'We're feeling violated again,' Wash. chief says of second station burglary

Video shows open apparatus compartments after thieves made off with nearly $25K worth of equipment from Whatcom County District 16's Station 86


David Rasbach
The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — For the second time in the past 2 1/2 years, a Whatcom County Fire District 16 station has been burglarized.

This past weekend it was Station 86 — the district's main station in Acme — according to a Facebook post made by the fire district Saturday, Jan. 29.

Thieves made away with nearly $25,000 in life-saving fire equipment, including a battery-powered combination tool (commonly known as the jaws of life) that was less than a year old and worth approximately $15,000, Chief Hank Maleng told The Bellingham Herald on Monday, Jan. 31.

District 16 previously was victimized in October of 2019, when Fire Station 87 in the Van Zandt area was burglarized. Again, equipment was the target in that break-in, and Maleng said none of it was recovered after that incident.

"We're feeling violated again," Maleng said. "We feel worse this time because of the way they did and the way they left our station. They have no remorse for what they did. You steal from me, that's one thing, but if you steal from our fire district, that's another, because we're here to serve our community."

Maleng said the district's volunteer firefighters, who usually do not stay at the station overnight, arrived Saturday evening when they were called to respond to a car crash in the area and found every door on all four emergency apparatus at the station open and equipment strewn throughout the apparatus bay.

"Fortunately, it was a relatively minor crash," Maleng said.

Fortunate, because thieves had taken a number of the tools the firefighters use to help save lives and property when they respond to car crashes and other incidents.

"It makes me mad, just like before," Maleng said. "This station and the equipment inside is owned by taxpayers and is here to help our people and people traveling through the area in an emergency. ... These tools help us make it faster and safer to save someone's life or someone's property when they need us."

The break-in is suspected to have occurred Friday night, Maleng said. Station 86 does not have any security cameras, Maleng said, because "it had never been broken into in the 50-some years it's been here."

The thieves broke a lock on a steel door to gain access to the fire station, according to Maleng, meaning the fire district will have to replace that so it can lock up its equipment.

"Criminals are getting more brazen," Maleng said. "They certainly knew what they were doing. This was not their first rodeo."

Unfortunately, nobody at a diner across the street from the station or any other neighbors reported seeing anything, Maleng said.

In addition to the combination tool, Saturday's post reported five power saws, two generators and one battery-powered floodlight also were stolen.

Items like the combination tool, which can both spread and cut and operates relatively quietly and set up quickly, can be used in other crimes, Maleng said he has heard.

Fire District 16 had some older, back-up equipment that it plans to use in place of the items that were stolen, Maleng said, and other Whatcom County fire departments have stepped up and volunteered the use of their extra equipment to help District 16 get by until the equipment can be replaced. But even that could take a while, according to Maleng, due to supply chain issues.

"We have insurance, and we're covered, but we have to pay the deductible, just like anyone else," Maleng said.

Saturday's post not only asked for any information about the break-in, but also stated that no questions would be asked if the equipment was returned immediately.

Maleng said a collection jar has been set up at the Acme General Store ( 2035 Valley Highway) to help offset the insurance deductible and any additional costs, including installing a security camera at the Acme station, or donations can be mailed to Whatcom County Fire District 16, P.O. Box 37, Acme, WA 98220.

Fire District 16 covers the area surrounding State Route 9 from the Skagit County border in the south to the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River in the north. The district has firehouses in Van Zandt, Acme and Wickersham.

The Bellingham Herald has reached out to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office Monday asking for more information.

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(c)2022 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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