A burglary resulting in the loss of $50,000 worth of firefighting and emergency equipment from a Woodland fire station could temporarily slow emergency services to the nearby rural community, fire officials said Tuesday.
Cowlitz County Fire District 1 Assistant Chief Bob Kofstad said volunteers with the station discovered the break-in Monday while checking on Station 3 at 120 Woodland Heights Road. The station is not staffed every day and does not have surveillance cameras, so the exact date of the burglary is unknown, Kofstad said.
The Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident, Kofstad said. Deputies could not be reached Tuesday to provide additional details about the investigation.
Kofstad said the burglars broke in through the back of the station by ripping out an exterior wall and kicking down the interior wall.
“Basically, they pulled back the metal. … They kind of destroyed the building. There will be lots of repair work to do,” he said.
Once inside, the suspects stripped four fire trucks of their medical equipment, stole the handheld radios and took several tools, including axes and chainsaws.
The self-contained breathing apparatus that allow firefighters to carry a clean air supply with them as they go into smoky buildings were also taken. Each unit costs $8,000.
“We are still trying to tally up the cost on all we lost,” Kofstad said. He estimated the total price to fix the damage on the building and trucks, as well as to replace the stolen items, could reach $50,000.
The burglars also cut the catalytic converter off of the station’s “Brush 1” truck, which is typically used to respond to wildfires.
“We had to get it towed. It should be on its way to the Dodge dealer in Longview as we speak,” Kofstad told The Daily News late Monday morning. “So they destroyed it and put it out of service.”
The other three trucks at the station also are temporarily out of service because they lack the appropriate medical gear to respond to a call. Kofstad said he does not know how soon the trucks will be back on the road.
“Once we get that stuff replaced, they will be back in service. We will probably cannibalize a few of the trucks at other stations to get at least one of those going” as soon as possible, Kofstad said.
In the meantime, the station will have to rely on vehicles and equipment from the two other Cowlitz Fire District 1 stations in Woodland. That means the response time for emergencies in the Woodland Heights area may take longer.
“Anything up there, it’s going to take longer for us to service because we have to come in from down in the valley and go up over the top of the hill and back over the other side,” Kofstad said. “So the response time is much longer. … And then there’s the thousands of dollars it costs taxpayers to replace all of this stuff.”
He said the station had been working to install a surveillance system, an effort that will accelerate because of this incident.
“There really is no internet service up there, so we are contacting a surveillance group now to help us establish that,” Kofstad said. “This is the third time it’s been broken into, but this is the worst that’s been done.”
The first break-in happened several years ago and resulted in minor losses, Kofstad said. The second one occurred last spring.
“There used to be two entrances, and they broke a door and window (to get in), and then they stole a few small things. … It was more of a vandalism situation.”
After the spring break-in, the fire crew secured the building, Kofstad said. He suspects the third break-in was “definitely pre-planned” because of how the burglars entered and how long they spent inside the building stealing equipment.
“Most of the stuff they took is really worthless to any lay person. It’s not like they can really use it for anything,” Kofstad said, adding that “the real losers are the people that live up there that we service. We are a fully volunteer fire department. The chief is the only paid, full-time fire responder we have, so it’s not like we have a lot of extra time to replace all of this stuff.”
Insurance should cover most of the losses, but the department still hopes to recover the stolen items, Kofstad said.
“If anyone has any information, please contact the sheriff’s office or contact us. If we can get some of this back, it’s that much less cost to taxpayers, and then we can service the community more quickly.”