“Drastically aging” fleet requires funding choices

By Meg Olson

With another near miss on a grant application to replace aging fire engines, chief Christopher Carleton said the fire district needs to start planning on how they will fund equipment upgrades if grants aren’t available.

“Our fleet is drastically aging,” he told commissioners at their regular October 11 meeting.

In 2020, the ratings bureau will re-evaluate the fire department and set a rating to determine local insurance rates, Carleton said. Department improvements recently led to a lower rating, a positive improvement that saved some homeowner over $200 a year in insurance premiums. “Any apparatus over 25 years old is a minus and without changes in our fleet I can see our rating going up,” he said.

The district has two engines. “Big Red” was purchased new and custom built for the department in 1991, paid for through a voter-approved bond. The small engine, built in 1994, was purchased used in 2012 with reserve dollars. “Even though they look nice they are [23 and 26] years old,” Carleton said. “Our trucks are working but we just had to replace the tank of (Big Red). The public needs to understand we can’t show up with equipment that isn’t working. We need to have a fleet that will allow firefighters to do their best and that the community can be proud of.”

A new fire engine costs approximately $500,000 and that cost is increasing at approximately 3 percent annually, Carleton told the commissioners.

This year the department unsuccessfully applied for a $478,000 equipment grant. A similar application was also denied in 2016. “The good thing is that in these last two years we have made it past peer review, the last phase before being funded,” Carleton said. “Thousands of organizations don’t make it to that point.”

Carleton plans to apply again in 2018 and 2019 and has strategies in place to improve the competitiveness of the applications.

“If I can acquire a grant for one engine, we still need to replace the other one,” Carleton said, and other vehicles in the fleet, including the ambulances and staff vehicles, are all getting older. “I am trying to get everything up to today’s standards. We are so far behind but we can’t really catch up by buying just one rig.”

While continuing to apply for grants Carleton said the district needed to start discussions about formulating and funding a strategic equipment replacement program that won’t always leave the department playing catch-up.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and buying equipment that will only serve up adequately for five to six years.”

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