South Kitsap Fire and Rescue eagerly awaits new firefighting equipment

Try as he might, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Guy Dalrymple can’t suppress his smile: The deputy fire chief and his team are positively giddy about the prospect of taking possession of six shiny, new fire engines sometime in February.

And then a month later, five water tenders will begin arriving at SKFR’s maintenance headquarters on Fircrest Drive SW in Port Orchard. The tenders, as well as the fire engines, are to be outfitted with specialized compartments fabricated by the department’s maintenance shop that will hold firefighting equipment.

Despite having the typically stalwart countenance of a firefighter, Dalrymple, as well as Division Chief Jeff Faucett, are a bit like kids counting down the days before Christmas morning. Their excitement is understandable. Dalrymple and Faucett, along with members of their maintenance staff, are closely following the construction of the new firefighting apparatus from design to completion by Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing.

As a result of a $4.9 million bond measure approved by South Kitsap Fire District voters in October 2015, SKFR is on track to take possession of the rolling stock and some ancillary equipment that will replace old vehicles, some two decades past their expiration dates.

While the engines and chassis frames are being assembled at Pierce Manufacturing’s Oshkosh plant in Wisconsin, the vehicles will be fabricated and assembled in Bradenton, Fla. From start to finish, Dalrymple said, it should take the manufacturer eight weeks to complete the package.

SKFR’s project crew has made multiple trips to the company’s locations to assess their progress. Just before Pierce’s professional drivers steer the fire engines toward the Pacific Northwest, Dalrymple, Faucett and their crew will climb over every inch of each vehicle sometime in January. Call it a “punch list” inspection, which Faucett said will take a team of four “wearing overalls looking them over from stern to stem.”

Area residents should expect to see the new equipment in action by summer, Dalrymple said.

Fire Chief Steve Wright said that while Pierce is a quality manufacturer, it’s essential that taxpayers get what they’re paying for. He said purchasing the six fire engines and five tenders as a unit saved enough money so that the fire district could buy a couple of brush trucks to be used fighting summer brush fires.

The district’s project team also benefitted financially when it placed its order just before a scheduled price increase.

With its savings, the district also was able to buy a command truck and three medic units, currently on-site being customized in the shop.

Dalrymple said the multiple-vehicle buy not only saved money, it allows SKFR to standardize its fleet of fire engines and tenders. “This will help our personnel when they hop from one piece of equipment to another,” he said. “To have the same kind of equipment is very important, training-wise.”

The deputy chief said he and SKFR mechanic Tim Johnson have been working since 1997 to get the district’s equipment standardized.

“We learned a long time ago not to tell them how to build (the rigs),” Dalrymple said. “We told them what we wanted (the equipment) to do, within our performance requirements.”

Wright said crews will undergo six shifts of training when the first unit arrives so firefighters understand the pumping system operation, the fire engine’s safety features and its crew compartment.

While the new fleet will offer its users advanced features and greater comfort and accessibility over what’s currently available, Wright said the equipment is fairly utilitarian.

“We’ve spent $430,000 per engine,” he said. “Other districts spend upwards of $750,000. The reason for the higher cost? Customization. But we have everything we need with these engines. The standard package meets our perimeters.”

Dalrymple used a comparison understandable to the average car buyer: “It’s like we bought the white work truck. We can’t change the dimensions, the pump system or the engine. We don’t need the fancier braking system or engine. Everything’s already been engineered,” which he said saved SKFR about $100,000.

An important safety feature is a three-camera system that drivers will use to check their blind spots. The brush trucks also have battery-powered LED lights that can be placed remotely, without the need for extension cords.

Wright explained that each fire engine is essentially a rolling tool box. “It’s the minimum piece of equipment that comes out to an emergency,” Wright said. “It’s the main work platform for the fire service.”

Now that SKFR’s equipment needs have been addressed, Wright said, he’s put into place a budgeting exercise where money is being set aside to replace the now-new equipment years down the road.

The South Kitsap Fire District 7, more commonly known as SKFR, serves 72,000 residents over 117 square miles.

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