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Fire department still facing concerns

On the heels of voters rejecting a $1.2 million bond extension issue last week, plans are now being readied for talks by the city council on how to best address the immediate concerns of the community.

Farmington voters – or at least 702 of them, representing less than 10 percent of the eligible voters – turned out at the polls on Feb. 7. The group voted 443 in favor and 259 against extending existing bonds an additional 15 years to generate $1.2 million in extra revenue. A two-thirds majority in favor was needed for the issue to pass. A portion of the money, if the matter had passed, was earmarked for improvements within the city’s fire department. The remainder would have been used for general operating expenses.

Now the city council is faced with coming up with ways to stabilize spending across the general budget ledger, at the same time looking at solve some pressing concerns with the full-time fire department.

&#8220As I understand it, they’re going to discuss it during the (March 6) work session,” said Fire Chief Phil Johnson. &#8220I guess the most pressing thing is that we’re down a pumper right now. Our old truck is not recognized by ISO.”

ISO, a national insurance service organization which determines fire insurance ratings for municipal and rural fire departments, rates fire trucks based on their age. Johnson explained that once a truck reaches about 20 years of service it loses its significance in the ISO rating system. The &#8220ISO rating” directly affects annual insurance rates paid by customers living in a fire department’s coverage area.

Other pressing concerns within the fire department include cramped living quarters for on-duty firemen, and a ventilation problem in the firehouse. The firemen currently have a common living room and small bunk room just off from the parking bay area of the station. Running trucks, whether going to or from calls or simply being maintained, emit exhaust fumes freely into the building. Those fumes circulate easily into the living quarters, creating higher levels of carbon monoxide and an accompanying odor at times.

The fire station, originally built 30 years ago, was not designed to house full-time firefighters. Up until 1998 the fire department operated as a volunteer program. When the change to full-time was made a closet and bathroom were remodeled to be sleeping quarters for the three on-duty firemen on any given shift.

Johnson said the city had looked at a couple different systems to improve the exhaust problems had the bond extension passed. The first was to install a separate air handler which would keep parking bay air and living quarters air separate. The second – and deemed most affordable – was to add a specialized system which would use flex hose to capture exhaust fumes at the tailpipe of the fire trucks. The detachable hoses would be put on when a truck was back into the firehouse. The hose would remain attached and vent gases outside the building until the fire truck was driven out the exit door. At that point the flex hose automatically disconnected from the truck.

The flex hose system would have included all necessary hardware and air pumps at a cost of about $8,000 per unit, or $40,000 for the departments five trucks.

&#8220The needs we identified are still there and valid,” City Administrator Greg Beavers said following the bond issue’s defeat last week.

The administrator confirmed Wednesday that council members would likely be discussing how best to address pending needs both inside and outside the fire department at the March 6 council work session. That meeting is open to the public.

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