Aging fire equipment raises reliability worries

Meadow Lake fire chief Neil Marsh reveals the interior of the department's 1983 crew hauler. The high mileage vehicle can be temperamental when being started and is a challenge to repair as replacement parts are hard to obtain

By Rhonda Cooper

Even though Meadow Lake Fire & Rescue’s aging fleet of vehicles and equipment haven’t impacted the department’s ability to respond to emergency calls yet, they soon could.

Fire chief Neil Marsh took the opportunity at the city’s regular council meeting July 25 to draw attention to the department’s situation and the need for replacements. He requested council keep this in mind when considering major capital investments in the immediate future.

“Things are in good shape and they are well maintained but the aging equipment does limit our abilities,” Marsh said after the meeting.

The oldest piece of equipment is the 1983 crew hauler. The hauler transports the crew that cannot be accommodated by the engine/pumper trucks.

“This started life as an ambulance. I can’t remember when we got it but it probably spent five maybe 10 years as an ambulance. It has a lot of miles on it and is the one that is the most difficult to repair when it breaks down,” said Marsh.

“It has been a good vehicle, it’s just worn out.”

The next senior member of the fleet is the 1987 pumper truck, which is still reliable, but is reaching antique stage, alongside the hauler. In both cases, basic engine parts like a fuel pump or a carburetor are very difficult to replace because they are not readily available from a store. Parts often have to be sourced from wreckers.

Even the depatment’s new vehicles, the second pumper truck and the rescue truck are more than 10 years old.

“We are experiencing some electronics failures on both of these,” said Marsh. “But those parts are readily available because they are still being manufactured.”

According to Marsh, a new engine in some form would be the best upgrade for the department. Because engines (pumpers) are custom made, the department could create an engine that best suits its needs. For example, the pumpers do not have foam retardant built into them. Presently, an attachment is used and the foam mixed outside of the pumper and then added into the water lines. This is just one of many options that could be considered when purchasing a new engine.

But, a new pumper does not come cheap. Marsh estimated $250,000 would be the low end of the price range, noting larger cities like Saskatoon and Regina may spend close to $1 million because ladder trucks are more costly. One possible advantage of a new engine is that it could replace both the 1987 unit and the crew hauler. This can be accomplished by having a larger cab.

“Six would be ideal – the driver, the officer and two crews of two,” he said, as currently the most that can ride on an engine is five.

The exterior of the crew hauler.

There have been times when the department has been down to one engine because the other is being overhauled or repaired. In one instance, both were simultaneously unavailable. Fortunately the second engine quit on the way back to the fire hall following a call. The resourcefulness of the crew allowed a replacement part to be located and installed that same shift.

Marsh, along with other city departments are asked to submit a request list to the city each December. City clerk Cheryl Dodds explained the city is unable to finalize its capital and operating budgets until after the provincial budget is released in the spring.

“Management and council will sit down together and look at a draft budget. The actual budget has to wait until we know what money we will get from the government,” said Dodds.

“This has been asked for in previous budgets,” said Dodds, who is also a fire fighter.

“We have two trucks that are getting dated,” she added.

Marsh said the role of fire departments has changed through the years. Where once the primary focus was the suppression of grass and structural fires, departments now respond to hazardous material calls, motor vehicle accidents and rescue calls. For example, he said, the local department recently added an ice rescue team to its repertoire.

“It (fire fighting) is so much more now, and our reliability may be less than what we like,” said Marsh.

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