Fire department tanker unusable, expensive replacement needed

Mechanical problems rendered one of Craig Fire/Rescue's tankers unusable, and fire officials are weighing several options for restocking the fleet.

Tanker Nine, a water-hauling truck with a 3,500-gallon capacity encountered an engine failure while en route to a fire south of Craig earlier this month.

"The truck only made it barely outside the city limits," said Deputy Fire Chief Chris Nichols. "Luckily, we didn't need the tank."

The district has the option not to replace the truck. It owns another 3,500-gallon tanker, and several smaller trucks that can carry limited quantities of water.

However, a discussion at a fire board meeting Thursday resulted in virtual consensus that the truck must be replaced. The fire department needs to be able to demonstrate that it can deliver a specified quantity of water to a given location in the district.

Fire Chief Roy Mason said the department's two tankers are indispensable, especially for fighting structure fires in the county.

Since many of the district's members live far from hydrants, the tanker is necessary to shuttle water to fires outside the city.

But repairs to the engine could cost $20,000, and the Tanker Nine is a 35-year old tanker, which one board member referred to as a "money pit."

In 1997, the Craig Rural Fire Protection District spent thousands repairing the truck, which has more than 200,000 miles on it.

"I just can't see spending any more money on that truck," said Don Musgrove, a fire board member.

The district is faced with three options.

Repairing the engine seems to have almost unanimous disapproval.

The district can replace the truck by buying a new cab and chassis -- while reusing the tank and other equipment on the old truck -- at a cost of about $105,000.

Alternatively, the district is looking at a lease/purchase program that could cost about $23,000 a year for five years, after which the district would own the truck.

Fire Board Chairman Tom Cotton said he's leaning toward the lease/purchase option because there's no room in the 2004 budget for a $100,000 purchase, which would seriously deplete the district's resources.

It's better to spend $23,000 and find some places where cuts can be made than to wipe out the district's reserve, Cotton said.

Nichols is head of maintenance at Craig Fire/Rescue. He sees the dilemma as one that is likely to reoccur.

"With an aging fleet and no major purchases scheduled, we're gonna be confronted by more issues like this down the road," Nichols said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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