Buy the truck, move on to bigger issues in Oak Harbor | Editorial

Firefighters got the chance to drive the shiny fire truck with cool gadgets. It would have replaced the Oak Harbor Fire Department’s aging and inadequate rescue unit, which is the vehicle that transports life-saving gear to the scene of every car accident and medical emergency in the city.

The Eastern Washington company that won a bidding process brought the truck to the city for show-and-tell, delighting firefighters with its capabilities.

Then politics got in the way. Three councilmen were able to block the purchase of the $113,000 truck. They voted to delay the purchase of a new rescue unit after next year’s budget is adopted and, gallingly, negotiations with the firefighters’ union are completed.

It wasn’t a good move in light of the City Council’s already rocky relationship with the Fire Department, bad blood that goes back to Mayor Scott Dudley’s decision to appoint Ray Merrill as fire chief. Firefighters came out in force during a raucous meeting to support Merrill when several council members tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to prevent his appointment over allegations that Dudley had promised the job to him before coming into office.

More importantly, it wasn’t the right decision to make for the residents or the men and women whose job it is to help them if they are injured or sick. The council members are not firefighters or emergency medical technicians. They should trust, within reason, the people who are paid to run the fire department to know what tools they need. In this case, the fire chief offered a laundry list of problems with the current truck and took pains to explain why the new truck would be perfect.

The problem, a councilman argued, is that the city is in the midst of a self-imposed financial emergency and it’s not wise to make large purchases.

But the city has more than enough money in a vehicle replacement fund and the finance director said it was not likely to need that money to balance the budget. The current truck needs about $10,000 in repairs just to keep it going until a replacement can be purchased, which councilmen said would be a matter of months. Talk about penny wise, pound foolish.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley scolded the council members for micromanaging a city department. He said the councilmen should have trusted the fire chief when he said replacing the truck as soon as possible was crucial. In this case, he was right on target.


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