District finds way to purchase used to maximize budget
The Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District (VRFPD) has a newer fire engine.
The used engine, a 1994 Freightliner FL70, was purchased from the Banks Fire District and will replace Engine E451 as the second out engine for VRFPD, according to Chief Dean Smith.
“Replacing this old rig was a huge priority for us,” said Smith. “We really needed to do something to upgrade our fleet.”
VRFPD is purchasing the newer engine for $30,000. According to Smith, the Vernonia Volunteer Firefighter’s Association has agreed to pay $10,000 towards the cost.
“Our volunteers are giving back directly to the department and the community by making this donation,” explained Smith.
A brand new comparable truck would have cost the District $450,000.
Smith said the Banks Fire District was looking to sell this older rig and had contacted other local departments to see if any had a need. “They were happy to be able to assist a neighboring district,” said Smith. According to Smith, the Banks Fire District agreed to accept payments on the $20,000 balance.
The age and condition of the VRFPD fleet has been a growing concern for the VRFPD Board of Directors and especially for Smith. According to Smith the VRFPD bought a new engine in 2000, E454, a Freightliner FL80, which serves as the District’s first out engine. The addition of the Freightliner from Banks now gives the District two rigs which are very similar to work on and for parts, as well as for training firefighters.
E451, which is being replaced, was a 1974 Ford F900. According to Smith, state standards call for a second out engine to be no older than twenty years old.
Smith noted several other issues with E451. Because it has a manual transmission, only two members of the District were able to drive it. It also only seats two firefighters.
The new engine from Banks seats up to five, has an automatic transmission and is obviously twenty years newer, meaning the safety features and other equipment on the rig are more up to date.
Smith says the purchase of the newer engine helps alleviate some of his concerns about the fleet, but really just emphasizes some of the other needs the District has.
“This is our first course of action to update our fleet,” said Smith.
WT452 is a water pumper/tender and has multiple issues. A 1982 Ford, which can carry 2000 gallons of water, WT452 has an engine issue which Smith says has already been “bandaided.” It also has a problem with a pump as well as a tank leak and has been out of service several times with transmission filter leaks. Smith noted that when members of the District were called at 3:00 AM to help fight a wildfire conflagration this past summer, he had to go in to the station immediately, fix the transmission filter and get the rig back in service, before they could leave.
Another issue the department continues to face is dwindling volunteer personnel. Smith continues to raise a red flag warning that he doesn’t have enough volunteers. Current volunteers lives are getting busier and training requirements are getting longer, says Smith, and the community can be vulnerable at times. Smith gave as an example that while he was away fighting that wild land fire this summer, VRFPD was called out for a motor vehicle accident that ended up needing an extrication. Only two firefighters who are trained in extrication rescue techniques, a volunteer Duty Officer and a volunteer who was on light duty, were available to respond. “We just had one of those weekends when none of our volunteers were available to respond,” explained Smith. Although the injuries to the patient were not life threatening, the extrication took an hour and a half and created a very high level of anxiety for Smith, who was following the call by radio in Central Oregon, and for the Duty Officer and volunteer who were responsible for assisting the victim.
Smith has suggested one solution to the personnel issue would be for VRFPD to hire an additional paid full-time staff member. According to Smith, that additional officer could respond to calls and be responsible for training. Smith says that adding a training officer could allow VRFPD to develop a resident training program and house students, who would give the District more able bodies to respond to calls.
Smith says the District is looking to reconfigure their apparatus to try to find different ways to use the rigs and equipment they presently have to be more efficient and safely protect and respond to the needs of the community. Unfortunately there currently just aren’t enough resources.
Smith says the district probably needs to consider an operating levy.
“WT452 [the water pumper/tender] is in dire need of being replaced and we’re going to have to find a way to fund that,” said Smith.
Funding an additional staff member as part of an operations levy would go a long way to reducing Smith’s personnel concerns. That person could help rebuild the volunteer base, develop a training program and respond to emergencies.
Smith says he believes the District has been very frugal with their spending and resourceful in finding ways to make do with what they have.
“My job and passion for this District is to help and be of service to the community,” says Smith. “And it’s the same for our volunteers. We just need more resources to be able to do our jobs safely, timely, and efficiently.”