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The $16,000 question

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

Editor’s note: On Oct. 15, we asked readers to submit claims made by candidates for local office for a “fact checking” story. Though we received no such submissions, there have been numerous letters to the editor focusing on a $16,000 purchase by the Eminence Fire Department, which we will analyze here.

In her campaign for Eminence City Council, candidate Manda Gingrich has made a number of claims, including that she will fight to end what she calls liberal spending of residents’ tax dollars.

On campaign literature provided to the Henry County Local, Gingrich states that her goals include “ending ‘liberal’ spending of your tax dollars; improving your city services with the savings.”

Included among her goals listed under ending liberal spending is a statement that she will fight to “stop spending for luxurious items such as $16,000 for a commercial washer and dryer and $60,000 for a new backhoe.”

The Local addressed the $60,000 backhoe in a July article regarding a lawsuit filed against the city by a contractor who had been awarded the contract to complete work on the Eminence swimming pool.

The $16,000 washer and dryer purchase has generated multiple letters to the editor, with one side of the argument claiming the purchase was a “luxury” and the other claiming the purchase was a necessity.

Analysis

According to Eminence Fire Chief Gary Lucas, the washer for the fire department is an extractor, designed to remove hazardous chemicals from turnout gear. The dryer is “more than a commercial laundromat dryer,” in which he said fire fighters could put no more than three coats at a time.

He added that the washer and dryer were built into the fire department’s 2007-2008 fiscal year budget — which was approved by the Eminence City Council. Lucas said the washer and dryer were necessary to maintain the fire department’s turnout gear.

According to Lucas, the department purchased new turnout gear two years ago with a FEMA grant, and that the turnout gear ranges in cost from $2,000 to $3,000. By Lucas’ figures, the minimum cost for the 18 sets of gear would have been $36,000, and at most $54,000.

Lucas said the fire department bought the best gear it could, by nature it gets “abused.” If not cleaned and maintained properly, the gear will break down over time, and it’s protective qualities will diminish, he added.

At the time the gear was purchased, Lucas said, the fire department and fire board began talking about purchasing a washer and dryer to maintain the gear.

Until the washer and dryer were purchased this year, Lucas said the gear wasn’t cleaned unless firefighters took it home to wash — noting they were “not supposed to do that.”

The washer and dryer were purchased through High Tech Rescue Inc., of Shelbyville. “We worked with (James Riddle) at High Tech who’s been real fair with us on everything we do, get the best prices ... (and) they recommended that kind of washer and dryer,” Eminence City Council, and fire board member, Danny Meadows said.

While the department is not required to have a washer or dryer, nor are they necessarily required to clean their gear, there are standards on the types of machines that are to be used to do so.

The National Fire Protection Association Code 1500 sets the standards for protective gear and equipment. The code includes recommendations that the gear be cleaned every six months, and that the cleaning processes should be appropriate for the types of “contaminants and for the materials” involved. Item A.7.1.7 of NFPA 1500 expands upon the cleaning of protective clothing and recommends a front-loading commercial washer with a stainless steel tub, a water temperature greater than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and that it has a programmed cycle to decontaminate the tub after the gear is cleaned.

The code also states that “for proper procedures for cleaning protective clothing and station/work uniforms,” but not turnout gear, “refer to the manufacturers’ instructions.”

Lucas said that in researching the washer and dryer the department would purchase, he obtained several quotes and options and that the department looked at purchasing a washer and dryer for years.

“We feel like this is going to help us going forward in helping us maintain this gear,” he said, if the department can clean the gear and “ make it last.”

Just how long a set of turnout gear lasts, Lucas said, is hard to say and that it depends on the number, and kind, of runs the gear is involved in. He said that so far this year, the department has been involved in more than 100 runs, ranging from auto accidents to structure fires, including the Eminence Auto Parts fire, during which the gear is subjected to harsh conditions.

The fire department, Lucas said, has had to purchase new gear approximately every two to three years, but “we can make this last for five to six years, easy,” with proper maintenance.

Lucas seemed rankled by the claims that the purchase was unnecessary or even “luxurious,” and said no residents have asked him about the purchase. “This wsaher and dryer was budgeted, it was approved by the city council, it’s a done issue,” he said. “It’s because it was the right thing. For people that want to talk about this stuff, nobody has come to ask me ... Nobody has ... come and asked what do you do, and why and how.

“I will talk to anybody about that fire department.”

Lucas said that if he “pushed the limits” to what he said should be in the fire department, the city couldn’t afford it, and that “it’s my tax dollars too.”

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.