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Council douses fire department’s plan for new pumper truck

In a recorded vote at Tuesday’s council meeting, six councillors and the mayor opposed the $352,491 purchase of a pumper tanker for the fire department. (see story below) Four councillors voted in favour. Two were absent. Opposed were councillors Prinzen, Bailey, Bolik, Forrester, McNaughton, Nieman and mayor Ferguson. In favour were councillors St. Jean, Hirsch, Maynard and McMahon.

Approval for the SCBA equipment was granted.

Case to spend $1 million on firefighter safety in council’s hands

APRIL 28 – When a building bursts into flames, the average person’s job is to get out – quickly and safely. The job of Prince Edward County’s average citizens who are firefighters is to get in – quickly and safely.

“Fires today are vastly different than in the past, due to the increased amount of synthetic materials, plastics and fuel-burning devices in today’s homes,” said firefighter Tim Kraemer, in a presentation to council at Committee of the Whole last week.

“Today’s fires burn hotter than ever because of these materials. We’re seeing collapse times of structures happening faster due to construction design and the man-made, largely synthetic, contents within structures are all more fuel for fires,” he said.

He, and Fire Chief Scott Manlow, explained the County’s 150 firefighters, mostly volunteers, will be better equipped to perform their duties if council approves a new pumper truck to get them to the scene of a fire, and new ‘air packs’ that will help keep them safe, and survive battling dense, toxic smoke and flames.

Manlow and Kraemer attended the meeting to explain why council should approve already planned funding for the significant cost – about $1 million – related to life-saving equipment.

Some councillors had balked at the $350,000 purchase of a new pumper truck at their last meeting, and deferred approval for review of the impact on the capital reserve fund set up specifically for equipment. They wanted to see if the pumper purchase could be put off for a year.

At Committee of the Whole Thursday, Director of Finance Amanda Carter explained the reserve fund is built on a 25-year asset management plan that began in 2012, and is reviewed each year, to fund and plan for replacement of the department’s equipment without going into deficit.

Ironically, councillors had just grilled Quinte Waste Services about the constant break-down of old trucks causing frequent delays and cancellations of garbage and recycling collection in the County.

Chief Manlow explained it is his job to manage and reduce risk so firefighters can safely perform their duties, and ensure an effective replacement program of the fleet is in place.

“Fire apparatus is not in continuous use all the time. It is subject to considerable mechanical stress – quick acceleration, quick braking, aggressive pumping. The stress of this doesn’t show physically on the outside of the trucks. We take pride in how we look after our equipment. But it’s the hidden components you don’t see – engines, braking, pumps and their structure takes wear.”

He recommended this under-budget purchase, noting if put off, the cost of the truck next year would be three to four per cent higher, about another $12,400, on top of truck purchases scheduled in the plan for next year. The trucks also take about a year to arrive after purchase date.

“This is a pro-active, not a reactive plan.”

Councillor Janice Maynard led the charge to support the fire department, saying funds are being set aside in a logical way, “a model of how we should be doing our asset management in other departments.”

“This is an excellent example of an asset management plan and reserve planning,” said Maynard. “The purchasing is deliberately spread out evenly so we don’t get into the issue where we’re purchasing multiple trucks in one year. And the trucks are being re-used until they have no life left in them as they get handed down to other fire stations.”

Councillor Mike Harper expressed council’s mounting concern to also manage funds related to the hospital, roads and recent government cutbacks. He asked if the purchase could be deferred for another year. “If we didn’t get the truck does that inhibit our ability to fight fires?”

“No,” said Manlow, “but it adds risk. You can’t expect a 22-year-old truck to perform as a one-year-old truck.”

Following further discussion, Mayor Steve Ferguson told council he approves of councillors asking tough questions, but supports the expenditure.

“It’s fair to say that this council is scrutinizing every penny that’s being spent, or proposed to being spent, and I think that is one of our responsibilities and so far this year they have done it well,” said Ferguson. “That said, this plan proposed by the Chief and the department makes sense and I support this purchase because this is a core service and involves the safety of our residents. I don’t think we should gamble on the provision of safety and service for them.”

Seven voted in favour, five were opposed.

There was unanimous support, however, for the safety of firefighters once they have arrived on scene with the approval of $655,000 already put aside to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), known as air packs. The contract for the 62 units, and 176 cylinders required came in under the budgeted $670,000.

“In combination with their bunker gear, the air pack is our lifeline,” said Kraemer. “It provides the essential air necessary for us to enter extremely hostile environments filled with toxins, and soot. This allows us to reach citizens who need to be rescued, and it also protects us while we extinguish fires.”

Kraemer explained a self-contained breathing apparatus must withstand extreme environments and flashovers.

“A flashover is terrifying for any firefighter to experience,” said Kraemer, explaining a flashover happens suddenly when the temperature becomes so hot that everything in the room reaches its ignition point and flames break out over the entire area almost simultaneously.

“We need to have proper equipment to survive these conditions,” he said, adding the new SCBAs will also help firefighters who become trapped, lost, or unconscious.

“This is reality,” said Kraemer. “This is about the people in your community, your neighbours and your friends and relatives who have families they want to go home to and have a good quality of life after they complete serving this community as firefighters.”

The 13-year-old SCBA gear currently in use met standards in 2002, but is reaching end of service life and one by one, units are failing and are being pulled out of service as parts are not available or are cost-prohibitive.

Last year, Kraemer was tasked to form a selection committee consisting of division commanders from across the County’s stations, and firefighters, to test and score new units.

“We didn’t want to just select an SCBA on face value from a sales person or manufacturer. We designed an evaluation process to simulate scenarios in actual routines in a fire such as fire suppression, firefighter survival, rescue and techniques.”

They met at the former army camp hospital at Loch Sloy Business Park to put the units through rigourous testing – navigating tight spaces to see that it wouldn’t become snagged on objects; to feel how the equipment performed while using tools; or if it hindered work when ceiling materials were being pulled down.

They also learned about modern, life-saving features of today’s SCBA’s (not available on their current units) that meet new standards set out by the National Fire Protection Association.

Kraemer showed council photos of his hand just before and after entering a building on fire.

The new units, Kraemer explained, have a personal alert device that emits flashing lights and 95-100 decibel distress signals for firefighters that become lost, disabled or unconscious. Activation is automatic within 30 seconds of detecting a firefighter is not moving.

The cylinders also contain 45-minutes of breathing air, permitting more time for a rescue, or to survive a catastrophic event.

“The present system only provides about 30 minutes of air, which can quickly be consumed if we’re working harder. Right now, 10 to 12 minutes is the average time a firefighter has before they need to exit.”

Low air alarms activate at 33-35 per cent air remaining. A user display provides the firefighter critical information such as remaining breathing air in minutes, based on the user’s current breathing rate and audible and visual alerts of an ambient rapid rate of temperature rise and extended exposure to extreme temperature.

New 360-degree lighting helps firefighters locate one another and visually indicates each other’s amount of remaining air supply.

“Our field evaluators appreciated how well the MSA G1 mask seals positively to the user’s face more reliably, resulting in less chance of breathing lethal/harmful gases,” said Kraemer. “They did not experience fogging of the mask lens when tested, providing improved firefighter visibility, unlike our present mask lens which easily fogs.”

He noted that because firefighters share masks, they appreciated new benefits of not having to inhale the previous users’ spit and sweat, and regulators that are less likely to freeze in cold weather.

A new voice amplification system also allows clearer and more reliable communication between firefighters, officers and dispatch.

The units also now come with 15-year warranties for every component, including recharable batteries.

In the end, Kraemer said the firefighters unanimously chose the MSA G1 brand.

“We didn’t choose the Cadillac model that would fit the needs of a major urban city. We selected what we thought was best for everybody here in Prince Edward County.”

Final approval is expected to come before council at its May 14 regular meeting.

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  1. Todd says:

    “…Mean while since being purchased the only time that its ladder has been extended is at practice and public events” It’s comments like these that show a total lack of facts and understanding about how the fire service operates. I wonder, how many people who are “Monday morning quarterbacks” have actually taken a few minutes and stopped into your local fire hall and taken a look at the equipment, spoken to a firefighter and have even a small understanding how the equipment is used. You’ll walk away with a lot more knowledge about what you speak of. And yes, that goes for Councillors too.

  2. Mike Rodgers says:

    Let’s go back to the expensive ladder truck bought a while ago. Reason for purchase, when needed the cost to have Belleville come over with there truck was super expensive. Mean while since being purchased the only time that its ladder has been extended is at practice and public events.Chances are that it will seldom be used as a high reach piece of equipment before the fire marshal’s office declares it too old and it will need to be replaced.I think in cases such as this truck as well as other specialty equipment the county Trenton ,Belleville and even the air base should jointly buy and share as needed this type of expensive seldom used equipment and store at a central area for use as needed by all with all sharing the cost of purchase maintenance etc. This may save everyone concerned some tax dollars. Why pay millions of dollars for equipment that is only used once and awhile then is deemed obsolete because of age. Just thinking out side of the box.

  3. Emily says:

    Fire Protection is every home and landowners responsibility. We cannot continue to financially support a fire department to this tax degree, particularly with the vast rural area which most fires are devastating before an arrival of assistance.

  4. robert sandfield says:

    Strange how so called obsolete fire trucks are often re-furbished and go on to be used for many more years by municipalities that are less flush with cash. A ton of work can be done on existing equipment for a fraction of the price of new. Personal Protective Equipment for firefighters is a different issue than trucks/pumpers.

  5. Fred says:

    Is it ok for volunteer fire fighters that are Councilors to be voting on fire equipment acquisiitions? Just wondering about the rules and perception.

  6. Snowman says:

    Well k.b., Councillor Prinzen has been a volunteer fire fighter for a long time. It appears that he
    does not share your opinion. I know him and he is seldom wrong. I’m going with him on this one. The cost of fixing the oldest truck in the fleet would not come close to the interest and depreciation on a new one. Plenty of options that cost less.

  7. Susan says:

    Actually 3 Councilors were absent. Councilor Prinzen pulled the motion to put on the table for defeat. Good decision.

  8. Michelle says:

    If we can’t get to work on Cty Rd 4 we can always slip over to Closson for a wine. Lol. Priorities?

  9. kevin says:

    hard to believe this was opposed by 5 members………

  10. k.b. says:

    This is an absolute necessity. I hope council understands the value in this cost. Human lives are at risk – both firefighters, and the people they need to save. Give them what they need – they don’t just deserve it but they need it to survive.

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