Purchase of new fire engine itself
becomes a hot topic for
Santa Paula City Council

May 14, 2014
Santa Paula News

The purchase of a new fire engine itself became a hot topic when the mayor made sharp remarks regarding the acquisition of a Pierce Arrow at a cost of about $530,000

The purchase of a new fire engine itself became a hot topic when the mayor made sharp remarks regarding the acquisition of a Pierce Arrow at a cost of about $530,000.

Fire Chief Rick Araiza and Reserve Fire Fighter Andy VanSciver told the council at the May 5 meeting that the present fleet of engines is aging and prone to expensive and time-consuming breakdowns.

At the April 7 meeting the council approved developing specifications for a new engine to replace the first responder from Station 81. 

Araiza told the council that since that meeting the SPFD committee met with the manufacturer and piggybacked the purchase with Newport Beach Fire to get optimum engine pricing.

Araiza said each SPFD committee member had a specific task including a city mechanic who determined the drive train power unit necessary for the terrain and needs.

VanSciver said two of the department’s four engines are out of service; the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that engines not be in service for more than 10 years and two of the city’s engines are 25 years old. One, a 2001 Ferrera pumper, must have its motor replaced. 

“We meet a couple of the NFPA requirements to send engines to the graveyard,” said VanSciver. 

Araiza said the new engine would allow a fifth firefighter in the enclosed cab, have more storage space needed for equipment currently tied to the top of existing engines-a practice not recommended by the NFPA-that creates firefighter retrieval risk as well as makes equipment an easy target for theft.

SPFD engines “have to carry extra gear because we do handle heavy rescue and because of the multi-nature of our department we need the extra storage space.” 

Said Araiza, “It’s just the nature of our department... we don’t have a truck company and have relied on other responders,” through mutual aid that takes about 10 minutes.

The new engine will have more than double storage space from the existing 160 square feet to about 350 square feet.

VanSciver said the ladder placement on the new engine will eliminate “a huge safety issue” now faced by SPFD personnel, and the new engine will also have new pumping technology.

Araiza said although Community Development Block Grant guidelines stopped allowing such purchases the agency has reversed itself. Fillmore has purchased a fire engine using CDBG funding and Araiza said he anticipates the city will also be able to utilize the grant for the purchase.

The staff report noted that the city could pay for the engine over a 10-year period at a cost of about $66,000 a year.

He noted the report contains “high end figures” for the engine that could change with modifications. 

“I’m going to share a story with you and hope you give me the right answer,” said Councilman Bob Gonzales.

He said a former police “wanted to drive a Ford Fairmount” and had a heavy-duty transmission and radiator installed in the vehicle.

“When all was said and done it didn’t last very long,” and Gonzales questioned, “creating a fire truck and you’re putting different components into the item... “

He asked if an engine the SPFD is “designing already exist?”

VanSciver said the basic engine is the same but there are customizations geared to SPFD needs, a common practice with almost all fire companies in the nation.

Araiza noted the Pierce engines are the longest running and most reliable of the SPFD fleet and the manufacturer of newer engines would not be seeing anymore SPFD business.

Gonzales asked if the SPFD could make a habit of sending older equipment with firefighters for calls of mutual aid, such as wildfires, and keep the newer equipment in the city.

“I would rather lose an old one than a new one,” he said of the potential loss of an engine.

Araiza said such an issue has been debated, but “The thought was we want to send our firefighters in the best equipment we have to fight a large fire... “

The percentage of time out of the city and mileage is minimal said VanSciver who noted “We really look at is as give and take,” and if Santa Paula calls for mutual aid, “ we don’t want all the broken stuff to turn up to help us fight fires in our city... we want to protect” SPFD firefighters with the safety features of the new engine.

Mayor Rick Cook said those who have been “calling us” are concerned about the cost of a new engine as well as who would benefit from its use, “The people who are paying for it,” or those served through mutual aid.

Araiza noted the city actually is reimbursed for mutual aid at a higher rate than what firefighters’ are paid and “We make money everyday they’re out there... “

“I want our firefighters to be safe when they go someplace,” said Gonzales, “but the people of the community are paying the bill...”

“We want to make sure we send Andy and all the other guys that are not fulltime employees,” so the city would make even more money joked Cook.  

Araiza noted VanSciver had responded to the Spring Fire.

“So you got your wish,” laughed VanSciver.

Councilman Martin Hernandez said firefighter safety is the top priority but was reassured the city would be compensated for losses caused by the assignment.

Gonzales questioned the number of those that would make factory visits during the building of the engine.

Such visits, said Araiza can be compared to homebuilding inspections during key points of construction, and it is recommended by fire agencies that three such visits be made. Santa Paula would send two firefighters and a mechanic, one more than Fillmore.

The cost, he added, is borne by the manufacturer Pierce although possibly included in the overall price.

Cook said he spoke to a person before the meeting who also questioned the visits, “Why have everybody go,” other than perhaps “it’s a PR (public relations) thing they do... “

“I disagree with you,” said VanSciver, “it’s not a PR thing... “

“Don’t disagree with me,” said Cook, “it’s not nice to disagree with the mayor... “

VanSciver apologized and noted that with his past experience as the editor and other positions with national firefighters publications he has toured manufacturing plants and “end-users are all there doing inspections... “

He likened it to when the city purchased the fifth-wheel command post and made on site visits to check such things as the electrical wiring.

“It you’re not an electrician,” snapped Cook, “I don’t want you to talk about wiring.”

He noted someone had questioned the issue with himself and Gonzales who in turn were asking questions.

“I do not want to argue or disrespect you, we all are not experts... not all firemen are experts,” that should be sent on such inspection trips.

Cook cautioned VanSciver, “you don’t want to beat a dead horse, beat yourself into a corner... the guy that called tonight was very adamant about it. I told him to watch tonight, see all of us are concerned,” about such a large expenditure. 

Cook added, “I don’t want to get into a he-said-she-said about it.”

In the end, the full council approved the purchase.

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