Berea Fire Department helps city, taxpayers cut costs

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The Berea Fire Department was facing a decision as two fire trucks neared the end of their service lives. At a time when residents were questioning taxes and spending, Fire Chief Shawn Sandlin came up with a solution that saves taxpayers approximately $250,000.

With all the talk lately about spending and taxes, some citizens ask: Does Berea really need a new truck? Berea Fire Department Chief Shawn Sandlin said he can understand how people might react that way at first, but that there's more to the story.

"I get their perspective," Sandlin said. "They may be thinking we've got this big new building and now we want to put a lot of new toys in it. That's not the case. There is planning and reasoning behind it, and we are definitely looking out for the citizens' tax dollars and the future."

The city drew criticism when a $718,000 ladder truck was purchased last year, with some asking then why it was needed. Sandlin explained the city abides by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety standards, which stipulate a fire engine should be in service for no more than 20 years, no more than 15 years for a tanker, and no more than 25 years for a ladder truck.

After an accident that totaled a fire truck in 2003, Berea had to replace that truck and purchase another in back to back years. Now both vehicles are nearing the end of their service lives. One meets specifications for the city, and other is designated for county use. Because county roads and driveways sometimes have angles of approach and inclines that are different from the city, a truck has to be used specifically for county calls.

Faced with possibly buying two trucks, Chief Sandlin had a dilemma.

"How can we combine these trucks and eliminate some of the cost? How can we save more in the long run? That's the kind of approach I took," Sandlin said.

Sandlin opted to order one custom-built truck that met both city and county specifications.

"It turns out that we're spending $525,000 instead of $750,000, because instead of buying two trucks, we're buying one truck that will serve a dual purpose," he said.

Because the new truck can carry additional personnel, the battalion chief will ride in the engine instead of driving the department's pickup to the scene. With a supervisor riding in the engine, the truck's drivers will likely be inclined to drive more carefully, safeguarding the city's investment while adding an extra measure of security against accidents, Sandlin said.

With the new, dual purpose truck, firefighters in the city won't have to go back to the station to get a truck suited for the county, meaning they'll reach the scene of a fire faster.

"We're cutting down on response time, we're improving safety features, and we're putting more people in the cab," Sandlin said. "A lot of thought went into this, and this isn't something I took lightly. I was looking to solve a long-term problem, and I feel like we've accomplished that."

At a recent meeting of the Berea City Council Audit and Finance Committee, Chair Steve Caudill cited the purchase as one example of how the city's department heads are trying to spend wisely.

"I've seen in the comments from the public on the firetruck that we just got bids on tonight. But I think it's also important to note our fire chief made that decision strategically to make a bigger purchase to save us $250,000 in the long run," Caudill said.

Caudill went on to note that the city's decisions to invest in the fire department have led to a lowering of Insurance Service Organization (ISO) ratings, which have prompted some local carriers to lower insurance rates. That's because the fire department is now better equipped to respond to emergencies faster, Caudill explained.

"(Sandlin) has done work to improve response times, to change the ISO rating so that we may decrease the overall cost of insurance to our entire community," Caudill said. "That's not just in Berea, that's for everybody in southern Madison County. So, the work that's being done by the people who are running our departments is noble work that is being thought out really well."

Asked how the new ratings have affected homeowners, Sandlin said he's heard from a few people, with some saving $100 or others $250 due to better coverage by the fire department.

"It is helping the citizens by lowering their rates," Sandlin said. "We've invested a lot in the fire department, but the citizens will see a savings for that. This (firetruck purchase) is another step toward that goal."

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