Opinion: Cut fire department spending

I am writing in response to the Mayor’s remarks in the April 17 edition of the Sooke News Mirror, regarding the need to purchase a new fire truck to replace pumper 204.

 

I am a past member and chairman of the Board of Fire Trustees, so I believe I have a good knowledge of how the fire department operates and what is necessary for the safety of the community.  In addition, as chairman I had occasion to deal with the Fire Underwriters, so have a good understanding of how they impact decisions on fire departments.

 

I have the utmost respect for the men and women who volunteer and contribute many hours to training and responding to all types of incidents. I support giving them the equipment necessary to do the job effectively and safely.  I do not support, what appears to be games being played to obtain an expensive new fire truck when one is not needed nor is it justified.

Sooke Fire Department’s “20-Year Vehicle Upgrade and Replacement Policy” shows no purchase would be required of any additional fire trucks between 2007 (after the ladder truck purchase) up to including 2014. This replacement policy shows 204 being downgraded in 2002, to second line status with the purchase of 205 being the new first line apparatus. Engine 204 was then replaced in 2007 byca ladder/aerial truck. In the Sooke District 2007 Annual Report, which was adopted by council, the fire Chief stated, “the Mack/Anderson pumper will be disposed of once training on the new unit is completed and placed in service.”

So now in 2011, pumper 204 resurfaces for the third time, with the fire chief stating engine 204 is a spare but because of its age needs replacement. He has also indicated that failure to replace this truck could result in an increase in insurance rates which can come about as a result of a Fire Underwriters Survey. He further indicates that it will take between $20,000-$30,000 to bring it up to proper standards (we need detailed cost estimates). Council appear to be agreeing with replacement and is going to spend $250,000 on a new or slightly used truck to have as a spare.

The fire department requested a Fire Underwriters Survey Review of Sooke’s Master Plan in 2009 and a report was tabled at the Protective Services Committee which is attached to their agenda, of the April 6, 2010 meeting. In that report the Fire Underwriters indicate in conclusion that: “The Fire Department has an apparatus fleet that can provide an effective level of service to the community. As the apparatus ages, funds should be set aside through a replacement program so that apparatus can be decommissioned and replaced at appropriate intervals.” They made no reference to any need to increase insurance rates, in fact they say in this report that “Sooke can reasonably attain a DPG 3A (residential grading) with the CURRENT fire department profile” The significance of this statement is that with the current profile, we are one grade up from our 2001 official Underwriters survey which graded us at a DPG 3B.

The Fire Underwriters states in Table 1 of the “Service Schedule for Listed Fire Apparatus” that, “exceptions to age status may be considered in small to medium sized communities conditionally, when apparatus condition is acceptable and apparatus successfully passes required testing” trucks older than 25 years can be used provided they meet test requirements.  The Fire Underwriters also state if apparatus does not pass tests they may request the equipment be replaced.  They would work with the Ddistrict prior to any recommendation to increase insurance. The Fire Underwriters don’t specify that Sooke Fire Department needs a spare truck in their most recent survey.

It is important to note that as the mayor has stated in her report, and the chief writes in his, that FUS does a survey every 15 years. This means Sooke is next due in 2016 for a formal review. It is not until this time that any possible change, positive or negative in our insurance grading will happen, and as stated by FUS, they will give credit for trucks that are planned for placement.  Apparatus  (fire trucks) in the insurance grading system, are only one piece of  a 19-segment category, “Fire Department.” Some of the  remaining segments include, administration, fire station locations, response times, manpower, training programs and records. “Fire Department” accounts for only 40 percent of the total calculation.

 

In summary:

 

–    Fire truck 204 was moved to second line in 2002.

–       Fire truck 204 was supposedly disposed of in 2007 as adopted in report to Council.

–    Fire truck 204 then becomes a spare that is not a requirement (in the 2009 survey).

–    Is it going to be disposed of and brought back for a 4th time for replacement next year?

–    Fire truck 204 could be brought up to standard and used for five (5) more years for under            $30000 if it was necessary.

 

 

–    The Fire Underwriters have done a survey and said our equipment is at an effective level and     our next survey is 5 years from now.

 

So ask yourselves as our taxes go up around 3 per cent again this year, why would we spend $250,000 to   replace a fire truck that was replaced once, replaced again, supposedly disposed of the second time.   It should be called what it is, and that is an unjustified addition to the existing equipment. Maybe the better answer is to plan for replacement, set aside monies for equipment we know we will have to replace in 2019.  We can pay cash at that time for NEW apparatus that we will need and will service the community for the next 20-25 years, rather than unnecessarily burdening the taxpayers today.

 

Wendal Milne