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Ferndale area fire districts get creative in stretching budgets

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Whatcom County Fire Districts 7 and 17 have been using decades-old fire response equipment and apparatus that eventually become too expensive to maintain or simply go beyond their expected lifespans. Either way, replacements become needed and, as WCFD17 Fire Chief Jim Petrie put it, “Anything that involves the fire service industry is always very expensive.”

Petrie and WCFD7 Fire Chief Larry Hoffman both have been able to address their equipment needs in creative ways, the biggest being able to avoid buying new replacements by having existing vehicles refurbished, a process of replacing outdated parts with new, and often improved, parts.

Refurbishing can be a challenge since the apparatus, whether it be a fire engine, tender or aid unit, is out of service while being refurbished. This can put a heavier load on remaining apparatus but the cost savings is dramatic.

Whatcom County Fire District 17 fire engines, 1 refurbished (E-57) and 1 new (E-56) (April 19, 2020). Photo courtesy of WCFD17
Whatcom County Fire District 17 fire engines, 1 refurbished (E-57) and 1 new (E-56) (April 19, 2020). Photo courtesy of WCFD17

For example, WCFD17 just took delivery of a new 2020 Pierce fire engine that cost $450,000 and was purchased to replace a 1996 Pierce. “It didn’t make any sense to sell it (the 1996 Pierce) on the used market for very little, so we decided to keep it. We invested $45,000 on refurbishing it with new lighting, communication equipment, portable equipment and other upgrades to bring it up to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards,” Petrie said.

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The refurbished engine was then moved to Station 57 in Sandy Point Heights and now serves as their front line engine. “We expect to get another 15 years of service out of this engine,” Petrie said. The engine it is replacing was sold and the proceeds from the sale used to pay for refurbishing the 1996 Pierce.

Hoffman’s Fire District recently had a bond proposal approved by voters but, even so, he said, he still has to get creative in order to maintain a functional fleet of vehicles and equipment across the 6 stations in his district.

Hoffman said they recently ordered a new fire engine and tender to replace a 1986 fire engine and 1982 tender. This followed having 2 aid units refurbished and both of those are already back in service.

Exterior of a recently refurbished WCFD7 aid unit (May 1, 2020). Photo courtesy of WCFD7
Interior of a recently refurbished WCFD7 aid unit (May 1, 2020). Photo courtesy of WCFD7

There are 2 fire engines, from 1997 and 1998, awaiting bids for refurbishing and there are 2 1978 brush trucks needing to be replaced soon too.

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Hoffman also needed to replace 80 20-year-old portable radios and over 70 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units that were past their expirations dates.

Hoffman said, “These projects have all come in at, or under projected costs and again would like to thank the voters for their support on these desperately needed projects.”

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