Burglary at Wash. fire station results in $50K loss, slows response time
The break-in was discovered on Monday, but the station is not staffed every day and does not have surveillance cameras, so the exact date of the burglary is unknown
The Daily News, Longview, Wash.
A burglary and theft of $50,000 worth of firefighting and emergency equipment at a Woodland fire station could temporarily slow emergency services to the nearby rural community, fire officials said Tuesday.
Cowlitz County Fire District 1 Assistant Chief Bob Kofstad said volunteers with the station discovered the break-in Monday, Dec. 28, while checking on Station 3 at 120 Woodland Heights Rd. The station is not staffed every day and does not have surveillance cameras, so the exact date of the burglary is unknown, Kofstad said.
The Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident, Kofstad said. Deputies could not be reached Tuesday to provide additional details about the investigation.
Kofstad said that the suspected burglars broke in through the back of the station by ripping out an exterior wall and kicking down the interior wall.
"Basically they pulled back the metal. ... They kind of destroyed the building. There will be lots of repair work to do," he said.
Once inside, the suspects stripped four fire trucks of their medical equipment, stole the handheld radios and took several tools, including axes and chainsaws.
The SCBAs, or self-contained breathing apparatus that allows firefighters to carry a clean air supply with them as they go into smoky buildings, were also taken. Each unit costs $8,000.
"We are still trying to tally up the cost on all we lost," said Kofstad. He estimated the total price to fix the damage on the building and trucks, as well as replace the stolen items, could reach $50,000.
The burglars also cut the catalytic converter off of the station's "Brush 1" truck, which is typically used to respond to wildfires.
"We had to get it towed. It should be on it's way to the Dodge dealer in Longview as we speak," Kofstad told TDN late Monday morning. "So they destroyed it and put it out of service."
The other three trucks at the station also are temporarily out of service because they lack the appropriate medical gear to respond to a call. Kofstad said he does not know how soon the trucks will be back on the road.
"Once we get that stuff replaced, they will be back in service. We will probably cannibalize a few of the trucks at other stations to get at least one of those going" as soon as possible, Kofstad said.
In the meantime, the station will have to rely on vehicles and equipment from the two other Cowlitz Fire District 1 stations in Woodland. That means the response time for emergencies in the Woodland Heights area may take longer.
"Anything up there, it's going to take longer for us to service because we have to come in from down in the valley and go up over the top of the hill and back over the other side," Kofstad said. "So the response time is much longer. ... And then there's the thousands of dollars it costs taxpayers to replace all of this stuff."
He said the station had been working to install a surveillance system at the station, an effort that will accelerate because of this incident.
"There really is no internet service up there, so we are contacting a surveillance group now to help us establish that," Kofstad said. "This is the third time it's been broken into, but this is the worst that's been done."
The first break-in happened "several years ago," and resulted in minor losses, Kofstad said. The second one occurred last spring.
"There used to be two entrances, and they broke a door and window (to get in), and then they stole a few small things. ... It was more of a vandalism situation."
After the spring break-in, the fire crew secured the building by eliminating the window and of the entrances, Kofstad said. He suspects the third break-in was "definitely pre-planned" because of how the burglars entered and how long they spent inside the building stealing equipment.
"Most of the stuff they took is really worthless to any layperson. It's not like they can really use it for anything," Kofstad said, adding that "The real losers are the peoples that live up there that we service. We are a fully volunteer fire department. The chief is the only paid, full-time fire responder we have, so it's not like we have a lot of extra time to replace all of this stuff."
Insurance should cover most of the losses, but the department still hopes to recover the stolen items, Kofstad said.
"If anyone has any information, please contact the Sheriff's Office or contact us. If we can get some of this back, it's that much less cost to taxpayers, and then we can service the community more quickly."
(c)2020 The Daily News, Longview, Wash.