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Bellevue Fire coping with aging vehicles

Posted at 7:56 AM, Sep 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-14 09:00:33-04

While the city recently purchased a brand new fire truck, the majority of the vehicles in this station behind me are well over 10 years old and that aging equipment causes plenty of headaches for the fire department.    

"That one there is 21 years old, that's the one that supplies our air for working fires," says Captain Don Gifford. 

Captain Don Gifford has been on theBellevue Fire Department since 1983 and says older equipment carries potential consequences.

"Breakdowns at a fire scene, extended stays in a maintenance shop, the older equipment it's harder to get parts for it, the body parts they're a specialty item, sometimes you're waiting a month for parts," says Gifford.

Bellevue Fire and Rescue went from volunteer to a paid department in 2009. That's when the city planned on putting a restaurant tax on the ballot that would help fund police, infrastructure and...the fire department.

"That didn't happen," says state senator and former city council-member Carol Blood.

Now the department has emergency vehicles such as engine pumpers, utility trucks and ambulances from the 1990's.

Plans for a special election last year and to put the issue on the ballot in 2018 fell apart, leaving the fire department with no clear plan forward. Senator Blood says the city dropped the ball. 

"You can't get blood from a turnip. Bellevue doesn't generate enough revenue to just magically find this money, we don't have a restaurant tax like Omaha does so we don't have this big slush fund," says Blood. 

In a packed city council meeting last month, the council gave the department over $700,000 to purchase a fire truck, an ambulance and to ensure full staffing but that was only a stop-gap with no clear long term solution. 

The state stepped in 2009 to force the department to pay their firefighters, Senator Blood worries it could happen again. 

"Sometimes the legislature does have to step in and change statue, that forces peoples hands. I’m not saying that's in the works right now but I do fear that," says Blood.  

As that equipment continues to age, insurance rates go up, which then rolls over to the taxpayer.