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Despite a tense discussion Monday, Wise County commissioners are looking into the possibility of purchasing a rescue truck with a tanker.
They approved seeking bids for the vehicle at their regular meeting this week at the request of EMS Administrator Charles Dillard. They also approved his request to purchase two ambulances off Buy Board, a purchasing co-op.
Dillard said he wanted to add the tanker to the rescue truck to enable his crews to put out fires when necessary.
“We would use it if someone is trapped in a car, and we’re there but the fire department’s not,” he said.
Dillard told the Messenger Friday that he could think of seven or eight incidents where this scenario has occurred in the last two years.
“We’re not looking at fighting grass fires or house fires or anything else,” he said Friday. “If someone is trapped in a vehicle and the fire department is not on scene, at least we’d have an option other than sitting there and watching them burn up.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said at the meeting that “some fire departments have issue with that,” and they’re concerned with the safety of the medics.
Dillard said he understood, but noted that but half of his personnel are certified firefighters.
“We’re working with the Commission on Fire Protection where we’ll have the gear and everything also,” he said.
Burns said it was a “major change in protocol,” and that he was not convinced it was a good idea.
“I don’t think you have the personnel to handle all that at a scene do you?” he asked. “That requires another complement of men to do that effectively.”
Burns said two people would be needed on the hose and two people on the truck.
“You need three people out there, minimal, to be effective – to be safe,” he said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if Dillard could put three men on the rescue truck.
Dillard said he couldn’t, but there would also be an ambulance crew on scene to assist. He also explained that he’s considering putting in “red line” – a hose that can be handled by one person.
“We’re not trying to take over anything the fire department is doing,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide personal safety. Some of the departments are toned out, and they’re en route in minutes. But … we’re noticing more and more it’s harder to get a response in the daytime.”
Burns admitted that it is a turf issue, but he also touched on safety again.
“If you don’t have trained guys out there, you might have somebody in harm’s way thinking they’re protected, but if you don’t have an engine out there with a booster, you don’t have anything,” he said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if acquiring more fire extinguishers would be an option.
Dillard said those were only of limited benefit due to their size.
County Judge Glenn Hughes said there were several ways to look at this, and he could see all sides.
“But if you were trapped in a car, you wouldn’t care if that old boy was certified or not, a splash of water in here is all I ask,” he said, eliciting laughter and lightening the discussion.
Dillard asked Burns if he’d like to table the issue and discuss it later.
Burns said he wanted to table it – but then turned right around and made the motion to purchase the ambulances and seek bids for the rescue truck with tanker – with the stipulation that it be used in cross-training with the firefighters and it be available to firefighters on scene.
“If there was a way to figure out coordination with them, it’d be a secondary unit for them,” he said. “But we’d have to coordinate that.”
Dillard told the Messenger Friday that each ambulance will cost $209,000, and he estimates the rescue truck to come in around $165,000 with a small tank (200 gallons) and pump.
Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said Monday that he could also see both sides of the issue. He reiterated that if the truck is eventually purchased and put into service, it would be for use only in the kind of situations Dillard described.
Burns admitted there are “remote places that it’d be advantageous.”
Dillard told the Messenger he’d make the truck available to any department, and he would take it to department meetings to go over its capabilities and do live fire training, if that’s what the chiefs wanted.
“My primary job is to treat citizens like it’s my family member, and if my family member was hung up in that car, what would you want done for them?” he asked.
The ambulances and rescue truck, if a bid is accepted, will be purchased with capital expenditure money set aside for this purpose.