Long-awaited fire engine arrives in Hoquiam

Hoquiam firefighters have a new tool in their arsenal, with the department’s new fire engine making its long-awaited arrival.

The new ladder truck weighs in about 50,000 pounds and carries a 100-foot ladder — tall enough to rescue people from the city’s tallest building. Hoquiam Fire Chief Paul Dean called the engine’s arrival “a big step forward for the department.”

“We’re really excited about it and really thankful to the citizens of Hoquiam who voted to support the bond to purchase it,” Dean said. “They don’t know how big of an impact this is going to make on the city fire department.”

The Hoquiam Fire Department has been without a ladder truck for about two years, with the old engine inoperational due to mechanical malfunctions, Dean said. Aberdeen Fire Department has been helping with calls requiring a ladder truck, but the neighboring department’s ladder truck was out-of-commission for a few weeks and both departments relied on Montesano Fire Department.

The Hoquiam Fire Department tried to raise money for a new engine in May of 2011 with a tax levy, but citizens voted down the measure. The $1.2 million levy was put on the ballot again in February of this year, and this time voters approved it.

“The first attempt failed by just a handful of votes, and we were pretty well crushed,” Dean said. “So we decided to try it again and do a lot more education. It worked, and we passed by a wide margin.”

As a tribute to the Hoquiam taxpayers, the new engine features a painted message that reads, “Purchased though the generosity of the citizens of Hoquiam. Thank you.”

Hoquiam Finance Director Mike Folkers said the city won’t collect the levy’s full amount until 2033, so the new engine was purchased with a loan from the Office of the Washington State Treasurer. Folkers said the loan will be paid off by 2028.

While the engine is in Hoquiam, citizens won’t likely see it cruising the streets for about a month, Dean said. Crews are working to organize equipment, install radios and learn to operate the vehicle. Firefighters will receive training for the engine next week, and a firefighter from the Everett Fire Department will visit in coming weeks to give advice on operating the ladder.

Sutphen, a company based in Ohio, custom-built the engine to Hoquiam’s specifications. Captain Tim Smith and Captain Matt Miller did much of the research for the purchase — even flying across the country to look at different products.

Smith said the department considered several different factors — especially truck size and weight. Hoquiam has a smaller fire station than many cities, and fire engines must be able to traverse the region’s many bridges. The engine can fit down all of Hoquiam’s narrow side streets and drive the windy hill roads.

The cab is also built to Hoquiam’s specifications. The back section of the cab is lower than on many models, allowing the ladder to access lower rooftops and windows.

“As small as a town as we have, we had them cut that top off so we can reach lower things,” Miller said.

The new engine is a “platform truck,” fitted with a ladder and a platform that allows two firefighters to operate hoses above the blaze. The Aberdeen Fire Department has what Smith called a “stick truck” — a truck fitted with a ladder that one firefighter can stand atop.

“We wanted to be different from them because the trucks have different capabilities,” Smith said. “Between the two agencies, we’ll be able to do so much.”

Some Hoquiam residents may recognize the engine, as it carried Congressman Derek Kilmer and Mayor Jack Durney in this year’s Loggers Playday parade. Dean said the Hoquiam Fire Department saved about $16,000 on the new truck by allowing the manufacturer to drive it across the country for six months as a demo.

Dean heard the engine would be attending a trade show in Portland, and he talked the manufacturer to bring it to town for the parade.

“That was the citizens’ first opportunity to see what they paid for,” Dean said.