Try building instead of buying
By Jeff Grant
I’m an 18-year veteran and fire chief of a small fire department in the West Kootenays of British Columbia. We average around 100 calls a year and work on a small budget.
Throughout my years as a member of this hall and now as fire chief, I learned how to overcome some of the hardships and struggles that a small-budget firehall goes through.
We all want to provide the best coverage and response to our community. This does not change, no matter the size of your hall.
We recently realized that an area that needed improvement was how we respond to medical incidents.
We started with using one of our engines.
This worked, but proved difficult in winter conditions and due to the amount of long, narrow driveways we faced.
So, we purchased a second hand 1984 GMC 4x4 to make it easier to respond.
We soon realized that this was the way to go. The 1984 proved to be a great truck, as long as you let it warm up and had an idea of how a carburetor works. With the changing demographic in membership, this proved to be a struggle.
We finally saved enough money to replace the truck. With a budget of $50,000, I started to hunt.
It wasn’t long before I realized that this amount of money was not going to get us far, so I started to look at other options. Soon, I came up with the idea of building our own vehicle.
I found a truck at a repossession lot. It was a 2014 Ford F350 with a contractor’s-style canopy. Perfect!
We bought the truck and drove it eight hours home from Vancouver. Then we went to work.
We installed a centre console to house the radio, siren, and other hard-mounted items.
We bought a light bar and other emergency lights off Internet providers.
We removed some of the old hardware from our existing truck and had a local decal company do the graphics.
At the end of the project, we ended up with a nearly new, much safer rescue truck for less than half our original budget.
Since then, we’ve had truck manufacturers look at this rig and ask who built it. It looks that good.
We were able to do this as a result of something I learned a long time ago, and that was to use your resources.
One of my captains is a 12-volt technician, another a mechanic, and still another is a welder-fabricator. I gave these members free reign of the work on the truck and soon we had a fully functional rescue truck.
I learned to let members use their natural ability, and instead of holding them back with rules and regulations, enable them with support and give them the tools they need to do the job.
We weren’t done yet.
We had this 1984 GMC that we knew we were going to get nothing for if we tried to sell it. So, we came up with the idea to transform it into a wildland truck.
So again, I started looking around and found a used skid unit in Kansas. Through grant money I sourced out, we were able to purchase and have the unit shipped to Canada.
When the unit arrived, it was in a state of disrepair. My members stepped up and took over. The skid unit was fully disassembled and rebuilt. The pump engine and everything was gone through or rebuilt.
This again proved to me that using your resources and the natural ability or skills of your members pays huge dividends. Soon, we had a fully functional wildland truck for a fraction of the price of new equipment.
So, not only were we able to build a fully functional rescue truck, we also built a fully functional wildland truck – both in a year and for under $25,000.
This is something we are very proud of.
Not only is there a level of pride involved with responding with something you built, but we know exactly how it was put together.
Using the natural ability of your members can be a huge benefit to a small volunteer hall.
As almost everyone knows, there is not enough time in the day to tackle all we want to as a volunteer hall. With families and full-time jobs to hold down this is proving to be more of a struggle as the years go on.
I feel very fortunate to have accomplished what we have and look forward to the next challenge.
Jeff Grant is fire chief of the Robson Volunteer Fire Department in Robson, B.C. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.