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City of Napa fire department to purchase three new fire engines

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The city of Napa fire department will soon have access to three brand new fire engines, which will replace three engines the department has used since 2001.

The Napa City Council approved a $2.49 million purchase for the three engines from Pierce Manufacturing this week, at a cost of roughly $830,000 per engine. Fire departments generally consider 20 years to be a fire engine’s useful lifespan, said city fire chief Zach Curren. He said deferring the replacement beyond 20 years would result in swiftly steepening maintenance costs.

“We use them really heavily, and so maintenance costs start to increase dramatically towards the tail end of their life,” Curren said. “In addition, it becomes difficult to get parts because you’re dealing with 20-year-old parts and technology, so it becomes increasingly difficult from a maintenance perspective to maintain a fire engine for much longer than 20 years.”

The fire department will, however, need to wait about 18 months before the three new engines are delivered in the spring or summer of 2023, Curren said. That wait time is because the new trucks need to be custom-built.

“As you can imagine, there’s no, like, fire engine dealerships,” Curren said. “You can’t just go pick one up.”

The city’s fire department was due for the replacement fire engines this year, but the order for the trucks — which would have been made last year — was delayed because of the city’s pandemic-related budget cuts, Curren said.  

The purchase of the new engines will come out of the city’s Fire Apparatus Replacement Reserve Fund.

An annual $406,000 payment into that fund was deferred in the 2020-2021 fiscal year to prepare for a pandemic-induced financial downturn.  The city also cut back on sidewalk maintenance, park improvements and other equipment replacements, among much else. 

But funding was returned early this month after the city received more revenue than expected.

The fire apparatus fund also allows the department to save and therefore have enough money to purchase the engines up front, which the manufacturer prefers, Curren said. Buying the engines up front — and not paying for them through a financing agreement — resulted in a roughly $200,000 discount from the manufacturer on the purchase cost, he added.  

“The fire engines are expensive, so we basically save ahead for them like we did this time,” Curren said. “Then when the engines come through for replacement, we have the funding to go ahead with the purchase.”

The purchased engines are Type 1 fire engines, which Curren said are the typical style of city fire trucks people are most likely to see around Napa. They’re set up to carry all the equipment firefighters need to handle residential and commercial structure fires.

The department also has one Type 3 fire engine — up for replacement in 2024 — which is built short, with a smaller pump and less hose length than the Type 1 engines. Type 3 engines are better equipped for maneuvering around in the rugged terrain encountered when fighting wildfires, according to Curren.

All in all, the department maintains six Type 1 engines; one Type 3 engine; a ladder truck that carries a 105-foot ladder for rescues; a rescue truck which carries a cache of extra rescue equipment; two paramedic squad vehicles for quick paramedic responses; and one California Office of Emergency Services fire engine.

The CAL OES vehicle is a loaned vehicle the city is allowed to use locally. In exchange, the city is required to responding to larger state fires — like the Dixie Fire — when they occur, according to Curren.

Curren said though the purpose of fire trucks hasn’t changed over the past 20 years — they still, primarily, are geared to carry firefighting equipment and fight fires — safety features have changed, and the efficiency and quality of build has improved.

“For example, 20 years ago there were less things you would think about like airbags and rollover protections and sensors filled into the engine,” Curren said.

The department responds to roughly 10,000 emergency calls per year, according to Curren. About 65-70% of those calls are medical in nature; the rest is a combination of fires, vehicle accidents, rescues and everything else.

Curren said the department has responded to about 223 fires this year.

“One of the questions I hear is, ‘does every fire station need a fire engine,’” Curren said. “And the answer is yes, we do still respond to a significant amount of fires in the city. Those can be anything you can imagine: house fires, commercial fires, cooking fires, electrical fires. And we certainly experience outside fires.”

More than 80% of people who are vaccinated got their vaccination more than six months ago, which means protection is waning for millions of people as we head into the holiday season. The CDC, last month, recommended anyone 65 years or older, as well as adults with underlying medical conditions or who work in high-risk jobs, get a COVID-19 booster shot.  In San Francisco, at this point, only around one in three eligible seniors have heeded that call. "We're starting to see hospitalizations in that group even though they have been vaccinated and some deaths," infectious diseases specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said.   Across California, fewer people have been getting boosters than anticipated.  State officials are now trying to give boosters a boost, asking health providers to get proactive in their outreach and ordering that for anyone 18 and older, they "not turn a patient away who is requesting a booster."That exceeds federal guidelines, as the FDA is still considering Pfizer's request for emergency authorization of its booster for all adults.  California's move to open booster shot eligibility to millions comes amid, once again, a rising number of infections and, from the governor, a rising level of concern. "We enjoyed the summer where we had the lowest case rates in the summer for a large portion of the summer. Just yesterday we went up to about 16th lowest," Gov. Gavin Newsom said. "That moved rather quickly. I say that not to alarm people, but to caution folks."The governor's push to vaccinate is meeting push back. This week, protesters on Thursday gathered on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge to protest against vaccine mandates. In California, and nationwide, doctors are becoming less hopeful that enough people will get vaccinated to end winter waves of the virus. "We're going to navigate this new world where infections are going to happen," Chin-Hong said. "We're moving from an epidemic or pandemic situation to endemic, where it's probably going to surge every winter as a new normal.  Because, it appears, COVID isn't going away anytime soon, boosting the immune systems of the already-vaccinated up to snuff is rising as a public health priority.  "If you've got your vaccine more than six months ago and you got breakthrough infection, you might be protected if you're otherwise healthy and younger," Chin-Hong said. "But it doesn't mean that you won't carry infection that may then spread to someone else."

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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