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Before:The Quincy fire department’s new acquisition, a U.S. Forest Service surplus fire engine, is 19 years old.
After: Quincy mechanic Charlie Read and volunteer Capt. John Gay pause in front of the rebuilt engine, which features upgrades inside and out.
Many Plumas County fire departments benefit from a wide range of equipment donations or loans from other agencies. These transfers have been going on for many decades, and help to provide important tools for local volunteer firefighters that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. Combined with occasional grant awards from government or private sources, these programs all play a very important role in providing modern fire services.
The annual budgets for 17 of our 19 community fire departments range from about $20,000 to several hundred thousand dollars a year. Almost all of the fire departments are fully volunteer, with the exception of a few with larger budgets, such as the Chester and Peninsula fire departments, which have some career staffers. Some of the 19, such as Quincy, have a full- or part-time fire chief.
Compare that budget to the typical cost of new fire engines and equipment in 2013. For example, a new structural fire engine, known in the fire service as a Type I engine, may cost from $300,000 to $500,000 or more, not including the equipment carried. That’s more than the entire annual budget for the Quincy Volunteer Fire Department, for example. Firefighter breathing apparatus, fire hose, nozzles and appliances, ladders, radios, a generator and other hand tools can add upwards of $75,000 to the total. A new four-wheel drive, wildland “Type III” fire engine may cost upwards of $250,000, with $50,000 or more in necessary equipment added.
Specialized equipment such as ladder trucks, known as “truck companies,” is sold new for more than $750,000 each, with additional equipment costs of more than $75,000. New water tanker apparatus, known as “water tenders,” can cost upwards of $175,000. These prices mean that buying new equipment for most small departments is not an option. Saving up funds to buy used engines or seeking grants, loans, or donations are the typical choices.
Fire departments typically have a “can-do” culture, and it’s not uncommon to find a few members who also have some mechanical or other crafts skills to share. A recent example of rebuilding and upgrading a surplus U.S. Forest Service wildland Type III fire engine occurred at the Quincy fire department. This department has a long history of both being frugal and effective, working successfully within a very small budget.
If you had visited the main Quincy station over the past six months, this 20-year-old engine would have been found spread out in pieces, with several talented people laboring to bring it back to life. Quincy has three employees — Fire Chief Robbie Cassou, mechanic/facilities maintenance man Charlie Read and administrative secretary Yvonne Bush. Cassou is well-known for his many talents, including fabrication and metal work. Read has special training and certification in fire apparatus maintenance, including working on pumps and electrical systems. Read, Cassou, and volunteer Capt. John Gay (retired from the USFS) spent hundreds of hours rebuilding this old engine.
This former USFS engine was declared federal excess property last year, from the Mad River area. Once placed on this list, any federal agency can acquire the equipment first. If it is not taken, the property is loaned to the state of California through CalFire, in this case through Doug Beutler of the CalFire Lassen, Plumas, Modoc Unit. They help locate areas with fire protection responsibilities in need of surplus equipment. The fire engines remain on loan and are the property of the USFS. Often they serve for many years in rural areas before finally being auctioned off for private ownership or scrap.
In this case the Quincy department personnel greatly improved their Type III wildland engine’s capabilities with some hard work and about $2,300 in materials. After the engine was completely disassembled inside and out, Read completed the much-needed bodywork. Many pump and other parts were thoroughly cleaned and repaired. Painting was completed with a color scheme designed by Cassou. Logos and striping were completed by Wild Hare Sign shop in East Quincy.
This rebuilt engine carries 500 gallons of water and has pump capabilities of 500 gallons per minute. It also has a larger crew compartment, and more storage space for needed fire equipment and tools. Class A and B foam systems and a diesel motor round out the upgrade from the older gas engine with a 70-gallon per minute pump. Quincy, in turn, transferred its older engine to the community of Meadow Valley, to replace an older engine that is no longer useable for fire protection.
“It’s amazing the value that these people bring to the local fire service,” said Graeagle Chief Ed Ward, president of the Plumas County Fire Chiefs Association. “They are by far the most talented group in our area when it comes to rebuilding equipment, or fabricating the low-cost fire academy buildings and props, and more. Quincy should be very proud.”
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