Central Kitsap Fire Chief Scott Weninger knows that his firefighters and EMTs are ready and willing to respond to any call they receive.
But he also knows that some calls present unique circumstances — crossing private bridges and culverts that may not be able to stand the weight of emergency vehicles.
That is why the Central Kitsap Fire District will take up the issue when it meets July 22.
The board will address a draft policy on limited access roadways and bridges at 4 p.m. at the fire district’s administrative building, 5300 NW Newberry Hill Road, Silverdale.
“Our concern is that our first responders may be out on calls and come to these questionable bridges and crossings when it is dark, or in the rain, and have to make a decision whether they are safe to cross,” Weninger said. “By addressing this ahead of time, and setting a policy and a standard of operation, we’re taking that decision out of their hands and letting the public know ahead of time if access is in question.”
Although there have not been incidents in the Central Kitsap Fire District where private bridges or culverts have collapsed under the weight of fire equipment, there have been plenty across the nation, and one in the Gig Harbor area, he said.
“We want to address this before something like that happens here,” he said.
Weninger said what’s in question are bridges and culverts on private property that are not inspected by county or state departments. The policy asks property owners to have an inspection by a structural engineer every five years and report the findings to the fire district.
If the bridge or culvert is certified to be able to handle the weight of fire equipment, it will be marked and trucks will cross in the event of an emergency. If not, property owners will be notified that emergency equipment will not be allowed to cross the bridge or culvert. The draft policy was written much like the one that is used in Gig Harbor, Weninger said.
“We started this process in December of 2012 when our internal safety committee said this was a critical issue for the district,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is be proactive.”
The district knows of 91 bridges that need to be inspected. They aren’t certain of the number of culverts that may be in question.
“The biggest problem is that we have bridges that are turn-of-the-century wooden types, to two telephone poles that have been dropped with pieces of board across them, to places where box cars are used as bridges,” he said. “There’s no typical private bridge.”
Some of them are actually engineered and look to be in good shape, he said. But without an inspection, no one knows for sure.
The district has sent out 400 letters to property owners who may have bridges and culverts that will fall under any new policy that is set.
Lt. Matt Porter said bridges that were designed well may only need a couple hours of an engineer’s time for an inspection and that would cost in the range of $300 to $500.
If bridges are older or more complex, an inspection could range from $2,000 to $10,000.
“We’re not telling property owners that they have to do this,” Weninger said. “But once this policy is in place and there is a question about the safety of a particular bridge, the property owner will know that we won’t be able to cross an unsafe area.”
He pointed to an incident in California where a wooden bridge collapsed under the weight of a firetruck and destroyed the truck, which was a $500,000 loss.
One resident has already issued his concerns about the draft policy.
Mick McKinley, who lives on Creekside Lane in Bremerton, said when he received the letter he tried to get his questions answered.
“When I have asked questions about the parameters of this, no one seems to have the answers,” he said. “There’s just too many unresolved or non-contemplated issues as the policy stands now.”
Weninger said he knows the district doesn’t have all the answers.
“We’ve tried to learn what other districts have experienced and how they’ve set their policy,” he said. “But this is just a draft. We’ll continue to work on this policy and further refine it. But we will make sure that we keep our people and our equipment safe.”
For more information, or to review the draft policy, call Sandy Schneider at 360-447-3561.