NFD relies on mutual aid to fight rural fires

Sunday, February 5, 2006

A recent fire in the Rolling Acres subdivision sparked discussion about equipment available to Nevada firefighters for rural calls. The Nevada Fire Department has no tanker, a piece of equipment vital to fighting fires in areas with no nearby hydrants, like the fire that wholly consumed the home of Casey and Delpha Crain on Jan. 19.

A Herald-Tribune investigation revealed that in the past, the Nevada Fire Department had a used water tanker for use in such situations; however, in 2004 when the tanker needed repairs that cost more than it was worth, the city sold it for about $1,300 and did not replace it.

Then Fire Chief Bill Gillette, who has since retired, said that the last time he discussed replacing the tanker Nevada's city manager Craig Hubler, suggested that he find another used tanker.

Having just disposed of one used taker Gillette said that he was not interested in getting another one.

"A tanker for our department is only used in a rural setting. It would be nice to have, but we need to have other equipment that is more expensive," he said.

Meanwhile, to fill the void left by the disposal of the tanker, Gillette said that he proposed that whenever the Nevada Fire Department was dispatched to a rural fire call that one of the rural departments would be dispatched with a tanker at the same time. If the fire were north of U.S. Highway 54, Compton Junction would be called, and if it were south of Highway 54, Milo would be called out.

The city has mutual aid agreements with these departments, he said.

"It is always better to have your own equipment but fire equipment is costly and specialized, so why duplicate what other departments have," he said.

Fire apparatus is expensive and often customized to meet the specific needs of the fire department that will use it, and tankers are no exception. Estimated pricing for new apparatus was not available, because without comment from Hubler, who could not be reached on Thursday or Friday, specific information on the city's particular need was not readily ascertainable.

However, a cursory internet search revealed that a variety of used tankers are available, with a wide range of specifications, at prices in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.

Other apparatus could cost more or less, depending on the age, size, condition and options available.

The city of Nevada currently charges members of their rural fire association $100 per year for fire response and averages about $70,000 annually in dues from members. The city currently limits NFD's annual service response to a four-mile radius around the fire department. Specifics on how that money is spent was also unavailable as of Friday.

"There is no way that small rural fire departments can have every piece of equipment they would like and Nevada has a small fire department," Gillette said.

The drawback to depending on the rural department is that they are staffed by volunteers who have jobs, Denny David, a retired Nevada firefighter, said. "They do a fine job, but they have to leave their job, drive to their fire barn to get their equipment and then drive to the fire which can add up to 20 minutes." In the meantime the city's firefighters must conserve the 750 gallons of water the fire truck carries while waiting for the tanker to arrive, he noted.

"If the department had its own tanker there would be no delay in getting water," David said. With a tanker they could more aggressively attack a fire and have a better chance of getting it under control, he said. While the firefighters are using the water supply on their truck, others set up a dump tank where the tanker dumps its load of water and then goes to the nearest water source for another load to refill the dump tank.

About the same time the tanker was surplused, the fire department was discussing replacing the department's rescue truck, which is more than 20 years old and responds to almost every call the fire department receives, including traffic accidents and medical calls. The replacement of this truck, which must be custom built, will cost the city about $250,000 and will be financed over several years. Gillette said that the new truck will be a technical rescue vehicle and will not have a water tank like the current truck does.

"Ninety-nine percent of the wrecks don't need a pumper," he said.

"What is needed is the array of tools the truck carries, so have another department back you up with a pumper," he said.

Gillette said that, for example, if a wreck occurs east of town on U.S. Highway 54, the Walker Fire Department could be dispatched, providing the pumper, while Nevada responds with the rescue truck.

The new rescue truck will also be fitted out as a mobile command post and will have a mast that can be extended so it can tap into the city's wireless network so it can access the Internet as well as the city databases.

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