Safety department asks approval for new firefighting equipment

Nate Ulrich

The Kent Fire Department’s purchase of new equipment could be the difference between life and death for its fire fighters.

The city’s Public Safety Department requested that City Council approve the purchase of 13 self-contained breathing apparatuses as part of Kent’s 2007 budget, Safety Director Bill Lillich said. A self-contained breathing apparatus, which includes a face mask and an air tank, allows firefighters to breathe in the midst of smoke and toxic fumes created by a fire.

“It is a vital piece of equipment,” Kent Fire Chief Jim Williams said. “The guys’ lives depend on the units working properly. It’s also why we try to replace them on a routine basis and before they reach a point where that failure happens.”

Lillich said the last time the breathing devices were purchased was about 15 years ago, which is the approximate life expectancy for each unit.

“In reviewing the equipment, we recognized that some of the units are requiring more service and maintenance, and we need to improve some of the technology on the units,” Lillich said. “So it’s time to begin the replacement process.”

The department has 40 self-contained breathing apparatuses, but only the 13 front-line units are going to be purchased in 2007, Williams said. The purchase of 13 devices could cost up to $52,000.

“One of the reasons that we proposed a cycling in of the units is because we know the city is strapped for cash,” Williams said. “The units on our primary vehicles get used more often and obviously those are in worse condition than some of the other ones.

“We felt that it was something that we could do gradually and replace them over time. If we had to replace them all at once right now, it would be in the area of $170,000. Given the budget situation, we felt that we could phase in the purchase of the units and not have that huge expenditure in any one given year, but we could spread that out over time.”

Williams said the purchase of seven additional units will be worked into the 2008 budget. The department has also applied for a grant from the Leary Firefighters Foundation in hopes of receiving funds for additional equipment.

Williams said the department will probably purchase the equipment from a new vendor, a decision he hopes to finalize in the next couple weeks.

“We’ve had a lot of maintenance problems with this particular vendor, so we feel it’s time to make a switch,” Williams said. “We’ve never had anybody get hurt because of it. We just seem to have a higher rate of problems with the units than we think we should have.”

Councilman Wayne Wilson, chairman of the finance committee, said purchasing new equipment for the Fire Department is an easy decision despite the city’s financial problems. Council is expected to approve the final budget in December.

“Even though the budget is a little tight, the place to not cut back is safety forces,” Wilson said. “You can’t let the equipment get too far behind, or you’ll end up with a dangerous situation for firefighters and the residents.”

Contact public affairs reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected].