Tanker's demise discussed

Resident says protection compromised

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A resident is questioning the Craig Rural Fire Protection District's commitment to rural residents after the board decided not to replace one of the department's water tankers.

Tom Soos thinks the fire board is ignoring the interests of rural taxpayers in the district and leaving them with a false sense of security.

He presented his concerns at a meeting of the Craig Rural Fire Protection District's Board of Directors at its meeting last week. He said residents will have less fire protection because Craig Fire/Rescue lost a water tanker from its fleet and that the district does not plan to repair or replace the tanker unless grant money makes it possible.

The 3,500-gallon tanker broke down on the way to a fire in December. The loss cut the fire department's water-carrying capacity in half. The Craig Rural Fire Protection District debated whether to replace or repair the truck during several recent meetings. It decided not to reinstate the truck because it would strain the district's budget.

The conservative board doesn't want to get itself in financial trouble, said Tommy Cotton, the board's president.

Soos tried to run for election to the board because he wanted to represent the concerns of the district members who live out of town. But the loss of tanker No. 9 touched off a chain of events that excluded him from running and changed the district's policy about allowing new members to petition into the district.

Soos lives outside the fire district's boundaries, which run north about 14 miles from town, west to the Behrman subdivision just past Western Knolls, east to the rest area this side of Hayden, and south to Hamilton.

In December, Soos petitioned the district for inclusion, agreeing to pay the property taxes that constitute membership.

Soos lives about 14 miles from the fire station. Some of his neighbors already belong to the district, he said.

Soos' petition passed the first reading. Fire Chief Roy Mason recommended the fire board let Soos in the district. Soos' house is more accessible than other residences near Soos' house that already are in the district, Mason said.

On second reading, the fire board tabled Soos' petition when the board implemented a moratorium on all future petitions until it resolves the fate of the tanker. That excluded Soos from running for the board, because board members also must be district members.

After tanker No. 9 went down, Deputy Fire Chief Chris Nichols prepared a report outlining the fire department's ability to sustain adequate water supplies when fighting rural fires. He calculated mileage and drive time to the farthest edge of the district and calculated the flow of water needed to fight a structure fire on the outskirts of the district.

Nichols found that without tanker 9, the department would not be able to sustain an adequate water supply for an extended period of time.

"Based on fireflow, we need to replace the truck," Nichols told the board.

Also, the report revealed that even with tanker 9, the department barely was able to sustain enough water to fight fires far from hydrants.

After the fire board saw Nichols' report, it decided not to let any new members petition into the district, Cotton said.

Nichols' report backfired. Mason said the report was prepared to convince the fire board of the importance of tanker 9 to the fleet.

"Our initial intent was to show them how much we needed the tanker," Mason said.

The developments have Soos wondering about the district's responsibility to his neighbors and other rural residents who already are members of the district.

He thinks the fire district owes them an explanation about why it concedes it can't protect them, but "has no problem taking their money."

Cotton said people who live far from town aren't as well protected as those in the city of Craig.

The response time alone puts the fire department far behind when fighting a structure fire out of town. Firefighters don't stand much of a chance saving a house on fire more than six miles from town, but the department could save nearby structures, Cotton said.

"We could save your house if your barn was on fire," Cotton said. "Or we could save your barn if your house was on fire."

Cotton said the district has no authority to remove people from the district or refund their money. If people want to petition out of the district, it's up to them, Cotton said.

Cotton said the district is hoping to get grants to put tanker 9 back in service.

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

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