Friday Harbor Fire Engine 6 is out; town borrows truck from Orcas

“What do you do with an old fire truck?”

At Thursday's Town Council meeting, Council member Carrie Brooks asked regarding the 21-year-old fire engine No. 6, “What do you do with an old fire truck?” Engine 6 recently experienced pump failure and is now out of order.

This is due to the effect of electrolysis on the metal parts. The action of the water through the pump stimulates an electric charge, and zinc removes the charge, preserving the metal. But the sacrificial zinc was destroyed first, and now it’s the metal’s turn.

This isn’t the first problem Friday Harbor Fire Department has had with Engine 6.

“It’s showing its age,” said Fire Chief Vern Long, who later said Engine 6 has had brake problems, a leaking water tank, and now pump problems. “We’re just trying to nurse (Engine 6) through it ... It just couldn’t wait till spring."

Long told the council that broken parts on the fire truck were no longer in mass production and that the parts would have to be specially made. Estimates for repairs are around $14,000.

“That’s just going in and doing what we see is wrong with it," he said. "That’s just the preliminary, not getting in real deep.”

Friday Harbor Fire is borrowing an engine from Orcas Island until there’s a plan in action -- either replacing parts or buying a new engine which, estimates say, could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $540,000.

But, there are benefits to the expense.

Engine 6 is 21 years old and is not up to new regulations. “The pump went down and was out of compliance,” Long said.

There are specific regulations regarding how many gallons per minute(gpm) a fire truck has to be able to pump. The standard is 1,500 gpm, but before Engine 6 was off the road it was only pumping 1,250 gpm.

But, that’s not the only place Engine 6 could use some improvements. “They now have safety standards,” Long said of fire trucks.

Safety standards include roll cages, seat belts, a closed-structure cab. Nothing can be loose within the cab of the truck and all trucks need side protection. “They’re there for a purpose. The second biggest death for fire fighters is vehicle collisions,” Long said.

But, safety standards aren’t the only new requirements. “The EPA has new requirements every year that make the price go up thousands and thousands more.” Long explained that the EPA is getting more strict on not only fire trucks, but 18-wheelers too.

Buying a new truck is something that “we’re going to have to do,” Long said. “If we have to lease to pay for it, we will.” Long said that buying a new truck is something that needs to be done every 20-25 years.

Friday Harbor’s fire department won’t be getting a new truck until December or January, even if there’s a decision made today, according to Long. “We’ll have to see how long we can borrow that fire truck from Orcas.”

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