Acceptable Fire Equipment Age Discussed

SNOW HILL – Before approving a new set of standards for fire companies, the Worcester County Commissioners plan to meet with county fire chiefs to discuss acceptable equipment age.

Since 1977, fire apparatus has been limited to 15 years of service without underwriter approval and up to 30 years with an underwriters’ certificate.

The standards, as interpreted by local fire chiefs, require fire companies to possess at least one pumper younger than 15 years of age.

Questions on the recent overhaul of the fire company standards prompted a discussion this week over the length of time a piece of apparatus should be limited to. The fire chiefs left the age standard alone earlier this year.

Others have questioned the apparatus age as being too restrictive on small fire companies.

Donald Westbrook of the Newark Fire Company wrote to County Commissioner Linda Busick at the beginning of this month proposing the age change.

“In Newark’s case, we have had to put aside so much money to pay for these new engines that we have come to the point that most of our firefighter gear does not meet current NFPA (National Fire Protection Association),” Westbrook wrote.

According to Westbrook, the Newark Fire Company had to purchase “an almost inadequate rescue truck” because it needed to save funds for a new engine, despite the higher numbers of traffic accidents the company responds to versus the number of fires.

“As technology changes, these pieces of apparatus are made to certain standards,” said Worcester County Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon.

Safety technology changes relatively rapidly in the firefighting world, necessitating new equipment.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a school bus driver, wondered if a similar practice used on school buses could be utilized.

“They’ll go ahead and retrofit the buses,” said Shockley.

McMahon said, “There’s an awful lot you have to do to it, and rehab is very expensive,” said McMahon.

Commissioner Bob Cowger wondered, “Is there a resale [value]? Can you get anything out of them?

“It’s bottom dollar,” said McMahon.

Most fire companies in Worcester County donate old vehicles to other fire companies. Older fire apparatus from many Worcester fire companies can exhibit low mileage with fires occurring relatively near firehouses in the towns and villages of the county.

“I can’t understand why the fire chiefs could not agree to make ‘em 20 years,” said Cowger, whose initial interest in the subject prompted a review of the age standard this spring.

The smaller, county-based companies do not get the extra funding from municipalities on top of county monies, he said.

“I personally have no problem with it,” said McMahon.

The fire companies fear that extending the un-inspected life of their apparatus would reduce their budgets, he said.

“The biggest controversy is funding,” McMahon said.

Cowger made a motion to table the discussion until the commissioners can talk further with local chiefs.

“I hate going against the chiefs’ recommendation,” said Cowger. “Actually, I’d like to table it. I’d like to meet with the chiefs.”

There was no rush to approve the standards, he said.

 “I’d like to have a sit down,” Shockley agreed.

Commissioner Judy Boggs pointed out that all the county fire chiefs signed off on the standards, which do not change the apparatus age, and presumably have already debated the pro’s and con’s.

“I want to see ‘em face to face,” said Shockley. “Let’s do it right.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas agreed with Shockley and Cowger on the meeting, though she had mixed feelings on the proposal to extend the unexamined life of fire apparatus.

“It makes it so difficult for a small fire company like Showell or Girdletree or Newark, makes it very difficult for them to raise money,” Gulyas later said. “It’s hard to say. I just want the men to be safe. I just want the equipment to work.”

The commissioners voted to table a decision and meet with the fire chiefs. Boggs cast the only dissenting vote.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Boggs said.