Fire department getting new medical truck with a costly pumper on horizon

By Ralph Echtinaw

The St. Louis Area Fire Department’s new medical truck is finally on the way but costs $8,500 more than expected.

Back in April the Fire Board approved Fire Chief Bill Coty’s request to apply for a USDA rural development grant ($29,700 ) for a medical truck. “Alma Chrysler gave us the best bid, and we were determined to buy local,” Coty said via email. “Unfortunately, by the time our grant was approved the chip shortage went into full swing, and Alma Chrysler was unable to get us a truck under the municipal pricing program.”

Coty and company looked around and found a Ford F150 medical truck at Gorno Ford of Woodhaven. It costs $8,500 more than the Dodge but is immediately available. The Fire Board approved the additional cost, and the department will get its new medical truck for an out-of-pocket cost of $31,000. Coty expects delivery Nov. 17.

Fire Chief Bill Coty

The department’s current medical truck is a 2002 Ford F550 and will remain in service. The F150 will be a state-licensed medical truck complete with extrication tools that will also operate as a duty officer/command vehicle. “It’s a flexible utility vehicle that will respond directly to scenes from an officer’s residence, eliminating the bypass time of going to the fire station to acquire the necessary equipment to fulfill a task,” Coty said. “This truck will cut response times to medical calls and investigations tremendously. Our studies have shown that in the far reaches of our jurisdiction we will be able to put a licensed medical truck on scene up to 12 minutes sooner! This is true life saving time. It will be fully stocked with an AED (defibrillator) and all medical tools, vehicle extrication equipment, carbon monoxide detectors, flammable gas detector and electric voltage detectors for downed power line among other items. This is our attempt to get ahead of the curve and operate a volunteer fire department with response times equal to or better than full time service. I don’t know of another fire department that’s operating a well-rounded piece of equipment in the same manner. It’s a game changer to those in need of help.”

New pumper needed

The Fire Board approved Coty’s request to apply for a $50,000 USDA rural development grant for the purchase of a vehicle to replace the department’s 1996 International Pumper.

The truck won’t be ordered immediately, however, as the grant can be used up to three years after approval.

“We will spend a minimum of $380,000 on a new pumper, but with costs increases like we are currently seeing and depending on suppliers this apparatus unfortunately could pass the $500,000 mark,” Coty said. “It’s certainly hard to wrap your head around that type of expense, but fire trucks are complex and expensive.”

Although there are many fire truck companies in the USA, Coty told Fire Board members about trucks produced by Spencer and Rosenbauer to give them an idea of what the cost will be.

A new pumper from Rosenbauer costs $393,000. And a Spencer will set you back $475,000. One fact in Rosenbauer’s favor is that the SLAFD has its trucks serviced at Front Line Services in Freeland, a Rosenbauer dealer.

However, there is a backlog on deliveries from both manufactures. “They’re having the same supply chain issues that anybody’s having,” Coty said.

It takes 455 days to get a Spencer truck and almost two years for a Rosenbauer.

“Rosenbauer is probably the biggest fire truck manufacture in the world,” Coty said. “They build a very good truck.” 

Spencer, on the other hand, is the “Cadillac” of fire trucks, Coty said. “Our number one engine and our rescue are Spencers. They’re wonderful trucks. Great quality. But you’re paying for a Cadillac in many ways.”

The department has $386,000 in its equipment fund that can be used to pay for a new pumper. But the SLAFD has other projects that a portion of that money is allocated to, such as the aforementioned medical truck.

Coty doesn’t want to clean out the equipment fund because it may be needed to pay for major repairs or a piece of equipment that fails. “A comfortable working balance to cover unforeseen expenses must remain there,” Coty said.

Fire Board Chairman Kevin Beeson (also Pine River Township supervisor) suggested that Pine River’s share of the federal government Coronavirus largesse (a.k.a. American Rescue Plan Act funds) could be used to help pay for a new pumper. 

“Purchasing long-term capital items that better prepare a community to respond to the pandemic seem to be an easy lift to me,” Beeson said via email. “I urged all of the member communities to be patient and let the early adopters nationwide set the pace and take all the risk.  Once we see what the final rule is, and once we see similar projects being approved we can then make more informed decisions.”

Pine River’s share of the ARPA funds is $231,527. Jasper Township gets $119,000. Bethany Township gets $141,000. And St. Louis gets $760,000.

Fire Board member Greg Mikek (also Bethany Township supervisor) said his board will consider using at least part of Bethany’s ARPA funds to help pay for a new pumper.

Jasper Township Supervisor Carmen Bajena was more emphatic. “I would most definitely use it towards a fire truck if it becomes an allowable expense,” she said via email. “With that being said it would, of course, be a board decision as well.”

A Rosenbauer demo truck is expected to visit St. Louis in December so Coty can get a look at it.

New tools authorized

The Fire Board authorized purchase of $48,117 worth of equipment, paid in part by a $26,400 USDA grant.

Apollo Fire Equipment Company of Romeo, Mich. provides a custom skid unit for $10,347, two Super Vac 20-inch fans for $10,608 and a TFT high elevation Blitz Force monitor for $3,742.

Dinges Fire Company of Amboy, Illinois provides two thermal imagers for $16,800, cutoff saw kit for $1,250, chainsaw kit for $960, battery saw kit for $431, five orange collapsible cones for $1,660 and one battery charger for $320.

This is stuff the fire department already has but is nearing the end of its service life. “These items are simply getting old with one thermal imager failing and currently out of service for repair,” Coty said. “Simply put, technology has passed much of this equipment, and there are upgrades that are far more user friendly with far less maintenance costs that allow us to operate at a lower staffing level and much safer.”

Water rescue capability

Coty said he will apply for a grant from the Gratiot Community Foundation in February, probably around $13,000, to improve the department’s water rescue capability.

“One of our shortfalls is water rescue,” Coty said. “There’s no doubt about that. And that’s something that we’re working on repairing. We need to upgrade a boat, lifejackets, a motor.”

The department has a flat bottom boat, but it’s unstable when pulling people out of the water. Although water rescues are rare, they are dangerous to firefighters with the department’s current equipment. “It’s something that doesn’t happen often,” Coty said. “But it is a high risk/low frequency situation. You could kill somebody pretty easily. Our own personnel.” 

Coty would like to get an inflatable boat that can be ready to go in 90 seconds. For now, the SLAFD depends on the Alma Fire Department, which has has a dive team and water rescue unit. “They will come to any water incident that we have,” Coty said.

Old radios traded in

The Fire Board approved trading in the departments old VHF radios for a $4,200 credit with Crouch Communications. Coty will use the credit to buy two new LED light bars with an out-of-pocket cost of $532.

Retirement plan

The board approved letting firefighters contribute to a Michigan Employees Retirement System 457 plan that St. Louis city workers are already enrolled in. Firefighters can contribute as much or as little of their firefighter income as they like. “So these guys can put all the millions we pay them into retirement,” quipped St. Louis Finance Director Bobbie Marr.

“I would be surprised if all (firefighters) don’t take advantage of this opportunity,” Coty said. “We thank Jackie and Bobbie for putting the work into this. Very few volunteer fire departments such as our are given an opportunity to this benefit.”

LED lighting

Coty told the Fire Board that apparatus bay lighting has been converted to LED bulbs at a cost pf $1,100. That encompasses 34 fixtures with six bulbs per fixture. Coty expects the change to reduce the fire department’s electric bill enough that the conversion cost will be paid back in a year.

Colorful hoses

As of this week the department has multi colored hoses. This makes firefighting simpler because if a certain hose needs to be turned on or off, the order can just be to shut off the green (or red, or yellow) hose. Corresponding handles of the same color make it easy. Grants from Midland Community Foundation, Gratiot Community Foundation and Wolverine Pipeline helped pay for it. 

Status report

The department currently has 25 firefighters (including 17 medical first responders). The average response time for medical calls is 5 minutes. The average response to fire calls is 13 firefighters. Two firefighters are attending Midland EMS medical first responder class. Bi-monthly training attendance is 76 percent. To date the department has made 300 runs this year, including 70 fire runs.

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