June 18, 1997
An Interview With Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Radigan About The Need For A New Fire Truck.
The department was re-organized in 1992 after being dormant for several years. We currently have 15 members (the number varies throughout the year, peaking in the summer), of which 8 have completed the very demanding training to be certified as Firefighters by the State of Michigan. All of us are volunteers. The Township pays for our state fire school training and the cost of our equipment, supplies, and operating expenses. The department's annual budget is approximately $13,000.
What fire truck equipment do you now have?
We have two trucks. Our main truck was purchased new by the Township in 1980. It carries 500 gallons of water and pumps water from its tank or other available water source at a rate of 250 gallons per minute. We recently installed a new engine in this truck at a cost of $7,000. The second truck was built in 1967, and is on loan to the Township from the Michigan Department of Natural Resource. It carries 500 gallons of water and has a 250 gallon per minute portable pump. We use it primarily as a "tanker" to re-supply the main truck's limited water supply.
Tell us about the truck the department is recommending that the Township purchase
It could transport 2,500 gallons of water to a fire and could pump 1,500 gallons per minute from its tank or other available water source. It would be designed so that as few as three fireman could quickly put it in action at a fire scene. We estimate that it would cost about $160,000 with all necessary equipment. It should have a useful life of over 30 years. If the purchase is approved this summer, the truck would probably be delivered in early 1999. The Boot Jack Volunteer Fire Department added a comparable truck two years ago. It cost $143,000 fully equipped.
If a new truck is purchased, would both of the existing trucks be kept in service?
No, we would return the backup 500 gallon "tanker" unit to the DNR.
Can the truck you are recommending be housed in the existing fire hall?
Yes, it and the existing main truck, which we will keep, will both fit in the existing building.
Mike, why do the firemen feel the existing equipment is inadequate?
There are two principal deficiencies. One, the amount of water we can deliver to a fire scene is simply not enough. Our main truck arrives with 500 gallons. When the backup truck arrives later we have another 500 gallons, a total of 1,000 gallons. The existing pumping capacity, 250 gallons per minute, will support only a few small hoses. The water in the first response truck will be used in two or three minutes, long before the backup tanker truck arrives. When the backup truck arrives , there is only another couple of minutes of supply. The second deficiency is that the existing equipment requires at least 6 or 7 fireman to get set up and operate at the fire scene. For a department staffed by volunteers, many of whom live miles from the fire scene, this causes a serious delay in our response. The recommended truck will immediately deliver five times as much water to a fire scene and can be quickly placed in operation by as few as three firemen.
Why is having more water at the fire scene and being able to apply it quickly so important?
Our first priority at a fire scene is to safely evacuate anyone who may be trapped in a burning building. To do so without undue risk to the firemen requires a rescuer backed up with a two-man hose team employing a high volume spray hose. Three men can do this if they have equipment they can quickly put in action and enough water to do the job. Our second priority is to secure the fire scene. This means preventing the spread of the fire to adjoining properties and trying to get the blaze under control while awaiting backup manpower and a hook-up to additional water supply. The 500 or 1,000 gallons we can now transport to a fire scene, and the manpower now required to operate the fire trucks, severely limits our ability to secure a fire scene. The third priority is to extinguish the fire. The recommended new truck greatly increases the volume of water we apply to a fire, giving us a real chance to extinguish the fire and minimize property damage.
The Copper Harbor Volunteer Fire Department had a couple of old fire trucks, each equipped with 750 gallon-per-minute pumps and carrying 500 to 750 gallons of water. They recently replaced one of those units with a used truck with a pump of the same size, but a larger 1,000 gallon water tank. They also found a used 1,200 gallon water tank only truck. It is reported that they spent less than $10,000 for these changes. Have you considered buying used rather than new equipment?
We investigated that carefully, but we don't think that's the way to go. Finding a used truck in relatively good condition that had the pumping capacity and water-carrying capacity we need was our first objective. The purchase of new trucks with bigger pumps and tanks that can be operated by fewer men is the norm these days for volunteer departments serving "rural" communities. Because the concept is new, very few used units of this size are yet on the market. We have been unable to find one comparable to the truck we are recommending. The few used trucks that have traded were in the $80,000 range. Copper Harbor has a good fire department and they are an important part of our mutual aid setup, but there are some major differences in the communities. For one, Copper Harbor has a high volume hydrant system covering most of its developed area. We don't. Our judgment is that spending less money to simply add a used unit not much different than we currently have, plus a big tanker, both with many years of service, which is what Copper Harbor essentially did, would not be a good investment of Eagle Harbor Township funds. It would be a high maintenance risk, not materially add to the amount of water we can now deliver to a fire scene, and increase, not reduce, the number of firemen we would need to get our equipment to the fire and place it in operation. None of our three priority fire-fighting tasks would be well served. Three trucks would also require expansion of the Township fire hall.
What, if any, other major expenditures are likely to be needed in the foreseeable future?
With a useful life of more than 30 years for the new truck, and our recent investment in a new motor for the existing main truck, we would not expect additional major capital expenditures for at least a decade. We are currently proceeding with our plan to install a number of "dry hydrants" at several locations in the Township where we can refill our backup unit. (These all weather hydrants will be year-around truck-accessible pipe connections to the main or inland lakes with inlets below ice depth.) We expect to be able to pay for these hydrants out of our annual operating budget. We have also been able to meet our other needs for fire fighting equipment and gear, such as portable pumps and tanks and fire clothing, with our annual operating funds.
Will our fire insurance costs go down if the recommended truck is purchased? Possibly. Fire insurance rating organizations place a lot of emphasis on the amount of water that can be applied to a fire and the time that flow can be sustained. The recommended truck better serves that objective. The Township did recently receive a more favorable rate classification for properties within five road miles of the fire station in recognition of the recent improvements to the Township water system and the increased "readiness" of the fire department. However, a rate improvement is not automatic and the new truck in itself may not justify a change. As we continue to upgrade our equipment and communication system, add readily accessible backup water resources, and enlist and train more volunteers, we will certainly add to the argument for additional fire insurance rate improvement.
Any closing thoughts, Mike?
Yes, two things. The volunteers all live and pay taxes in the community and are as expense-conscious as anyone. We would not be recommending the new truck if we did not feel that the unit would materially add to our ability to operate a fire service that can effectively respond to a fire emergency. Good fire trucks are costly. Urban departments routinely pay $250,000 to over one million for new pumper trucks. A good truck is a long term investment in protecting lives and reducing property loss. Secondly - this is important - the addition of the recommended truck will not only significantly add to our fire fighting capability, but will also greatly add to our ability to attract and retain volunteers, the most important resource we have.
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