At some point this year, the respective councils of Sundridge and Strong will need to make a strategic decision on how to go about replacing two of their firefighting vehicles.
First up for replacement in 2023 at the Sundridge-Strong (Volunteer) Fire Department is the pumper, which holds about 900 gallons of water and was acquired in 2003.
Then in 2026, the department's tanker which, transports about 1,600 gallons, is scheduled to be replaced.
In order to have the first vehicle by 2023, Fire Chief Andrew Torrance says he needs to place an order before the end of this year.
Torrance says the ordering process is long because, assuming he gets the go-ahead, a request for proposals is made and contract awarded, it takes time to put together a vehicle to the department's specifications.
“So it's not a question of trying to replace a vehicle in the year you need to replace it,” says Torrance.
“And if (the process) doesn't get started by the end of this year, then we're not likely to see that delivery take place for 2023.”
It's the fire chief's hope he can have a proposal ready to be considered by the Sundridge-Strong Fire Department management board in the near future.
That sets the stage for the board members to discuss the proposal before they take it to their respective councils for review.
However, the proposal Torrance is putting together also will include a section showing how both municipalities can save money if the fire department reverses the ordering timeline and changes the holding capacity of both vehicles.
As it stands now, Torrance says, the option to replace the vehicles as scheduled is the more expensive route because it involves the purchase of two full-sized vehicles; the pumper for 2023, followed by the tanker in 2026.
But Torrance also plans to suggest an alternative where the department buys a tanker for 2023 that carries about 2,500 gallons of water and then a mini-pumper in 2026 that holds nearly 500 gallons.
Torrance says there are no water hydrants in Sundridge or Strong.
“And that's one of our main issues,” he says. “We have to make sure we bring enough water to fire-related emergencies.”
Torrance says a larger tanker addresses the water capacity issue.
He also says the tanker, which went into service in 2006, “would fetch more if it's replaced sooner than later because it has more value now and that would help offset the cost of the larger tanker.”
As for the mini-pumper, the fire chief says the vehicle will cost less because of its smaller size, but also will improve firefighting because it's more versatile.
“It's more agile and creates more accessibility to long driveways and challenging locations,” Torrance explains.
The department also has a second full-sized pumper, which is its primary pumper.
The unique feature with this vehicle is it can carry up to five firefighters and is also able to carry and dump water in addition to pumping it at a fire scene.
Torrance says the primary pumper won't have to be replaced for many years because it was bought in 2016.
The response to a typical fire emergency would see the tanker and pumpers arrive on the scene with the tanker dumping its load of water into portable tanks that sit on the pumpers.
Firefighters then battle the flames by using the pumpers to draw or draft out the water from the portable tanks.
The tanker, meanwhile, makes its way to the closest water source to refill its reservoir and returns to the fire site with more water for the portable tanks that is again drafted by the pumpers.
The action is repeated until the fire is out.
A tanker capable of carrying more water, like the 2,500-gallon vehicle that Torrance plans to propose, means fewer refilling trips and that, he says, makes for a more efficient firefighting department.
Torrance also addressed the issue of why buying a mini-pumper now won't work.
“If we went to a mini-pumper without changing the size of our tanker, then we carry less water and that's not improving our fleet,” he explains.
Torrance says that's not to suggest there's anything wrong with the existing tanker.
“It's a great truck and has served the area very well,” he says. “And it will continue to serve us well even if we don't immediately replace it.”
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget