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Airway Heights Fire Chief Mitch Metzger touts department’s Engine 1 – shiny, new with latest bells, whistles

January 31, 2019

The Airway Heights Fire Department has added a new fire engine to its fleet for the first time in more than a decade, and had planned a traditional push-in ceremony earlier this week to mark the engine’s entry into service.

The new Engine 1, manufactured by Rosenbauer, carries the same 750 gallons of water the old 2001 engine did but has many improvements to make it easier and safer for firefighters to use.

“We’re excited to show off,” said Fire Chief Mitch Metzger. “It’s our first new vehicle since 2004.”

The one-station department had two engines purchased in 2001 and a ladder truck built in 2004. One of the 2001 engines remains as a backup and will be used for training, Metzger said.

“In the fire service a front-line apparatus should run for 10 years,” he said. The vehicles can then be used as a backup for five years. Both 2001 engines are well past that and it showed. Maintenance was becoming a huge issue, Metzger said.

The department, which has four paid staff members and about 45 volunteer firefighters, doesn’t have its own mechanic.

It wasn’t unusual for the old engine to break down. Sometimes it never made it out of the station, and other times it had to be towed.

“On the way to a call it broke down on Highway 2, and we had to send District 10,” Metzger said.

The purchase of the new truck, which cost $472,000, was approved by the city in 2017. “It’s taking over a year to get a fire engine built these days,” he said.

The engine is about the same size as the old one, but that’s where the similarities end. There are several improvements built into the new engine. “We took the opportunity to provide some upgrades,” Metzger said.

The new engine seats six people instead of four. That means there is plenty of room for the firehouse dog, a yellow lab named Ember, to ride along on some calls. Ember belongs to Metzger and spends her days at the fire station. She acts as an unofficial therapy dog to stressed out children and adults.

“She goes on calls,” Metzger said. “She’s not trained officially, but she’s been doing it.”

There’s a special compartment in the back of the engine where firefighters can put their used and dirty gear after a fire. The gear must be cleaned after every use to remove cancer-causing chemicals, and in the old trucks it is carried in the cab with the crew on the way back to the station to clean it.

All the drawers in the back of the truck slide out to provide easy access to gear and equipment. There are hoses stored inside the back bumper rather than on top of the engine where firefighters have to climb up and pull it down.

“Ergonomically this is safer for everybody,” Metzger said.

The engine doesn’t just replace an old, failing engine, it also makes it possible for the department to respond to an increasing number of calls. Last year the department responded to 1,833 calls, which was a little more than 18 percent higher than 2017.

“It’s primarily medical,” he said. “Across the board, everything was up.”

Metzger said he did a trend analysis that revealed the department’s number of calls has risen 20 to 22 percent every year for the past five years. Metzger said he doesn’t see that growth stopping anytime soon, so he’s glad to have a new engine at his disposal.

“We’re a lot less stressed about breaking down on our way to a call,” he said. “It’s a vehicle that should service the community strongly for the next 10 years.”

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