Fire District 3 aspires to be “the best rural fire district in America,” and within the last year, the fire district has taken several steps to achieve its vision, including the purchase of new equipment and the reinstatement of its fire risk specialist program.
After balancing its budget last year, the fire district added a new 3,000-gallon water tender to its apparatus at a cost of $334,211. Later this year, it will also purchase a ladder truck and replace its self-contained breathing apparatuses.
Fire Chief Scott Sorenson said that the typical lifespan of most vehicles used by fire departments is 25 years, although the water tender that Fire District 3 had just replaced had been in use since 1972. (It was one of two tenders that the fire district had; the other was built in 2012.)
“Over the years, we’ve updated it and did some things to make it last,” Sorenson said. “But there comes a point in time where the performance of it is a factor, and it was time to replace.”
The fire district is also due to replace equipment that allows firefighters to breathe in hazardous environments. Safety requirements dictate that the breathing apparatuses, unlike vehicles, need to be replaced every 15 years; Fire District 3 purchased its equipment in 2003 using a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant, and has applied for another grant to help pay for the new units. The grant would cover 90 percent of the replacement cost, estimated to be $400,000.
“Very, very successful” transition
In 2016, Battle Ground changed its fire and emergency service contractor to Fire District 3 after 25 years with Clark County Fire & Rescue. Sorenson said the transition has “been very, very successful.”
“We’ve got a good working relationship with the city,” he said. “The dollars that come from the city are spent in the city, and same in the district. But at the same time, we’re able to share some administrative costs and have better coverage of the area.”
To cover the area, however, Fire District 3 needed to take on 13 more firefighters, seven of whom transferred from Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Sorenson also said that the transition, in addition to the construction of new apartment buildings across the fire district, made it necessary to add a ladder truck — “a new piece of equipment for us,” he said — to the fire district’s apparatus.
“We’ve got several apartment complexes going up that are three-story,” he said. “A two-story building, we can deal with, with fire engines and ladders that we put up by hand. But when you get into a three-story building, those are usually too tall to operate ground ladders with, or on.”
The ladder truck will be completed in the fall, Sorenson said, and is expected to cost around $891,712.
Preparing for a busy fire season
Sorenson said that the 2018 fire season has been “busier than normal,” and that the drier conditions have resulted in an abnormally high number of vegetation fires. He added that future weather conditions would determine how busy the rest of the season would be.
“If we get rain in August, that’s going to help us a lot; but this point, the forecast looks like it’s going to be dry,” Sorenson said. “We’re not sure how it’s going to go, but conditions are ripe for large fires.”
These conditions led Fire District 3 to bring back its fire risk specialist program. People living within the fire district’s boundaries — particularly those who live in the urban interface area — can have two specialists assess their home’s risk of being damaged in a wildfire, as well as what they can do to counteract those risks.
“We’ve always been active in preparing for that kind of incident,” Sorenson said.