One in exchange for two proved a positive equation for the Beaches Volunteer Fire Department.
In truth, for firefighting in all Gulf County.
The Beaches VFD recently took delivery of a new vehicle which, depending on the national rating service one consults, is a “specialty rescue” or “heavy rescue” or “service” truck.
Regardless of moniker, the vehicle will mean more efficient firefighting for the Beaches, as well as all volunteer departments in the county which rely heavily on aid from each other when emergencies arise.
The new truck, which came at a cost of $288,000, without equipment, and roughly $350,000 completely equipped, takes the place of two trucks.
“We were always running two trucks at a time to the scene,” said Chief Bobby Plair. “This one has everything we need beyond pumping water.”
The truck, 18-and-half feet long, 11 feet tall, is almost a fire station unto itself.
Spreaders, cutters and other tools of all size are stored within, a metal box on the roof housing hazmat gear, other ladders.
There are the oxygen tanks, fire gear, rakes, shovels, everything, beyond the water at high speed, one would need at the scene of a fire or other emergency.
Equipment for the Jaws of Life is revealed with the drop of a door in back, which also includes all hoses and lines needed to operate the various devices which might be needed in an emergency.
“We have everything (national agencies) require on this one truck,” Plair said. “We have our full array of salvage equipment.
“And we can run four tools at the same time.”
In addition, a receiver is embedded in each side of the truck to allow a winch to be operated from any side of the vehicle.
And the truck’s components and storage spaces were largely designed by the members of the Beaches department.
“We designed every cabinet on the truck,” Plair said. “We designed it and they built it.”
Included in that design was something of an A-frame cabinet which allows additional storage.
And another touch added by the locals that the manufacturer indicated was being looked at by other departments was lettering on the outside which indicates where specific tools and equipment are located.
“This is a county benefit,” Plair said of the new vehicle.
And, here, is the place to delve into just what Gulf County has in way of fire protection, the men and women who volunteer; say it again, volunteer, to run toward danger instead of away.
The annual budget for the Beaches Volunteer Fire Department is roughly $100,000.
The cost of equipment maintenance, to vehicles and equipment such as hoses, pumps and ladders, is $20,000 annually.
The cost of training a firefighter to Firefighter 1 status costs $1,500-$2,000, said Assistant Chief David Richardson.
To duplicate, from scratch, the department’s equipment, vehicles and physical infrastructure would likely cost an estimated $1.2 million, Richardson added.
And there is a constant challenge in maintaining the ranks of volunteers.
The Beaches currently has about 20 members on its active roster, with 11 of those trained as Firefighter 1 with three more in school.
A department must have a sufficient number of trained Firefighter 1 members to enter a “hot zone” of a fire.
“All the departments are lacking in firefighters,” said Lt. Jay Smith. “We all need people.”
Whether the issue is generational, or apathy toward volunteering, the reality is the county maintains a decent ISO rating, assisting property owners on insurance, through the dedication of its volunteer fire departments.
And those departments spread the wealth as much as possible.
The two trucks the Beaches effectively replaced with their new vehicle ended up in White City and Wewahitchka.
The department responds not just to fires along the beaches, but to White City, Highland View and Port St. Joe through the mutual aid agreements that link departments.
During a recent structural fire in Money Bayou, the Beaches, Highland View and Port St. Joe departments all sent vehicles and personnel.
Finally, any of the county’s departments could use a hand from the public with training their members.
If you have a car, with legal and proper title, which is in disrepair or heading to junk heaven, please consider donating it to the local fire department as a training tool for the Jaws of Life and associated tools.