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Report Highlights Fd No. 3'S Aging Firefighting Equipment

Compiled by Chief Chuck Virts

By SVERRE BAKKE

The Enterprise

Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 has aging firefighting equipment, with some pieces now being held back in reserve because they're considered unreliable.

That's one of the notable sections contained in the Fire District's 2011 annual report from Chief Chuck Virts to the district's three-member board of commissioners, Jon Riggleman, Les Penney and Mark Zoller.

Under the section titled "The Year in Review" and a subsection for "Apparatus," Virts details problems the district has had with an "old, unreliable, antiquated water tender" and the loss of a 39-year-old reserve engine in the field last July due to transmission failure. (The water tender mentioned here is 35 years old and no longer meets national highway safety standards or national fire protection standards for water tenders, according to the report.)

"With the average age of District apparatus standing at 20.7 years and this second failure of a major piece of equipment in as many years it is clear that we need to focus on replacing our old apparatus before further failures occur," Virts said in the report's cover letter dated May 7.

Virts pointed out that repair of the fire engine's transmission would have cost more than the engine is worth so the district so it "as is" last September.

Moreover, the district moved a reserve tender from Husum to the Cherry Lane station to replace the unreliable tender that is now in reserve at Husum. It did so, Virts said, because of lower Snowden's proximity to that part of the district that lies within White Salmon's urban growth area.

"This move is simply a stop-gap measure designed to fill the needs for the primary response area served from (Cherry Lane)," Virts said. "In the meantime, the District continues to seek outside sources of fudning while making every effort to build cash reserves to fund a replacement water tender should we be unable to obtain financial assistance from outside the District."

In 2010, the district applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant to help pay for a new water tender for Cherry Lane and a new generator for the Husum station. FEMA turned down those requests.

Last September the district submitted a third grant request to FEMA for $199,000 to help fund the purchase of a new water tender. Noted Virts, "Should this effort fail, alternative means of funding the purchase must be look at. This will likely involve dipping into the District's cash reserves, which have been set aside for just this eventuality."

Other highlights from the report:

Fire Protection District No. 3 personnel responded to 168 incidents during the 2011 calendar year. Most of the incidents -- 87 -- involved rescue and emergency medical services, including 11 motor vehicle accidents with injuries.

District personnel also were called out 24 times for fires and 35 times for good intent calls. Twenty-two times emergency personnel were dispatched and called back en route.

In January district personnel switched from Survivair to Drager self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), at a cost of $12,000 to the district. That amount bought 10 refurbished Drager SCBAs with masks, 15 used air cylinders and five new air cylinders. The district also received nine additional Drager SCBAs, at not cost, from the Port of Portland.

"The savings realized in the SCBA changeover were substantial," Virts wrote. "To purchase these same 19 complete SCBAs would have cost $91,000, a difference of $79,000 over what the District actually spent."

Virts said the switch to Drager SCBAs made Fire District No. 3 compatible with neighboring departments in Trout Lake, White Salmon and Bingen.

"This was a big step in optimizing our compatibility with these departments," Virts noted. "With the completion of the changeover volunteers from any of the four departments can utilize the breathing appartus from any of the fire apparatus without confusion or worrying about lack of familiarity. This is a huge improvement in the interoperability of the four fire departments and a major focus of where we need to be with our apparatus and equipment here at Fire District No. 3."

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