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Local News

May 13, 2014

County Commission rejects fire engine proposal

Ada — A packed room watched a debate break out between Pontotoc County Commissioners and volunteer firefighters from the Pickett Fire Department Monday morning.

At a recent commission meeting, the court had unanimously approved a Pickett Volunteer Fire Department request to purchase a new engine to replace its worn-out fire engine.

As a way to save money and in anticipation of future requests from other volunteer fire departments, the court had decided that all such purchases had to be for gasoline-powered engines.

That set off a proverbial firestorm with the Pickett Fire Department. Its firefighters came to court anxious to state their case to the commissioners for a diesel engine.

Fire Chief Dustin Grand led by telling the court what he "wanted," and then proceeded to give them a list of data to bolster his point that diesel was the wiser long-range purchase.

That seemed to come back at him a little later, when some commissioners showed irritation at Grand's aggressive approach.

Volunteer fire departments around the county receive annual stipends from county taxes set aside specifically for their needs.

When those departments and their boards decide they need new equipment, they submit their specifications to the commissioners, who can either approve or deny their purchase request.

 A debate ensued over the dangers of parking a gasoline-powered engine in a field for long periods of time while fighting a fire. Grand explained that catalytic converters required on gasoline engines can and occasionally do start fires of their own.

 The gasoline engines are also one reason some fire trucks get stuck in fields and on hills, Grand said. The diesel truck, several argued, has much more torque for getting itself out of trouble.  

 The commissioners countered by saying that for the county to purchase diesel engines, it would cost more upfront, and that the commission had to think of all of its volunteer fire departments, not just Pickett.

  The diesel fire engine would cost an estimated $6,000 to $8,000 more, the commissioners argued.

 One member of the audience urged the county not to be "penny-wise and pound-foolish"  with this purchase.

  Grand said the safety of the firefighters would be much improved with the diesel engine, which has no catalytic converter.

  Commissioner Gary Starns told Grand the numbers he presented previously were not the same as Grand offered Monday.

 Neither side disputed the fact that Pickett needs a new fire engine, but whether to go "gasoline" or "diesel" was the point of contention.

 Starns also criticized Grand after he said his bid was set up to purchase a "Ford" diesel for Pickett. Starns told him he couldn't do bids that way. "You can't just submit for a Ford," he told him.

  Commissioner Randy Floyd told Grand he had problems with his approach.

 "I don't like to see people come in here and tell us what they want," he said. "We all have wants," Floyd told Grand. "The question is what's needed?"

 Grand amended his earlier "want" to a "need" at that time, even though one member of the audience defended him, saying he had already amended his first "want" to "need."

 Grand apologized to Starnes for questioning the commission's approval of a newer rotary broom, while denying Pickett its diesel engine. Starns had snapped at him concerning some technical dangers associated with a worn-out rotary broom.

  Whatever the appropriation, the rules say the commissioner's court must sign off on purchases requested by the volunteer fire departments. If there's still conflict, the district attorney can intercede to determine legalities. District Attorney Chris Ross, however, was called away Monday morning and was not available.

 As Monday's meeting ended, the issue remained unsettled and it appears the Pickett Voluntary Fire Department will be required to resubmit its request with new specifications.

 In the meantime, the commissioners agreed to take a closer look at some information Grand and Oil City Fire Chief Marty Duncan had presented in favor of the diesel engine, especially in the area of safety and long-term financial savings.

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