtown Valley Falls.
“We had about every tanker in the county hauling water in here,” he said.
Currently Klenklen is working on adding a water nozzle to the front of a truck used to fight grass fires. He calls the equipment a “grass monitor” which enables a firefighter to battle a grass fire from the cab of the truck.
The equipment was purchased with the aid of a matching grant from the Kansas Forest Service. A similar monitor was purchased a few years ago.
Klenklen said one of the advantages of the monitors is safety. It allows the firefighter to stay further away from the fire because the truck can shoot water up to half a block away. Before the firefighters had this equipment, he said they would have to hold a small hose out of the window while sitting close to the fire line.
To accommodate the new equipment, Klenklen had to fabricate a metal carriage on the front of the truck. A firefighter operates the equipment with a joystick from inside the cab.
Due to Klenklen’s work, the fire department has been able to purchase and modify equipment to meet its needs. Some of the trucks have been purchased through old military and government surplus resources.
“We’ve got a lot of equipment for not much money,” he said. “It’s not the fanciest equipment but it’s usable.”
Because he has been a firefighter, he is able to modify equipment that is user friendly for the 20-plus member volunteer force.
“It’s challenging to fabricate something that everybody gets along with,” he said.
Besides spending time in the machine shop, he responds to almost every call either as a firefighter or a first responder with an ambulance.
“I just like helping people,” he said.
Klenklen said retirement didn’t suit him and that’s why he turned his attention to the fire department.
“I can’t sit at home and watch television,” he said. “I just got to be doing something.”
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