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City may ask voters for new fire trucks

Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke takes a certain pride in describing how he gets his money’s worth from his high-mileage family vehicles.

He does not take the same pride in describing the BFD’s three, 10-year-old fire engines and an even older ladder truck.

Duke said the three engine trucks have 109,000, 107,000 and 84,000 miles, respectively, on their odometers.

“The parts are getting harder and harder to find,” Duke said during a tour of Fire Department facilities Monday.

Duke said the BFD and the city have begun discussions on a public safety bond issue that could be on the Sept. 17, 2002 primary ballot.

“We are considering it,” Mayor Cary Bozeman confirmed. “No final decisions yet. We are in the earliest planning stages.”

In addition to replacing old fire department engine trucks, Bozeman said city officials are deciding what to do about a future Police Department headquarters.

“We have police offices scattered all over the city in various locations and we need to get them together in a central location,” Bozeman said. “Obviously, we feel that can probably best be accomplished downtown.”

Bozeman said under discussion is whether to build a new police building or to remodel the current City Hall into a law and justice building.

But more pressing perhaps are the aging BFD trucks.

“Your maintenance costs start to climb up,” said Duke. “They’ve been good rigs. We’ve replaced the motors in two of them already.”

By constantly using battery chargers and oil warmers, Duke said the department can lengthen the lifespan on the engines.

Still, he said the typical lifespan of an engine truck is about 100,000 miles — exactly what the BFD trucks average now.

Duke said the department’s 1973 ladder truck, though it looks brand new, badly needs replacement.

The 100-foot-reach truck had a $100,000 refurbishment, but still is showing its age.

Duke would like to see the entire BFD fleet standardized to the “Seagraves” line of vehicles to help keep maintenance and replacement parts costs low.

The three engine units cost $205,000 each in 1992. To replace them would cost anywhere from $300,000 to $350,000, Duke said. The ladder truck would be much more costly — perhaps $800,000 to $900,000.

Each vehicle would need an additional $30,000 of equipment. Fire hose, which comes in three widths, can cost $1 per foot and each engines would need 1,000 feet.

Duke has been fire chief since 1997 and a BFD member since 1984. He said the the sooner his department gets a voter OK to purchase new trucks, the better.

“It takes a year from ordering to delivery,” Duke said.

Duke said the department’s ambulances don’t need replacing. A different funding mechanism assures aid units are replaced every two years.

The city is currently working on a 15-year public safety bond issue approved by voters in 1991. It is not set to expire until 2006, according to City Treasurer Rich Hannah. The levy rate has been dropping over the years, Hannah said, as Bremerton’s overall property values have increased. The bond rate is currently 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed evaluation, or $15 annually for a $100,000 home.

“That’s a pretty small bond issue,” Hannah said.

A vote this fall on a new bond would require a 60 percent supermajority. Bozeman said the city would like to decide in early May whether to move forward with the ballot issue.

City Council President Carol Arends said discussion on a bond issue would get a warm welcome from the Council.

“Generally I think the City Council would be receptive to a public safety bond issue,” Arends said.

Meanwhile, Chief Duke said a BFD engine goes out on every dispatched call and the miles add up.

“Our call volume has continued to go up and up,” Duke said. “When people call, you got to go. You can’t say you’ve got a dead battery.”

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