Extrication tools, ambulance upgrade top list for bond money expenditures

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District has purchased a new set of extrication tools in its first major expenditure from the $1.575 million bond levy approved by voters last November.

The district spent $64,000 to buy seven new battery-powered hydraulic extrication tools, the “Jaws of Life,” from Hurst, including two cutters, two spreaders, a ram and two combination tools. The tools replace three sets of tools.

The new devices are driven by electricity. The units contain hydraulic fluid. Each piece has two batteries, and the hydraulic fluid is contained within the tool. Batteries supply electricity under normal typical circumstances, and each tool has two batteries. When battery power is unavailable, the tools may be plugged into any generator.

The electric tools are new to Sweet Home, said Fire Chief Dave Barringer. Locally, the hydraulic tools are driven by gasoline or a pump in a rescue vehicle.

“They’ve been perfecting them, and it’s a lot more user-friendly now,” Barringer said. “There’s no power difference.”

The spreader, which has been purchased in two sizes, is used to spread vehicles at their seams, Barringer said. The cutter is used to cut posts for removing the top of a vehicle or to cut open space to use the ram.

It can be used to cut open a hood where an engine is on fire or chain link fences, Barringer said. The spreader can cut just about anything.

Rams are mostly used to roll a dashboard when the dash has been pushed deeper into the passenger compartment, Barringer said. That opens up space for rescue workers to work on a patient or remove a person trapped in a vehicle. The tool has a spread of up to 54 inches.

Compared to the district’s old tools, “they are definitely stronger and faster,” Barringer said. “There’s no question. It’s almost shocking how much stronger and faster they are.”

The old tools have less power, Barringer said, and they have a hard time opening modern vehicles, the latch structure in a door, for example.

Modern vehicles are constructed of lighter but stronger metals, he said.

“The spreading power was definitely questionable,” he said. When they were in use, “you could hear them grinding down.”

The district will hold onto the old tools, Barringer said. Some firefighters have been concerned about using battery-powered tools and wanted to order gasoline-powered tools too.

Rather than buy both now, the district will use the new tools for a year and then evaluate them, Barringer said. They will remain backup tools for the time being.

Veteran firefighters Dave Trask and Greg Mahler were both skeptical of electric tools, but both said they were impressed with the new tools.

With a side-by-side choice between the new electric tools and gasoline-powered tools, everyone chose the battery-powered tools, Barringer said.

The tools were the first major expense, but the district has already had a repeater installed on High Deck Road on property managed by Cascade Timber Consulting.

At a cost of $7,000, the repeater has improved radio coverage east along Highway 20 into Tombstone Pass and up Quartzville Road, where the district previously had almost no radio coverage available.

Up next and in progress, the district sent off an old ambulance Friday, April 28, as part of its ambulance replacement cycle. The box will be mounted on a new gasoline-powered Ford 450 chassis for $104,000.

The district has sent a surplus military chassis to Prineville to be assembled into a 3,000 gallon water tender for $85,000.

The district had planned to spend $210,000 for a tender, Barringer said, but had an opportunity to save money by buying a used chassis, a 2008 Freightliner FL 120, with 4,500 miles.

The district obtained the chassis from the Oregon Department of Forestry after talking to local ODF personnel about what might be available, Barringer said.

Coming up, the district will begin considering options for a new battalion chiefs response vehicle, Barringer said. The vehicle, which is typically first on a scene, must provide the flexibility to allow battalion chiefs to address medical, rescue or fire emergencies immediately.

The district also will start looking at building a new bay at the Foster Station, Station 22, to make room for apparatus stored there.