New Friday Harbor fire truck will be here this summer; will cost $579,179

Friday Harbor will have a new fire truck come summer.

The Town Council approved a resolution 3-1 Thursday authorizing the purchase of a 1,500-gallon-per-minute fire engine for $528,931. With tax, the total bill comes to $579,179.

The town has saved $200,000 for a down-payment; $70,000 a year that would normally go into a reserve account for the fire department will instead be used to make payments on a seven-year loan, Town Administrator King Fitch said. Financing is being obtained through the local Key Bank branch, Fitch said.

Council members Anna Maria de Freitas, Steve Hushebeck and Felix Menjivar voted for the purchase. Council member Noel Monin voted against. Council member Carrie Brooks was absent.

Monin has been opposed to the purchase since September when the council voted to order the engine; Monin, fire captain and maintenance supervisor for San Juan County District 3 Fire Department, believes a less expensive fire engine could have been purchased.

"In my opinion, had the fire department and the town put some effort toward due diligence and spent some time shopping, we could have easily found something that would work, would suit us and would be cheaper," Monin said after the vote. "I don’t pooh-pooh the truck itself, but there is a lot of used apparatus on the market. It’s just a matter of shopping around and finding a good deal. We could have saved half as much money.”

Monin, a proponent of merging the town and district fire departments, said the new truck is another asset that will make it more difficult for the two departments to merge. “It kind of muddies the whole thing,” he said.

Fitch, Mayor Carrie Lacher and town Fire Chief Vern Long have said the engine costs more because it needs to be modified to fit the bay in the fire station, and it needs to meet newer regulatory requirements, such as emissions standards and safety features.

“I’ve heard Councilman Monin say that he can go out and buy everything this engine can do for $300,000,” Fitch said. “I don’t tell (Public Works Director) Mike Wilks to buy the least expensive work truck he can buy. I trust him to find a truck that can meet specifications.” He said a design team discussed the fire truck’s design for about three years.

Lacher said considerations in the truck’s design include the location of equipment, so it’s consistent with other town fire engines. “Consistency makes firefighters’ jobs easier,” she said.

Monin and former town fire chief Bob Low, who ran for mayor last year, took the council for rushing the purchase; Low said the public didn't have enough time to comment on the purchase.

Last fall, then-Mayor David Jones wrote in a guest column that the subject of the new fire engine had been discussed in earlier meetings, and that the council had to approve the purchase before tougher — and costlier — emissions standards took effect. Jones said Engine 7 — the ladder truck — and Engine 6 are out of service.

In an earlier interview, Long said his department bought a used fire engine for $4,500 to replace Engine 6; the used engine, bought from the Oak Harbor Fire Department, is 30 years old, he said (speaking of modifications, that engine is shorter so it can fit under the jet wings at Naval Station Whidbey Island, Lacher said). Engine 5, a backup engine, is about 25 years old. The department also has an aerial ladder truck.

The new engine will have a compressed air foam system. "This is going to be the engine that would go in first on any of the downtown structure fires," Long said. "Foam takes a lot less water and causes a lot less runoff. You attack with foam first; it's a surfactant and multiplies water 20-25 times. There's not a lot of runoff and it coats and smothers the fire."

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