New fire engine rejected
By Kevin O’Brien
A proposal for a new Pierce Pumper fire engine is not ready for prime time.
That was the decision made last Thursday by the Central Fire and EMS board, which voted down a motion to advance the $582,125 proposal to the district’s seven municipalities for possible approval.
The 2-4 vote came after a motion was made by city of Colby representative Nancy O’Brien and seconded by town of Holton representative Pat Tischendorf, who wanted to give local councils and boards a chance to vote on the proposal.
Chairman Larry Oehmichen from the town of Colby, along with Dennis Engel of Mayville, Mitch Gumz of Hull and Jim Weix of Abbotsford, all voted against the motion. (The village of Dorchester’s representative was absent from the June 18 meeting at Abbotsford’s fire hall).
The proposal was developed by a committee of firefighters who reviewed several options for a new truck, toured the Pierce Manufacturing plant in Appleton, and presented multiple options for how the engine would be paid for.
If the district were to make a $400,000 down payment, the seven municipalities would have to pay anywhere from $159,000 to nearly $173,000, based on the payment options presented.
The amount due from each municipality would be based on its share of the district’s total property value. The city of Abbotsford would pay the largest share — between $44,500 and $48,000 — and the town of Colby would contribute the least — from $14,500 to $15,700.
Oehmichen and Engel both said the proposal would be dead on arrival at their respective town boards.
“This ain’t going nowhere in my township,” Engel said. “We don’t have that kind of money lying around.”
Oehmichen said the “COVID economy” has left many people without much disposable income.
“The farmers have taken a huge hit on the products they sell, and the last thing I want to tell my constituents is that I’m raising their taxes,” he said. “I, too, don’t have money on hand to do it.”
Fire chief Joe Mueller acknowledged that “nobody” has the money just laying around for a new fire truck, but he said the cost is just going to continue going up over time.
The minimum inflation rate for a new fire truck is 3 percent every year, he said, which will push the cost well over $600,000 in just a couple of years.
“It’s kind of scary when you go out 10 years,” he said, noting that cost will increase by over $200,000 by then.
In order for a purchase of this size to go through, municipalities representatives at least 66 percent of the district’s property value must approve it. Before the various boards and councils get a chance to vote, however, the seven-member district must first approve a motion.
Even before the district was formed in 2016, local firefighters have been talking about the need to buy a new fire engine.
According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines, a department’s first-out fire engine should not be older than 20 years — but that is not a requirement in Wisconsin.
Currently, the district’s newest fire engine is a 2001 Pierce Pumper with about 22,000 miles on the odometer and 2,040 engine hours.
Even though the district’s trucks don’t have many miles on them, Mueller said it’s still difficult to find replacement parts for vehicles that are 20 years old or more. He mentioned a couple of recent valve repairs on district vehicles that each cost a couple thousand dollars.
“As it gets older, you know as well as I do, it just needs more and more repair,” Mueller told board members.
Battalion chief John Austin said firefi ghters aren’t asking for a new engine just because they want one.
“It’s not because we just thought of this on a whim,” he said.
Still, several board members expressed concerns about the extra cost, which would be on top of what the municipalities already pay the district for fire protection ever year. Engel said his township has seen the opposite of savings since it joined the district in 2016.
“We’re paying $7,000 more in the town of Mayville than we were at the time of the merger for fire protection,” he said.
Mueller said the savings come now — when the district can purchase one new fire engine for the entire area. Before the merger, he said the three neighboring fire departments would each be looking at having to buy a new engine.
“Instead of us spending $1.8 million in this area, we’re only spending $580,000,” he said. “We’re saving $1.2 million.”
Mueller also noted that the newer model fire engines have several advanced safety features and are easier to operate, which could be useful in recruiting new firefighters into the district.
The truck recommended by the firefi ghter committee allows the operator to start the pumper with just the press of a button, rather than having to shift the gears around, he said. The hoses can also reached from ground level, he said, so firefighters won’t have to climb up and down the truck during a fire, sometimes in slippery or icy conditions.
A couple of board members said they would like to have their boards and councils at least vote on a new fire engine.
Tischendorf said he’s “the last one who likes to spend money,” but he spoke to a local resident recently who told him to “buy them guys a new truck,” referring to local firefighters.
O’Brien said she wants to see a discussion about the pros and cons of the proposed fire truck, but she also worries about the district’s ability to pay for other vehicles and equipment that are set to be replaced in the next few years.
Mueller said he and other firefighters are willing to attend city, town and village meetings to make their case for a new truck.
Firefighter Lin Mueller raised concerns about the district’s newest engine being over 20 years old. She said outdated equipment can put the public at risk, as well as firefighters like she and her husband who serve the district.
“This is my family out there,” she said.
Lin acknowledged the economic concerns, but said those won’t necessarily go away over time.
“Times are tough, and it’s only get tougher if we keep on pushing this and pushing this,” she said.
Concerns about DEF motors
Besides the cost, the biggest concern raised by Oehmichen and other board members was the inclusion of a DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) motor in the proposed truck.
Oehmichen said he buys a lot of diesel trucks for his business, and he’s well aware of the problems caused by DEF motors, which have been mandated by the EPA for lowering emissions.
DEF motors are especially problematic for fire trucks, he said, because they often sit and idle for long periods of time, which greatly increases the likelihood that the fluid will cause problems. Overthe- road semis, on the other hand, run at highway speeds for a long enough time to burn off the soot accumulating on the DEF filter.
“I’m just worried we’re going to buy something we’re not going to be happy with, and we’re going to have more problems than what we’re having right now,” he said.
Since the motor on the proposed truck only comes with a three-year warranty, Engel and Gumz were worried about the possibility of major expenses in the future as a result of the DEF issues.
“Three years down the road, if we have to stick a $30,000 engine in this thing, then what happens?” Engel wondered.
Oehmichen reiterated his idea of having one of the district’s trucks completely overhauled at a company in Las Vegas that specializes in that type of work. He said that would cost much less and comes with its own three-year warranty.
Mueller, however, pointed out that refurbishing the truck would not change how the pump is operated or add any safety features.
Engel said he would’ve liked to have seen more than just one option presented for a new fire truck. Mueller said firefi ghters had already narrowed their options, but the board can always consider something else.
“You can look at anything you want,” Mueller said. “This is just what we’re proposing.”
_ The board approved a motion to remove a stainless steel tank off a 1985 Ford tanker at the Abbotsford fire hall and remount it on a 1992 International Harvester tender with a leaky fiberglass tank. A separate motion authorized up to $2,000 for remounting the tank.
Mueller said the 1995 Ford tender has a manual transmission and is rarely ever used. The district got an offer to sell it for $10,5000, but board members decided it would cost way more than that to replace the tank on the tender in Dorchester.
_ Following months of back-and-forth debate, the board approved a new lease with Abbotsford for use of its fire hall, with added language making it clear that the city will “pay the difference for comparable coverage” offered by the district. The revised lease lets the city maintain the insurance policy on the public safety building, while allowing the district to save money with a cheaper policy offer. City of Colby representative Nancy O’Brien voted against the motion.
_ The district responded to 42 ambulance calls and six fire calls between May 21 to June 18. Mueller said EMS calls were down by 60 from last year, likely because COVID-19 fears are keeping people from going to the hospital.