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SKFR gets its new ladder truck, tries to sell off old one

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue hasn
South Kitsap Fire and Rescue hasn't decided how to get rid of its old fire truck.
— image credit: courtesy photo

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue retired its heavy, 1983 ladder truck six months ago, and it’s almost ready to start using its new truck.

“The old truck served its purpose and served us well through the years,” said Battalion Chief Mike Wernet, who manages the department’s fleet and facilities. “We’ve used it about every other year since we’ve owned it for a major commercial structure fire.”

The truck’s last big call came from the Arnold’s Home Furnishings fire in Bremerton at about 2 a.m. on July 27, 2009.

“I remember seeing at least three ladder trucks,” said Ralph Erickson, the general manager of the business and the owner of the property it sits on. “South Kitsap responded with everyone they could.”

The fire lasted for about 12 hours and gutted about 30,000 square feet of warehouse to the ground as well as the east showroom.

“It was a 100-degree day,” Erickson said. “They had to work in shifts and then take breaks.”

But eventally the crews were able to save the west showroom as well as houses and businesses nearby.

The truck also helped extinguish a third-floor fire in the Kona Village Apartments in East Bremerton on Nov. 13, 1997 that killed four residents, and it went to major commercial fires in the Sidney Hotel in 1984, the Pleasant Valley School in 1986 and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s Officer’s Club in 1993.

It’s also helped retrieve bodies from car wrecks in ravines and responded to numerous house fires.

But the truck won’t see another fire, since funding for the new truck came from a federal grant, which was provided on the condition that South Kitsap Fire and Rescue immediately retire the old truck from active firefighting.

The department hasn’t yet figured out what to do with it, though.

“Typically, we’d sell the old one to a smaller department that can’t afford a new one,” said Wernet.

Since the grant doesn’t allow that, leaders at SKFR have considered selling the truck to citizens.

They’re not sure if that plan will work either though, since it’s over the legal weight limit for individuals to drive.

The truck’s 25,000-pound weight, and its distribution, have gotten it into trouble for years.

About a year after the district bought the truck, officials discovered it weighed more than the legal limit to drive across some local bridges and roads.

Every year since, they’ve had to buy a permit to drive across those roads.

The heavy, badly distributed weight also made the truck’s braking system unsafe, Wernet said.

The department made sure drivers didn’t go too quickly, just to make sure they were able to stop at the bottom of hills.

SKFR leaders have considered selling the truck for scrap metal or selling it to a citizen to re-sell it for parts.

The old truck cost $276,263 in 1983, and the new truck cost about $884,700.

The difference can be attributed to inflation and features on the new truck.

For example, the new truck has cleaner emissions and more advanced technology than the old model.

Also, the ladder on the old truck was 75 feet long while new one is 100 feet.

The old truck had a light that rotated in a circle and the new truck has LED strobe lights that can be used in different patterns.

The old truck sprayed water and the new truck sprays foam as well as water.

Werner said the foam makes firefighting much easier.

The foam, which is like a thick soap, extinguishes fires by penetrating the burning material and eliminating the oxygen in it.

Once the foam stifles the fire, it probably won’t flare up again.

The new truck weighs more than the old one, but it’s easier to drive because the weight is distributed through a dual-axle system.

The difference between the two vehicles is comparable to the difference between “cars built 30 years ago versus cars built today,” Wernet said. “This one has a lot more functional use than the old one."

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