The Yakima City Council approved the purchase of two fire engines on Tuesday and discussed plans to replace fire apparatus on a regular basis in the future.
The two fire engines cost $1,572,308, which the council will allocate from federal American Rescue Plan money.
The Yakima Fire Department has five frontline fire engines and three engines in reserve that each should be replaced every 17 years, fire officials said.
The council voted to replace two fire engines on Tuesday and is considering replacing a third engine at the beginning of 2022. The department hopes to receive funding to replace the fourth engine in 2024 and the fifth engine in 2026.
The city has not been in a financial position to purchase new fire apparatus with cash for many years, said Yakima Fire Chief Aaron Markham.
“We ran ourselves into a situation where because we didn’t purchase apparatus two years ago, they got postponed, so now the ones that are due to be replaced have caught up to the ones that need to be replaced next year,” Markham said. “This is the best opportunity we have available right now to catch up.”
Markham asked the council to follow the replacement cycle set forth by previous City Councils, which moved frontline fire engines to reserve status after 12 years and then retired after an additional five years of service.
“We want to replace our fire apparatus before they reach the age of 20 years old,” he said.
Yakima’s three reserve units are 16, 18 and 21 years old, said YFD Deputy Chief Jeremy Rodriguez. Many of the frontline trucks and engines are 11 years old.
The main focus of the replacement plan targets the most expensive pieces of apparatus, like the fire engines and ladder trucks.
The department has one fire apparatus with the whole instrument panel nonfunctional, Markham said.
“You would think that would be really easy to just repair that,” he said. “Well, apparently they don’t make those parts anymore after 10 or 11 years.”
Markham said the department should replace the apparatus around 17 years to allow for flexibility in situations where replacement might be postponed for a year or two.
Plan for the future
Councilmember Soneya Lund suggested purchasing one new fire engine every three to five years to avoid buying two or three new engines at a time in the future.
Markham agreed, saying, “ideally we would have liked to purchase one or two last year and then spaced them out.”
Mayor Patricia Byers said the council is moving into budget season for next year and hopes the council will consider implementing a plan to set aside money for the fire department.
After ordering the engines, it will take at least a year before the new apparatuses are built, Markham said.
“Next year, when this topic comes up again on whether council authorizes the purchase of a third apparatus, then ideally we’ve put at least a year between actual delivery between the two engines,” he said.
Councilmember Kay Funk suggested a regional fire authority might be a way to fund the department, instead of relying on the cash-strapped general fund.
“Being crushed and squeezed into the general fund is the big problem,” Funk said. “We don’t have enough cash coming in.”
Funk acknowledged an authority would be complicated to plan out. Byers agreed.
“If we are looking at a regional fire authority, that’s going to take quite a bit of time and effort to go through that process and in the meantime, we have to be putting into the budget a fiscal plan to make sure we have money set aside,” Byers said.