From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 16 - April 17, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Ladder truck purchase remains a hot topic

by Alecia Warren

Contrary to information the Pinedale Mayor’s Office released last week, the Sublette County Commissioners have yet to allocate funds to purchase a ladder truck for the Pinedale Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD).

Clarifying information that the Mayor’s Office had received earlier, County Clerk Mary Lankford corrected this week that purchasing the truck still depends on a recommendation from the County Fire Board, approval from the County Commissioners, and most important, a solid source of funding that has yet to be agreed upon.

Debated by the town and county off and on for the past three years, the $1 million truck would enable the fire department to access three-story buildings in town on a stable ladder and platform.

Firefighters can currently only access such high areas on individual 35-foot ladders, which are unsafe for the crew, especially when they must carry someone to safety.

“You ever been at the end of a 35-foot ladder? It’s kind of wobbly up there,” said T.J. Hunt, county fire warden.

A handful of hotels in town like the Lodge of Pinedale and High Country Suites have been built in the last few years with three levels, which is in accordance with town building codes.

During their construction the town and county have considered purchasing the truck, but discussions were delayed by funding problems and distractions that placed the truck at a lower priority.

The issue resurfaced at the April 7 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, however, where the commission voted to advise the Town Council to approve building a three-story Hampton Inn and Suites on Pine Street just beside the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility.

Hunt said he hasn’t heard of any past emergencies where a ladder truck was needed.

“On the other hand, we’ve never had three-story buildings before — they just showed up here in the last couple of years,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to build these three-story buildings, that’s where the need arises.

“We can’t wait until something happens. We need to be prepared so that when the day comes, we can deal with it and be prepared, instead of looking at each other and thinking, ‘well, what do you we do now?”

Progress with obtaining the truck now depends on the County Fire Board, a body comprised of local fire department representatives that is responsible for making recommendations to purchase fire equipment.

Sublette County funds nearly all the PFVD equipment, and the County Commissioners already considered purchasing the ladder truck in 2006 and 2007 with money provided by the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB), a state body that provides grants and loans to towns and counties, Lankford wrote in an e-mail.

The commissioners didn’t approve purchasing the truck in 2006 because too many other funding applications had been filed previously, and projects like sewer and water rehabilitation were higher on the list.

The county received “considerably less money,” from SLIB in 2007; only $735,000, “chump change” compared to the $8 million SLIB had given the year before, Lankford said. It was not enough to fund the truck.

The County Fire Board has yet to make a recommendation to the commissioners on purchasing the vehicle this year, but PVFD Chief Alvin Mitchell wrote in an e-mail last week that he had planned to ask the board to do so on Monday.

“The ladder truck is the town’s number one priority,” Mitchell wrote.

He didn’t respond to calls or e-mails to confirm if he had made the request.

Even if the fire board recommends purchasing the truck, however, SLIB has only granted the county $2.5 million over the next two years, broken up into $988,000 for 2008 and $1.5 million for 2009.

Whether this is enough to fund both the truck and other local projects remains to be seen.

County Commissioner Joel Bousman said he remembers an alternate funding option that the county, town and fire department discussed last year.

“We talked about a third (of the funding) coming from county, a third from the town, and possibly a third from fire department funds that (the department) thought it could come up with,” Bousman said. “But that was clear over a year ago, and nothing really happened after that discussion.”

The Town of Pinedale also approached members of the energy industry about funding the truck two years ago, but EnCana spokesperson Chris House said those discussions also stalled.

For now, county residents can only wait for the fire board to make a recommendation and the county commissioners to make its deliberations once more.

The commissioners at least understand the urgency of that matter, Bousman said. “I think (discussion) needs to come up again to provide a means of fire protection for these three-story buildings,” he said. “There’s no question the fire department wants to make that a priority.”

Purchase faces other issues

Other issues besides funding might delay the county’s decision to purchase a $1 million ladder truck for the Pinedale Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD), according to an e-mail from County Clerk Mary Lankford.

“Considerable training is required to operate a ladder truck,” Lankford wrote. “There will need to be volunteers willing to make the commitment to this training.” The training class, called Wyoming Apparatus Driver Operator-Aerial (ADOAerial) Standard, is indeed demanding.

Certification requirements include training in operating the aerial ladder, conducting rescue exercises, working truck controls and driving, according to the Wyoming Department of Fire Prevention and Electrical Safety (DPFES).

Firefighters must pass an “in-house” written examination, as well as a written and practical skills examination administered by the DFPES.

But Kelly Tegeler, PVFD assistant chief, said he can’t imagine any of the 24 volunteers who wouldn’t leap at the chance to go through the training. “There would completely be a learning curve for us in operating it,” he said. “It’s a bigger vehicle. Positioning it properly, as well as operating the ladder itself and anything else that’s on it (will be challenging).

“But there’s a lot of us who are very excited about it, of course, so we would do what we need to do to learn it.”

Tegeler can already speculate on ways the ladder truck could come in handy. Firefighters could ventilate a building off the ladder’s platform instead of on a roof on the brink of collapse — for both second and third-story buildings. The ladder could also extend over a river so firefighters could lower a rope and save someone trapped, he added.

But ladder truck exercises also require a training tower, however, which the PVFD doesn’t have. The county has funded one, but has yet to determine where to place it so that it best serves all the towns in the county.

Lankford also said that the ladder truck wouldn’t fit in the PVFD facility, and thus entail constructing a new fire hall.

Tegeler admitted that currently there isn’t space.

“But we have some older trucks we were deliberating anyway of passing onto the Kendall Valley Fire Department,” he said. “These older ones are just costing us more to maintain than we’re earning from them.”

The PVFD also owns two “wild land” trucks only used in the summer for grass and forest fires that could be parked in a separate building during the wintertime, he added.

Whatever the department can do to facilitate obtaining the truck, it will, Tegeler said.

“We’re not walking around being grumpy about (not having it yet),” he said. “But it’s one of those tools that would make our job easier to do in certain emergency situations. It would be nice to have, if possible.”

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