A multi-million dollar plan to replace many of Carroll County’s fire trucks was unveiled to the county’s board of supervisors April 14.
Following an unrelated presentation to supervisors, Carroll County Emergency Services Director Mike Mock was asked about a replacement plan for the county’s fire apparatuses. The plan includes several vehicles that need to be replaced, including brush trucks, utility vehicles, pumpers and pumper tankers, Mock said. Board Chairman David Hutchins noted later in the meeting that the plan will begin in 2016 and run through 2023 or 2024 with annual investments between $450,000 and $550,000.
Mock said the plan covers many aspects with fire apparatuses. Many things must be considered, he said, such as age and condition of each apparatus, if it has a fire pump, and how much it will cost annually to maintain a vehicle. Mock said the National Fire Protection Association recommends the replacement of fire apparatuses every 20 years.
“A lot of people say, ‘What if my apparatus can run longer than that?’ Well, if it is in good shape it is probably not a problem,” Mock said. “Some departments may need to replace them every seven or eight years. It’s really according to the situation you have…They certainly don’t like for them to go more than 25 years on a fire truck such as a pumper or a ladder truck or something of that nature.”
That’s because things are developed over the years to make apparatuses safer for people to drive, Mock said. Brake systems are done much differently than they were 20 years ago. Drive trains on the trucks are also much different than two decades ago.
“And frankly, after 20 years you start having a hard time finding parts for them anyway to replace them,” Mock said. “So a lot of that was considered in this plan, and if you look at the overall fleet we are talking about in this part of the plan you will see that some of our trucks are pretty old, some of them as much as 30 years old. We have a brush truck I think that is 40 years old.”
Mock said the insurance service office goes by National Fire Protection Association standards, meaning if an insurance rating group comes in to rate the county’s insurance policies it will look at many factors, including the age of the truck. He said ISO regulations do not state trucks can’t be 20 years old, however, the formulas they use to determine fire ratings give out deficiency points for every year a truck is older than 20 years.
“So what you have to do in ISO rating, if you have that problem you have to try to make it up somewhere else in the rating,” Mock said. “All in all, we do have some serious issues. They are discussed in the plan. I encourage you to read through and look and see what those are. Some of these trucks are getting ready to be out of service or are already out of service, so actually we are short.”
Mock listed the Laurel Fork Volunteer Fire Department as a good example. It has a truck that has been out of service for a while, even though it’s the department’s only tanker.
“If one of their other pumpers goes out of service, there is not a backup truck for that truck. So then they are down a truck and it creates problems for them trying to respond and do it in a timely manner,” Mock said. “Some of the trucks in Cana are aged and that’s identified in the plan. A lot of the trucks in Hillsville are becoming aged and need to be looked at also.”
Mock said he tried to do a fair review and balance the plan over a period of time so the county could try to pay for it in the future. It will be difficult, he said, because the apparatuses don’t get cheaper. They can range anywhere from $350,000 for a tanker up to $600,000 or $700,000 for certain types of pumpers.
“It is according to whether you get a custom-made truck or commercial truck,” Mock said. “What I did in the plan was I tried to take a happy medium in there that we could look at every year and then we need to update this every year so that we don’t get behind anymore.”
Looking at Mock’s plan, Hutchins said 2016 would be the first year the project would be listed in the county budget as a capital improvement plan. The first year’s investment is listed at $375,000, Hutchins said, with costs increasing to $450,000 to $550,000 from 2017 up to 2024. That, coupled with Qualified School Construction Bond payments of $1.5 million the county will start paying on soon for the renovations of the high school and middle school, leaves the county in a tough spot.
“That is almost a $2 million hit that the budget committee didn’t look at this year, but will look at starting next year. Two million dollars is several cents on the tax levy, 10 cents just about to cover that,” Hutchins said. “And we have eliminated a lot I know, and I know when you looked at this you put the minimum we could do to make this thing work, but it’s something that we need to be thinking very, very, very careful about as we talk about spending money. But we have to find ways to do these things and it is not going to get better.”
Mock said two trucks were eliminated in the plan, and parts of those can be used on newly purchased vehicles, he said, to help somewhat with the annual cost.
Supervisor Joshua Hendrick wanted to know how many gallons of water a fire department is supposed to show up with to a call. Mock said it depends on the amount of fire, but you need to have several thousand gallons immediately.
“And just to give you an example, if you have two hose lines off the truck, you’re automatically going to be flowing 500 gallons a minute, so on your initial trucks arriving on the scene with a tanker and your pumper, you only have about four minutes to fight fire,” Mock said. “In that four minutes you are depending and hoping on tankers from somewhere else to get there if there aren’t any hydrants in that area. Of course in the Laurel Fork area we do have a lot of areas that don’t have hydrants, and that can create a lot of problems. And it’s like that in pocket areas all over the county.”
Hendrick said he wanted people to know many of the county’s trucks need to be replaced. It’s a serious matter, he said, and something the county will try to fix as quickly as it can. Supervisor Phil McCraw agreed with Hendrick that this is a series matter.
“The tough part for us as a county is going to be to come up with a way to do these things with this QSCB hanging over our heads…It is really going to put our citizens in a bind as far as taxes I’m afraid, especially when we are sort of trying to replace these rescue apparatuses,” McCraw said. “I am just concerned about it all. And having been working on the budget again with Josh and Dr. Litttrell, I think we are all painfully aware we have made cuts on cuts and we still have more cuts to go. It’s a tough situation.”