Idaho Falls firefighters and paramedics welcomed their newest fire truck Monday with a ceremony dating back to the early days of their profession.
About 20 of them waited inside the truck bay at Station 3 next to Idaho Falls Regional Airport, green brushes and buckets of soapy water ready, as the new yellow Pierce Enforcer Pumper sat just outside. Fire Chief Duane Nelson came in and thanked them all for being there. In 1919, he said, the Idaho Falls Fire Department retired its last horse-drawn engine, becoming a fully motorized department.
“To put a new one in 100 years later is quite an event,” he said.
Then the crew, with the help of Mayor Rebecca Casper and a few of their family members who came for the event, went outside and washed and dried engine 498 for the first time. When they were done, they pushed it inside as Driver Kyle Smith, who Nelson said helped extensively with the engine’s design, steered it.
For decades, firefighters have been welcoming new engines with a similar “wet-down” and “push-in” ceremony. Horse-drawn engines had to be pushed into the station, Nelson said, since it wasn’t practical to back a horse in. And when the water in an old horse-drawn engine would be transferred to the new one, some would splash onto the new one and have to be dried off. The tradition lived on even after the horse-drawn wagons that originally inspired them became obsolete.
Getting a new fire engine is a big deal, Nelson said, involving spending a lot of money and a lot of planning for the fire department and community involved.
“It is a big source of pride to get a new engine,” Nelson said.
Fire engines have a lifespan of 25 years — 15 on active duty, then another 10 in reserve after that. The old engine 498 replaces is now in reserve.
“It’s still equipped and ready to go ... whenever we need it,” said fire department spokeswoman Kerry Hammon.
The old engine could still do most of the same things as the new one, but the new one is an improvement, said Deputy Fire Chief Dave Coffey. For example, it has better brakes, a stronger engine and transmission and better mirrors. The new engine can also hold 750 gallons of water, compared to 500 for the old one.
“Just like when you buy a pickup truck, there’s always the latest and greatest,” he said.
The engine cost $503,000, paid for out of the city’s Municipal Equipment Replacement Fund, and was custom built to the department’s needs by Hughes Fire Equipment. The city ordered it in August 2018, and it was delivered to the department in May. Since then, firefighters have been equipping it with supplies and calibrating it for the altitude.
“A lot of people cringe at the price tag, but the life expectancy is 25 years,” Coffey said. “That’s a pretty good bang for the buck.”
The department has been gradually working on upgrading its fleet to comply with the current standards for engine longevity, Nelson said, and the last time they got a new engine was about two years ago. Nelson said he expects to get a new ladder truck in another couple of years, and after that, it would probably be seven to 10 years before the department gets another new engine.