Benton County officials eye cost of fire trucks
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.”