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Grant County Fire District 5 takes unusual approach to expanding fire truck fleet

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | January 22, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Buying a new fire truck, or even a used one, can be an expensive proposition for a fire district.

But Grant County Fire District 5 officials found an innovative way to cut costs and get exactly the truck they want in the bargain.

District officials take a do-it-yourself approach, purchasing a truck chassis and customizing it from the axles up. Fire District 5 Chief Dan Smith said it’s a way to maximize the district’s resources.

“As a rural fire district, we don’t have the money, basically, to go out and buy all new trucks,” he said. “We have such a broad area to cover, over 500 square miles, so we have 12 stations. There’s no way you could afford to have brand new trucks at all 12 stations all the time. We can still provide quality equipment, and lots of it, for a lot less money.”

Assistant Chief Rick Wentworth said it’s a technique the district has used for years.

“We didn’t start it,” Wentworth said. “The people that preceded us started this. It’s kind of our culture.”

District officials recently purchased five used chassis to turn into fire trucks suited for service in a district with a lot of roadless area.

“This just happened to be a good deal on five of these trucks. A few years back we bought two others, and did those,” Smith said.

Smith said the five chassis cost about $200,000, although he didn’t have an exact amount.

The chassis rolled out of the factory as logging trucks, sometime in the early 2000s.

“The frame gets shortened, we do any maintenance it needs, paint it,” he said.

Equipment from existing trucks is refurbished and fitted to the new truck.

But it’s a long way from a logging truck chassis to what Smith called a tactical tender.

“We don’t really have a time schedule on it, because there are several other projects that he (firefighter fabricator Kirk Webb) may take on in between building this,” he said. “Probably a minimum of six months.”

Two works in progress were parked in the district’s maintenance shed Thursday, one about two-thirds completed, the second in the beginning stages.

Building trucks sounds like an intricate process, and it is.

“Once (Webb) gets this one ready for paint — shorten the frame, change the wheelbase and a bunch of other stuff — we take it up and get the frame and cab painted,” Smith said.

Once the truck returns, it’s fitted with a refurbished water tank, then the tank is repainted.

“And then you run a lot of wiring, the lighting package, radios installed, decals put on. There’s a lot of work even after you get it painted,” Wentworth said. “Might get some new wheels on the back, new tires. Depends on what each truck needs.”

“They tend to get torn apart several times before they’re done,” Smith added. “You bring it in, you build a bunch of pieces — tanks, fenders, pump motors — and bolt it all to the truck, and then you take it all off again, so you can get it painted, and then you’ve got to put it back on. Fabricating a vehicle, it’s not just build it all and then paint it. It’s build it, do all the fabrication work, take it back apart, paint it all, put it back together, and you’re still adding other things to it.”

While it’s an involved process, Smith said the result is both more cost-effective and customized.

“One of these trucks, new, can probably run $200,000,” he said. “We can go through our stuff and build it for less than half of that – way less than half. And have a truck built for our specific application.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

Casey McCarthy/ Columbia Basin Herald

Kirk Webb, Grant County Fire District 5 firefighter fabricator, works to convert a former logging truck to a fire truck. District officials have opted to expand their fleet by building their own trucks.

photo

Casey McCarthy/ Columbia Basin Herald

Grant County Fire District 5 chief Dan Smith (left) and assistant chief Rick Wentworth (right) with a district fire truck under construction. The district builds its own fire trucks, starting with a used chassis and adding existing equipment.