Fire district juggles equipment

Fire engine juggling is not an activity most people tackle, but North Whidbey Fire and Rescue commissioners and volunteers gathered together to attempt just that.

Fire Chief Marv Koorn opened the March 16 meeting with an explanation as to why the commissioners had decided to hold a special meeting.

“We’re going to talk about vehicles and equipment and how we are going to distribute them throughout the district,” he said.

Koorn said the chiefs and officers need to have the option to move equipment around from one station to another as needs arise or volunteer staffing fluctuates.

He said station vehicle needs also vary depending on time of year. For instance, rural stations may need brush trucks more during the summer than more developed community stations.

“Historically, each piece was bought and sent to a station where it stayed, and that’s something we’re going to have to get away,” from Koorn said. “Operationally, I think officers need to be able to move and decide where the needs are and where the equipment and vehicles best serve the community.”

Part of this vehicle juggling is also due to the plan to surplus two fire engines and an aid vehicle.

Koorn proposed that the district’s commissioners surplus a 1981 Mac engine, a 1984 Ford engine, and a 1991 Ford aid vehicle, because they had reached retirement age.

“The standard is 20-years-old for the life of an engine,” he said. “They are both sellable at this point — how much we will get for them is still a question.”

Koorn advised the board not to wait too much longer to surplus these engines because they devalue each year and will eventually end up as a profit loss to the district.

“At the rate we sell engines, well have a reserve for quite a while,” he said.

Commissioners T.J. Lamont and Larry Morse voted to surplus engines, with the goal to eventually sell them.

The retiring of two working engines made some attending firefighters concerned that the stations these engines are coming out of would no longer have a firefighting response vehicle, or that it would overwork the closest fire station with an engine.

Bill Brooks, volunteer firefighters for Station 27 for 10 years, said he has fought several fires over the past few years which firefighter were able to control and stop because they had an engine so close to the fire’s location.

“Before the passing of this resolution they had eight front- line engines. They now have six, and they’re still paying the same amount this afternoon as they were this morning,” Brooks said.

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue Operations Chief for Station 22, Henry Vandenhaak, said retiring the engines does not affect any community’s coverage.

“All these things have wheels on them. They do roll from station to station,” he said.

Koorn also assured Brooks that each station would still have a firefighting vehicle and a quick-response unit.

“I’m not intending to lessen anybody’s fire protection,” he said.

Koorn listed the reasoning behind the officers’ decision to retire the vehicles at this time. He said, if retired now, the district could get some money for them; that the district should replace these engines before they start having problems and become a taxpayer burden; and that the district should start upgrading its fleet in a timely fashion and retire a few engines every 10 to 15 years instead of several at a time.

“I don’t want to have to try and buy three or four vehicles all at once,” Koorn said. He also said now is a good time to retire these engines because the district has enough vehicles to cover all of the district’s stations.

One of the other aspects the officers took into consideration when juggling the district’s vehicles was making sure they placed engines in stations that have an adequate volunteer body to utilize the engine correctly and safely.

If a particular station is only getting a few volunteers responding, he said it makes more sense to move the engines to a neighboring station that will have to respond to the call anyway.

“We need to be able to move depending on manning,” Koorn said. “Do we keep equipment in a station where that equipment or engine might not roll?”

Now that the district has retired the engines, Koorn said he hopes to get them sold as soon as possible.

“Our oldest engines are 1997s, so we’re good till probably 2015,” he said.

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