Firefighters from the Bingen Fire Department and the White Salmon Fire Department can literally breathe a sigh of relief now that they will be able to purchase new breathing units to use during firefighting operations.
With its annual dispersal of landfill funds, the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority came through with $24,000 for each city's fire department. The money will go to pay for the purchase of "self-contained breathing apparatuses" (SCBAs) -- four new ones for Bingen, and four for White Salmon.
The White Salmon Fire Department and the Bingen Fire Department both will add money from their own budgets to purchase an additional four units each, meaning both fire departments will soon have eight of the new breathing devices available.
"It's a great deal to get four, and the city will fund four more," said White Salmon Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker. "That will outfit our two trucks, so our crews in our two main engines will have breathing units. Ideally we'd like to have 12, but eight does a really good job for now. Hopefully next year we can buy four more."
Hunsaker explained that the new breathing units will replace older units that are getting obsolete.
"The newest one we have is 10 years old already," he said. "These will also have new safety features on them -- better alarms and better ways to know how much time is left in the tank."
Bingen Fire Chief David Spratt said the new tanks will make a big difference in helping to modernize the department.
"The new tanks will not only be lighter, but will last longer as well," Spratt said.
He explained that the new tanks will offer 45 minutes of oxygen as opposed to the 30 minutes the existing breathing units provide.
Spratt added that some of the breathing units available in Bingen are very old.
"We have various tanks now, some 20 years old, some six or seven years old," Spratt said. "We'll use the old ones for training."
Each new SCBA costs approximately $6,000.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said the city asked the EDA for enough money to buy six of the SCBAs, but he was not surprised the dollar amount was reduced by the EDA.
"We requested $36,000 for six breathing units, and White Salmon requested a similar amount," Prigel said. "The grant process is a little more regimented every time. Our request got cut back, but we still got more money than most other communities, so I can't complain. There is one minor string -- the EDA wants us to join with White Salmon to get a better buy in bulk."
According to Prigel, any money saved from doing a bulk purchase will benefit another local fire department.
"The money we save would go to the Wahkiacus Fire District," Prigel pointed out. "If the four units end up costing only $20,000, the EDA will keep the additional $4,000 and divvy it up however they see fit."
In agreeing to pay for four SCBAs, the EDA board overruled the top funding priority the White Salmon City Council set on Dec. 7. The council had voted 4-0 to request $30,000 to help pay for the hiring of a water systems engineer for the city, but that request was completely bypassed by the EDA.
The SCBAs had been the City Council's "second-priority," but the EDA moved the firefighting equipment into the top spot and provided the city with $24,000 to pay for four of the units.
The water engineer request received no funding.
Hunsaker noted that there is an added advantage in having the fire departments of Bingen and White Salmon able to use the same type of equipment.
"We work very closely together, so it's nice to have the same equipment," Hunsaker said.
Hunsaker added that he is grateful for the support of the city and the county in helping to pay for the breathing devices for local firefighters.
"I want to thank the White Salmon City Council for letting us be a priority project this year, and thank the county for helping us to be able to purchase these," he said. "It will be a great addition to our department."