Council approves emergency purchase of new fire engine for Washington City

WASHINGTON CITY — With one fire engine deemed irreparable and another on course to meet a similar fate if left in a state of consistent use, the Washington City Council approved the emergency purchase of a new fire engine Wednesday.

This file photo shows a fire engine from the Washington City Fire Department set with firefighters to Oregon, where more than 20 fires were burning throughout the state in late summer 2020 | File photo courtesy of the Washington City Fire Department, St. George News

After reviewing a briefing document sent to them by Washington City Fire Chief Matt Evans that detailed the problems the Fire Department had been having with two of its four fire engines, the City Council voted to approve the $620,000 needed to buy a new one.

Within the document prepared by Evans, he outlined the three fire stations and four fire engines that presently serve Washington City’s fire safety needs. City fire stations are presently located on Buena Vista Boulevard (Station 61), Washington Dam Road (Station 62) and near Coral Canyon (Station 64). The latter is operated in partnership with the Hurricane Valley Fire District.

The four fire engines that make up part of the city’s firefighting fleet include: a 2017 Pierce fire engine kept at Station 61; a 2003 American LaFrance fire engine kept at Station 62, a 1997 Freightliner kept at Station 64 and a 1995 Becker fire engine that has been deemed “unrepairable” and is presently out of service.

Issues with the Becker started in August 2020 with braking and shifting issues, Evans wrote in the document.

In this 2019 file photo, a fire truck and engine are display at an open house event marking the official opening of the new joint Washington City-Hurricane Valley fire station in the Coral Canyon area. Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 10, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

City mechanics worked on the fire engine over the course of a few months and couldn’t fix the problems. Another three to four weeks at a local shop also proved fruitless. Finally, a mechanic from Salt Lake City who specialized in fire engines looks at the problem and declared it irreparable.

“They do state it may be possible to fix it; however, the issue appears to be electrical and they would need to completely strip the engine to its frame and then trace every wire and electrical component to hopefully find the issue,” Evens wrote, adding that the potential cost of repair exceeded the value of the engine.

Work on the fire engine up to that point had reached over $10,000.

The next fire engine that is having issues is the 1997 Freightliner, which has acted as the Fire Department’s reserve fire engine when another is in the shop.

“Shortly after going into service for the Becker it broke down as well,” Evens wrote.

It was a month in the city shop with mechanics unable to fix it, which prompted the return of the mechanic from Salt Lake City who managed to fix the issue. However, a few weeks after the repairs, the Freightliner broke down as firefighters were responding to a fire.

In this 2019 file photo, a fire engine of the Washington City Fire Department sits at the scene of a semitrailer fire on Interstate 15, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 5, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We were fortunate in having an engine from St. George on scene assisting and close enough the crews were able to switch over to that engine,” Evens wrote.

Each fire engine is annually certified for its water pump capacity, according to the document. However, in this regard, the Freightliner “is barely making it by.” City mechanics have told the Fire Department that the pump on the engine will likely need a rebuild. Additionally, they also said the fire engine’s motor is getting close to failure.

“If this engine continues in service regularly, our shops have stated it will likely fail beyond repair as well,” Evans wrote.

The 2003 American LaFrance fire engine is “in ok shape,” Evans wrote, though added it sees its fair share of use for its age and is also in need of regular repairs. This has averaged over $30,000 a year in repairs for the last three years. The problem here is that American LaFrance is no longer in business, and it can take weeks for the mechanics to find the parts they need to repair the fire engine.

At the moment, the 2017 Pierce fire engine has proven to be reliable with repairs and maintenance being kept to a more reasonable time frame, Evans wrote.

In this file photo, the Washington City Fire Department, along with fire crews from Hurricane and St. George, respond to a fire at a vacant, boarded-up home on Cactus Lane. Due to the home being unoccupied and other factors, fire officials consider the fire potentially suspicious in nature, Washington City, Utah, April 3, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“With the typical time frames to repair three of our 4 engines we have had a couple of times in the past 6 months where all 4 engines are broken down at the same time and we have been without an operational fire engine,” he further stated in the document, adding that “most of the time we have 1 if not 2 engines in the shop.”

Washington City does have a new ladder truck on the way that was a part of a joint-purchase with the Hurricane Valley Fire District for $1.2 million. However, that isn’t slated to arrive until March 2022.

In opting for an immediate purchase versus the usually year-plus waiting period for new fire engines, Evens told the City Council he is making arrangements with Pierce to purchase one of their “demo” fire engines.

Once obtained, the new engine with will placed at Station 62, with the American LaFrance going to Station 64 and the Freightliner being placed back on reverse status. When the new ladder truck arrives, the American LaFrance fire engine would then become the reserve fire engine.

In this file photo, firefighters from Washington City Fire Department prepare to head to the Salt Lake Valley to assist with fire operations during the funeral of Matthew Burchett, Washington City, Utah, Aug. 19, 2018 | File photo courtesy of Washington City Fire Department, St. George News

The Fire Department has maintained a plan to purchase a new fire engine in four to five years, but the emergency need has put a wrench in that plan for the moment, Evans told the City Council.

Washington City Manager Jeremy Redd said he and Evans have been working on a new plan for the future growth of the Fire Department in order to meet the growing demand for service that accompanies the city’s own growth.

“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to have firefighters without engines or trucks,” Redd said.

City council member Craig Coats said he would like to see that plan soon.

“I see that we have multiple engines that need work or are rotated out,” Coats said during the council’s work meeting Wednesday. “I hope we have a plan before us fairly shortly so we understand what we’re going to do with those (fire engines). Apparently there’s a bigger need than I realized.”

The City Council unanimously approved the emergency purchase during its regular meeting held later that evening.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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