CHIPLEY — Washington County Commissioners agreed Wednesday to help Greenhead Volunteer Fire Department purchase a used tanker/firetruck, but not without some debate over who would actually own the vehicle.
The Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting to consider the purchase so the $55,000 firetruck could be bought in a timely fashion. Fire Chief Jim Palmer told the commissioners the Greenhead department had put a binder on the truck and it was being held for them.
Palmer said he had been searching for a truck for the department for two years, and this truck, a combination fire truck and tanker, was just what the department needed for the south end of Washington County. “It meets our needs and our budget,” he said.
“The key to success is getting water to the scene,” Palmer said. “We don’t have any hydrants in the south of the county.” Since fire hydrants aren’t available, the rural firefighters have to take their own water to the scene, and keep replenishing that supply.
“The key is having a reliable tanker.” Palmer said the tanker truck the department currently has is a manual transmission and not just anyone can drive it. The truck the department is purchasing is an automatic and is easier to drive. Also, the truck features remote dumping capacity, so that the truck’s water can be unloaded from inside the cab.
“If there is a fire in the daytime, we might just have two people show up,” Palmer said, a hazard all the rural volunteer fire departments face since the majority of the firefighters are working at their daytime jobs.
With the new truck, a smaller crew could respond to a fire and both have tanker capacity and fire fighting tools.
The fire department was seeking $45,000 from the county and would provide $13,850 toward the purchase and other fees. The funds for the truck are budgeted for the Greenhead Fire Department, but Palmer was required to request the money from the board.
The Greenhead Volunteer Fire Department is a corporation, and it would share ownership of the vehicle with the county, Palmer explained.
Commissioner Lynn Gothard objected to the shared ownership, since the county has been considering making all the county fire departments county-controlled organizations.
“If we decided to bring this truck back into the county’s fire service, then we would have to buy back our part of the truck from your corporation?” Gothard asked. Palmer agreed.
Gothard said she would prefer the county had sole ownership of the firetruck. Palmer said he didn’t care who’s name was on the title, but he did want to retain possession of the truck.
“I would agree to signing over the title as long as there is some language in there that says the truck would stay permanently in Greenhead,” Palmer said.
“Maybe it’s just my attorney mind, but I always start shaking in my boots when I hear someone say ‘permanent,’” said County Attorney Jeff Goodman. “I always wonder, ‘Fifty years from now, how will this play out?’”
He said a waiver of the contract which exists between the fire department and the county would be required to make changes to the title.
The commissioners decided that the ownership of the truck should be pro-rated in accordance with the amounts of money paid for the truck by each party, which would mean the county would hold the majority ownership of the vehicle. They also agreed the vehicle would remain at the Greenhead department. The purchase was approved contingent upon the contract waiver, written by Goodman, being brought back to the commissioners at the next meeting for review.