Ben­ton County of­fi­cials eye cost of fire trucks

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS AND EVENTS - By Tom Sis­som tsis­som@nwadg.com

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County’s jus­tices of the peace re­cently raised the prospect of scal­ing back the an­nual pur­chase of a pair of firetrucks for ru­ral fire de­part­ments.

“It is a lot of money ev­ery year,” Tom Allen, jus­tice of the peace for Dis­trict 4 and chair­man of the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, said of the an­nual pur­chases. The county has $465,000 in the pro­posed 2018 bud­get to buy two trucks.

“It’s not some­thing we’re re­quired by law to do,” Allen said. “It’s like the county spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on the am­bu­lance ser­vice ev­ery year. We made a de­ci­sion, a moral de­ci­sion as op­posed to a le­gal de­ci­sion, that we were go­ing to do that. The same line of think­ing ap­plies to the firetrucks. It’s a life safety is­sue and a prop­erty safety is­sue for the peo­ple in the ru­ral ar­eas to have up-to-date firetrucks that can be there for a house fire or a brush fire.”

The county be­gan buy­ing fire ap­pa­ra­tus on a reg­u­lar ba­sis in the late 1970s, ac­cord­ing to Fire Mar­shal Marc Trollinger. The fleet had grown to 110 ve­hi­cles of dif­fer­ent types be­fore the county adopted a plan to re­duce the num­ber in the fire ser­vice by pur­chas­ing com­bi­na­tion pumper-tanker trucks. The trucks are pro­vided to the 27 fire de­part­ments de­pend­ing on need, he said.

“The goal is to help im­prove fire pro­tec­tion and at the same time re­duce the to­tal num­ber of trucks,” Trollinger said. “We do a one-forone re­place­ment. If we buy two trucks we sell or re­place two trucks. Get­ting down to 50 is the ultimate goal. We’re at 78 pieces of equip­ment right now. When I came to the county we had 110, so we’ve re­duced that by 32 in six years.”

Chief Vester Cripps with the Gen­try Fire De­part­ment has been in­volved in fire ser­vice in Ben­ton County since 1979. His fa­ther was a fire­fighter be­fore that, Cripps said, so he’s fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion be­fore and af­ter the county made the de­ci­sion to im­prove fire pro­tec­tion in the ru­ral ar­eas.

“The Ben­ton County Fire As­so­ci­a­tion was formed in 1978,” Cripps said. “The whole pur­pose was to help with fire pro­tec­tion in the county. There were a lot of places that were a long way from any fire de­part­ment. They were all city-based back then. You didn’t have all the vol­un­teer de­part­ments in places like we do now for Gal­latin, Hick­ory Creek and other places. The first step was to es­tab­lish the ru­ral fire de­part­ments and re­cruit vol­un­teers.”

Cripps said the pro­gram to pro­vide firetrucks to the ru­ral de­part­ments and city de­part­ments that serve sig­nif­i­cant ru­ral ar­eas has been a suc­cess. Gen­try ac­quired one of the com­bi­na­tion trucks a few years ago and it has proved its worth, he said.

“The big­gest ad­van­tage with the combo trucks is when you re­spond to a fire you have pumper ca­pac­ity as well as a lot of wa­ter,” he said. “So you’re able to start to fight the fire by your­self with­out hav­ing to wait for an­other truck.”

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