ASHLAND – Last year’s devastating flooding proved to the Ashland Volunteer Fire Department that they needed to obtain equipment geared toward rescue in such situations.
Fire Captain Mike Meyer said the department has started gathering such equipment, including a Zodiac inflatable boat, ropes and other gear that will help with water rescues.
The March 2019 flood and the department’s efforts to evacuate and rescue residents in and around the community brought to their attention that they didn’t have the necessary equipment. The department put together a committee to determine what equipment was needed. They budgeted $20,000 for the purchases.
“We recognized the need to get new gear and start training our people in different areas, not just firefighting,” Meyer said.
The ropes and associated equipment can also be used for non-water rescue situations, Meyer said.
“So we can use them not only for water rescue but for grain bin rescue and high angle or long angle rescue,” he said.
The department recently received a donation of a key piece of equipment for grain bin rescue from a local man. Lonnie Buller donated an auger that will move grain quickly to help rescue a person trapped in a bin.
The auger will work with another piece of equipment the department received through a grant. They are still working to obtain a hand-held drill to complete the set.
“We need to purchase gear that will help us complete our task,” Meyer said.
Meyer said a recent incident in Fremont where a man was killed after being trapped in a grain bin prompted the search for the equipment.
“We said we really don’t have anything for this,” he said.
The new equipment will be stored on Truck 61, the command center vehicle, which the department is also updating, according to Meyer. They will reconfigure the vehicle to make room to store the new tools.
“We’re making it more of a special rescue operations center,” he said.
Meyer is working to replace other equipment that is outdated, a long term goal he has for the department. But he must get approval from the rural fire board and city council in Ashland first.
The shopping list includes radios and the aerial rig, both big ticket items.
To replace 20 handheld radios, it will cost about $160,000. The price tag for an aerial truck, even used, is closer to $500,000, Meyer said. A new one is double that, he added.
The rig was purchased used from the Nebraska Forestry Service. The ladder is still in good shape, but the pump failed and there are other issues with the truck, which will cost up to $20,000 to fix.
“Putting that into such an old rig just isn’t feasible,” Meyer said.
The department is facing issues other than aging equipment, the captain said. In recent months, it has been difficult to get enough members to go on day time fire calls. In some cases, the trucks are going out with one or two members, rather than the four to five needed.
The solution may be to hire two people to cover the daytime calls. Meyer said he is talking to the city and rural board about the issue.
The number of calls the Ashland fire department responded to in 2019 increased by nearly 50 percent over the year before. According to Meyer, the department went on about 475 calls last year compared to 320 in 2018.