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Fire District 5 continues to shop for ambulances

When voters of rural Fire District 5 overwhelmingly supported a bond measure to purchase two new ambulances last November, Fire Chief Dan Prated predicted the arrival of the new rigs would be about a year out.

That prediction seems to be true as the district will likely put the upcoming purchase out to bid later this month. The district has $360,000 to spend on two new ambulances, which can range from $160,000 to $240,000 each, depending on the features. For instance, since District 5 serves some pretty rustic questionable roads, a heavier-duty chassis may be in order.

The District 5 Board of Commissioners conducted a special meeting earlier this week to discuss “new” ambulance bid specifications because the district is seriously considering purchasing each ambulances with a “medium duty chassis,” which would push the cost $60,000 more than the district received from the bond measure, meaning the district would have to make up the difference from it general fund budget.

Prater says that may be a good investment as the “medium-duty” rigs are projected to last 10 to 15 years, compared to seven to 10 years for a lighter-duty rig. The city of Montesano recently purchased a medium-duty chasis.

Prater said, depending on that decision, the district could have the new rigs by late fall or early winter.

“The board wants to make sure they put enough time into the decision to make sure that’s the way they want to go,” said Prater. “If the bid specifications are approved, we’ll go out to bid.”

Prater said the process will include shopping for custom-built rigs from vendors, including Chehalis-based Braun Northwest Inc., and that the ambulances should be delivered 180 to 260 days from the date they’re ordered.

“If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to do it right because we’re trying to look at the future of District 5,” Prater said.

The district has been managing for years with ambulances bought used from other agencies, many of which retire their rigs at 100,000 miles. When a couple of those older models are retired, it will save the district a significant amount of money, which Prater said can be used to upgrade other equipment.

Meantime, Prater says he’s still trying to get a handle on the staffing issues at the fire district.

“I’m trying to reorganize the district and the commissioners want to talk about it,” Prater said. “I could potentially be bringing this to the union, so they want to talk about it. Once we get it all worked ou,t it’s going to be for the best.”

The subject of re-organization came after the board finished its annual evaluation process for the chief, which went on for multiple meetings during the past month. Prater said the process went quite well, noting the board instituted a new evaluation process this year.

“It was very honest and I have no conflicts with it,” Prater said of the evaluation. “Actually, it was the best evaluation process I’ve ever been a part of.”

While Prater was likely due a raise, he said that discussion is on hold because the district is currently in negotiations with its employees union and the board believes those salary issues should be dealt with first.

“As an administrator, I understand that,” Prater said.