The City Council on Wednesday debated the use of the Fire Department's new ladder truck as a carrier for backup crews responding to medical calls.
Photo courtesy of Professional Firefighters of Walla Walla, IAFF Local 404
WALLA WALLA — A City Council debate over the retiring of an old Seagraves pumper fire engine fanned the embers of an issue centered around the fire department’s new $850,000 ladder truck.
“We are seemingly running our ladder truck on the road an awful lot,” Council Member Jerry Cummins said, questioning why the larger rig is routinely used for medical backup instead of smaller pumper engines.
As a result, Council unanimously voted Wednesday to remove the Seagraves pumper engine from a surplus list to keep as a backup for the time being.
At one point, Cummins asked if the smaller engine could still be used on medical calls instead of the larger ladder truck.
“It looks to me like the pumper truck is less expensive to run, and many times the runs we are making are medical ... so why are we surplusing a smaller less expensive pumper truck?” Cummins said.
Council Member Barbara Clark echoed Cummins.
“I think that the concern that is being expressed is that we are seeing this huge hook-and-ladder truck coming out on to residential streets as a back up, and could not that be left back at the station and one of the pumper trucks come out,” she said.
Since the ladder truck was put into service in 2012, Council members have questioned its regular use to carry backup crews for medical calls.
Earlier this year, the debate flared up after the 105-foot rig was damaged when it clipped a concrete barrier at the Washington Sate Penitentiary, where it was sent as backup for a medical call on Jan. 17.
The cost to repair the damage was around $30,000 in city funds.
In a email response this week to the Union-Bulletin, Fire Chief Bob Yancey defended the use of the ladder truck for medical calls, noting that it is rotated with the smaller pumper engines, thus putting it in use about 9-12 days per month.
He added that fewer than 20 percent of all city medical calls require a backup crew.
“This (using the ladder truck for medical calls) allows our personnel to train and become familiar with the vehicle operations so they are proficient in the event of emergency operations,” Yancey wrote.
The types of calls that require back up EMTs include auto accidents with injuries, unconscious patients, chest pain, CPRs and obese patients. Full fire crews are sent out with the engine so that they can respond to service more quickly if needed.
“There are numerous advantages to sending an engine crew to assist the ambulance,” Yancey wrote. Out of service time for the crew engine is shorter, he added, and if a more “emergent call comes in, such as fire or another medical call, they are able to respond immediately with a full crew.”
Yancey also noted that the Seagraves pumper engine that was slated to be surplused was several years beyond the 25 year limit of operation recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. The association also recommends that engines be put on reserve status after 15 years of operation.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.