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Wash. FD welcomes 2 new fire engines after pandemic-related production delays

Yakima firefighters waited nearly three years for the new fire engines due to supply chain, production backlogs during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Donald W. Meyers
Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima Fire Department was the first agency in the west to embrace mechanized fire apparatus.

On Monday, firefighters and others gathered at YFD’s East Nob Hill Boulevard station to “push in” one of its newest fire engines.

The ceremony, which hearkens back to the days when fire apparatus ran on literal horsepower, marked the culmination of a process to replace two aging pumpers that started almost three years ago, delayed by supply-chain issues and production backlogs created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But now, we can put that all behind us, because they are here today,” Markham said, with the two new rigs sitting on the ramp outside Fire Station 95 alongside a 1931 fire engine, the oldest apparatus in the department.

The second new engine will be stationed at the fire department’s headquarters station on North Front Street.

Each of the engines cost $750,000 and were purchased with American Recovery Plan Act funds through Seawest Emergency Vehicles in Yakima. The engines are welcome additions to Yakima’s aging fire department fleet, where some of the front-line rigs are more than 10 years old.

Markham said a fire apparatus typically has a front-line operating life of 12 years. After that, the rigs are moved to reserve status, where they can be used for backup and training purposes for another five years.

While smaller departments can keep an engine in service for about 20 years, Markham said YFD puts more wear and tear on rigs, responding to about 13,000 calls a year.

Built for Yakima

Unlike buying a new car, you don’t just pick out a fire engine on the showroom floor and drive off after signing the purchase papers. Fire engines are custom-built to the specifications of the department.

“We started quite some time ago on a legal pad making notes with the firefighter committee on what they wanted to see with their new apparatus,” said Mark Merrit, director of Seawest’s emergency vehicle division. “There was kind of an old school mentality about what a Yakima fire truck should be like, and we collaborated with them and married that up with what the new technology would provide.”

The engines also have shorter wheelbases that allow them to navigate some of the narrow streets in Yakima, Markham said.

While smaller departments can keep an engine in service for about 20 years, Markham said YFD puts more wear and tear on rigs responding to about 13,000 calls a year.

Other departments

Yakima is the latest department to accept delivery of new apparatus. Sunnyside Fire Department conducted a push-in ceremony for a new engine on Saturday, while Selah welcomed a new ladder truck, inviting the public to join in the push-in ceremony.

Markham said the push-in ceremony’s origins go back to the days when fire engines were pulled by either horses or people and had to be pushed back into their station houses.

Markham noted that Yakima was the first fire department in the western United States to use a mechanized fire engine when firefighter Harry R. Mitchell designed and built a gasoline-powered house wagon for the price of $2,200 in 1907, or $73,076 when adjusted for today’s inflation.

“It was actually called or named ‘The White Elephant’ because there was so much optimism that this would not be a successful budget,” Markham said.

That first rig had a 36-horsepower gasoline engine that had a top speed of 18 mph and carried 950 feet of 2.5-inch hose, Markham said. Fully loaded, that engine weighed 3,300 pounds.

When a wooden trestle caught fire near Painted Rocks, Mitchell’s engine made the 5.5-mile run to the scene in 18 minutes, while the horse-drawn rig took 45 minutes.

Each of the new engines carries 750 gallons of water, 900 feet of 5-inch hose to connect to fire hydrants and 1,200 feet — almost twice the height of The Space Needle — of three-quarter inch and 2.5-inch hoses. The engines’ pumps, powered by a 500-horsepower diesel engine, can deliver 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

Each truck, Markham said, weighs in at more than 47,000 pounds. For the push-in, an engineer slowly backed the rig into the station while firefighters and others, including Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers, pushed on the front of the engine.

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