Engine problems

A used ladder truck recently purchased by the Summit Volunteer Fire Department is seen outside the fire station in Summit.

McComb’s fire department was put in a bind back in October when several of its trucks were put out of commission, prompting the city to borrow engines from neighboring departments to ensure adequate protection.

“Thanks to neighboring departments we were never without service,” Fire Chief Gary McKenzie said.

He said the city borrowed three engines but only one at a time, once from Sunny Hill Volunteer Fire Department and twice from Summit.

The city has fire engines ranging over 20 years in age. The oldest, Engine 12, was put into service in 1997. Each station throughout McComb — there are four of them — holds one truck.

Engine 12 was sent to Emergency Equipment Professionals in Jackson in late September for repairs to the transmission shaft that allows the truck to switch from powering the drive shaft to running its water pumps. Those repairs cost the city $6,497 out of the public works department maintenance fund.

Weeks before that breakdown, Engine 10 was retired from service, leaving the city without a backup to call on. That left the city with just three engines between four fire stations.

“At no time were we without adequate protection,” McKenzie said. “We had to take outstanding measures to ensure that.”

Matters became worse when Engine 14, usually based at station 4, broke down at the intersection of Parklane Road and West Presley Boulevard on the first night of October. That engine broke down while firefighters were attempting to respond to a fire at Pike Center Mart. A heavy rescue vehicle the fire department sometimes uses as a backup engine was called to the location to tow that engine.

That left the city with just two of four engines running and ready to respond to calls. To handle calls in the meantime, McComb borrowed the engines from Summit and Sunny Hill volunteer fire departments and notified other nearby departments that McComb may request more help.

In the meantime, McComb will have to make do with the trucks it has. McKenzie said he doesn’t expect the department to be in the market for new trucks anytime soon due to funding.

McKenzie described the simultaneous breakdown of two engines as “the perfect storm” and an isolated incident that doesn’t happen often. He said although several engines were out of service concurrently.

“As of now, all engines are back in service,” McKenzie said. “But we did have multiple trucks that broke down.”

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While McComb has a dearth of fire engines, Summit recently added one more — a 102-foot ladder truck — to its fleet.

The department has made good use of refurbished vehicles over the years, purchasing several of its engines for $100 through a government program that sells surplus equipment at deep discounts, Fire Chief Stan McMorris said.

As a small volunteer department, Summit is able to purchase old or refurbished engines from government vendors including the forestry service and branches of the military that agree to supply retired vehicles.

Summit’s most recent purchase came three months ago in the form of a 1996 KME ladder truck that was refurbished in 2012. McMorris said the city purchased the military surplus engine for $100 from the forestry commission. it had been used on the Seabee base in Gulfport.

He said the same engine could cost upwards of $1 million on the market.

The truck will need about $20,000 in repairs including mechanical tune-ups and new tires, but that is a far cry from the six-figure price tag generally associated with the purchase of a fire apparatus.

“It’s been a very good deal for us,” McMorris said.

He said it’s not the first time the city has taken advantage of such opportunity. Summit purchased a tanker truck from the forestry commission four years ago. McMorris said the success of previous experiences in procuring vehicles in this way led him to request the new engine two years ago. He said he was informed such an engine was available in Gulfport over the summer, and Summit received it in September.  

McMorris said the engine has low mileage. The fire department still needs to purchase a proper hose for it, however. He said he’ll inform the fire rating bureau of the purchase, which could end up lowering Summit’s fire rating.

While that method of procurement has proved invaluable for Summit, for McComb it is just out of reach. McComb is also in low cotton financially, meaning the purchase of a new engine is highly unlikely.

While McComb is always looking to add more engines to its inventory, such purchases are rare because of their sheer cost.

Because of the city’s size and designation as a professional department, McComb cannot seek out older model engines in the way that Summit has. That designation means insurance rules bar the fire department from purchasing engines 20 years or older, taking refurbished or military surplus options off the table except for use as backup engines.

McKenzie said a truck like the one Summit purchased would be a great backup for the City of McComb, but would hamper the city’s fire rating. He said the city actually had an older truck running as a backup but it was decommissioned a few years ago because it became economically infeasible to repair it.

“It would always be nice,” he said. “But we have no plans at this time.”

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