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Sanpete needs to step up and meet the needs of its fire departments

 

“We’re trying to maintain the same standards as Salt Lake City and other big towns,” says Sam Draper, Mt. Pleasant fire chief and chairman of the Sanpete County Fire District Board. “In small towns, it’s hard to abide by those standards.”

If that isn’t the truth.

The fire district and local volunteer fire departments are grappling with increased costs for fire trucks, breathing apparatus, firefighter coats and pants, and a dozen other essential items.

At the same time, they’re having trouble recruiting the volunteers required to meet National Fire Protection Association and insurance industry standards

We all need to understand what firefighting costs and be prepared to dig a little deeper into our pockets to support our local fire fighters.

There was a time when some Sanpete County fire departments were not equipped to protect their communities. Fire trucks overheated in the middle of fires and would not pump water.

More than 20 yeas ago, people around the county had the foresight to come together and set up the Sanpete County Fire District. The fire district purchases fire trucks and some other high-costs items. When the district buys a new truck for a larger community, it may reassign one of that city’s older trucks to a smaller town.

The district is funded by a fee on everybody’s city utility bill. The fee was $3 for more than 10 years. In 2017, it was raised to $4.

The fire district can boast of successes in getting the 13 municipal fire departments in the county decently equipped. In 2016, the district got a $600,000 grant from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB). It added $644,000 its own accumulated funds and was able to spend $1.24 million on several new trucks.

Problem is, the CIB told Sanpete County the grant was the last it would make for local fire equipment.

The $4 fee brings in about $350,000 per year. But in most cases, that’s not enough to buy even one new truck. So the fire district has to save up to buy trucks.

That’s why the total fire district budget for 2018 is $922,000. The district has been saving up to buy Ephraim a new ladder truck, a truck Ephraim must have to be prepared to fight fires in multi-story dormitories and off-campus student housing structures, among other buildings.

Bids were opened a couple of months ago. The cost of the truck and ancillary equipment: More than $900,000.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of variation in city and town budgets for their fire departments. The proposed fire department budget in Ephraim for FY 2019 is $249,720. That averages out to about $125 per household.

In the Gunnison Valley, where one fire department serves six towns—Gunnison, Centerfield, Mayfield, Fayette and Axtell—the proposed FY 2019 budget is $76,000. That averages about $50 per household.

In Fountain Green, some fire fighters are using “turnouts” (coat and pant sets) that are 20 years old, even though the lifespan of such clothing is supposed to be 10 years.

The turnouts cost $1,700. The town has 13 fire fighters. And the town’s fire department budget only covers replacement of one turnout per year.

And because of difficulty of recruiting fire fighters, two departments in the county, Mt. Pleasant and Ephraim, have started paying fire fighters token amounts for coming to drills, attending out-of-town trainings required for special certifications, and responding to fires.

Fire fighting is public safety. It is one of the basic functions of local government. Costs have to be covered. We can never go back to the day when the only fire truck in a community breaks down in the middle of a fire.