Routt grad Cole Butler interned at fire truck manufacturing facility
By Julie Gerke
A local man recently landed a dream internship, making sure workers who produce safety equipment themselves stay safe.
Cole Butler, 22, was assigned to Pierce Manufacturing Inc. in Appleton, Wisconsin. Pierce Manufacturing is a subsidiary of Oshkosh Corp., a builder of specialty trucks and access equipment.
For Butler, those “specialty trucks” are commonly known as fire trucks, and Pierce is one of the country’s top manufacturers. The Jacksonville Fire Department owns a number of Pierce trucks: the main station has a platform ladder truck, a reserve triple combination pumper, a rural response pumper and a heavy rescue pumper nicknamed Big Eli.
The substation has Scrambler (a sister truck to Big Eli) and another triple combination pumper. Other equipment at both stations, like light rescue trucks, tanker tenders, reserve tankers and a brush unit pickup, were made by other manufacturers.
Prior to 1977, the city bought American LaFrance trucks. That company folded in 2014.
“No other [manufacturer] does these specialized vehicles so well and it’s amazing to see the quality and innovation in the work every day,” Butler said. “It’s super cool to work around fire trucks. … You can’t really pass up working with fire trucks.”
Scott Mumford, a production manager at Pierce, also hails from Jacksonville, and oversaw the building of Big Eli and Scrambler, which were delivered in 2019. The trucks were named to mark the 100th anniversary of Big Eli Co. and purchased during the 175th anniversary of the Jacksonville Fire Department, said JFD Fire Chief Doug Sills.
Butler, who expects to graduate in December from University Wisconsin-Platteville, is majoring in industrial technology management with an emphasis on occupational safety management and a minor in business administration. It’s a mouthful that means he’s learning to make sure plants are safe for their workers.
He learned some of that during previous internships at Jacksonville’s Reynolds Consumer Products plant, and is learning something new every day at Pierce. At a manufacturing facility for large trucks, workers could be exposed to weight strains, crush and cutting injuries, burns, inhalation injuries from paint fumes, vision damage from welding arc flashes, and hearing damage from loud metal banging and welding.
Falls are also possible, so workers wear harnesses when they work on the top of cabs or boxes to finish paint work, install parts or ladders, and polish metal or paint.
“With such heavy equipment, once the cabs and back ends are built, they have to [use a] lift to maneuver them,” Butler said. “I’ve watched [them move] four-piece ladders that can reach 50 stories and hold its own weight with people in buckets, and trucks that have water pressure tests for mechanisms so it doesn’t overpressure and explode.”
Butler’s main responsibility, he said, was making sure people wore personal protective equipment, followed safety rules and worked ergonomically. “We’re trying to fit jobs to fit people instead of the reverse,” he said.
He also worked on safety audits, preparing for various government inspections, and participated in a weekly meeting where managers sift through safety suggestions or concerns posted by workers on a “continuous safety improvement” board. Each was addressed and assigned to a manager, who decides whether the concern is a 1- to 3-week project, a long-term project or something that needs its own timeline. Before any change is put into practice, the manager has to get approval from the worker who raised the concern.
When every truck is finished, it’s moved to the “blue floor,” where representatives of the buyer take a close look at what they’ve purchased and have a chance to check for any needed changes. Butler said he’s heard of reps from one fire department who see something special on someone else’s truck, and ask for a last-minute change to their truck.
Once they get the keys, Butler said some department reps drive their new trucks to nearby Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, for a photo.
With Mumford at Pierce, “It was kind of neat as our apparatus went through the manufacturing process that we [had] a Jacksonville guy tied to the manufacture of Jacksonville trucks,” said Sills, who marked his 34th year with the department on July 1. “He was always sending me pictures [about] the manufacturing and how far along they were.”
Sills said the city already has a ladder truck on order for 2025 delivery.
As for Butler, he eventually wants to become a project manager or join management of a production facility. “I want to be some place where I can make a difference and improve things,” he said.
The graduate of Salem Lutheran School and Routt Catholic High School (Class of 2019) enjoyed Appleton, comparing it to Jacksonville. He enjoys hunting, duck hunting, fishing, snow skiing and off-road truck championships. His parents, Dale Butler and Shelly and Kent Hannant, and his stepbrother Eric Hannant, all live in Jacksonville.