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May 25, 2018

2/9/2018 7:30:00 AM
Response to Zoch letter

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to the letter by George Zoch on Feb. 2, 2018.

First item I would like to point out is while Three Lakes, St. Germain, Eagle River, and Land O' Lakes have all purchased used aerials, there is one basic difference between their situation and ours. They have all added these pieces of apparatus to their existing fleet. So, not only have they acquired the ladder trucks, most have purchased new engines in recent years. We are intending to replace our 26-year-old Pierce engine with a ladder truck. The ladder truck we have proposed will have all the pumping and general firefighting capabilities of our current engine plus the added benefit of an aerial ladder. This "combination" truck we are proposing would allow us the most current and versatile equipment while still maintaining a small fleet for the purposes of training and maintenance.

The Woodruff Fire Department has presented several letters to the board stating our position on used trucks. We have maintained that we will accept a used truck, but we would prefer it to be of an age and quality that will allow it to be used as a first out apparatus rather than an added "reserve" apparatus. And no, we are not stalling, we traveled to Denver, Colo., and Eagan, Minn., in December to view used trucks. While the Colorado truck had some issues, the Eagan truck was a great buy. Unfortunately, the City of International Falls thought so too. The holidays, work schedules, and family obligations have limited our availability to travel since then.

Mr. Zoch also broached the following question: "Why a town with the smallest fire department, with the fewest members, and one of the lowest annual budgets should be asked to spend $750,000, over a million with interest, on a new ladder truck."

First things first. An aerial is a very valuable tool to promote life safety. You have the obvious benefit of saving the life of or preventing injury to a person in danger. By decreasing the manpower needed and limiting time on scene, aerials are essential in decreasing exposure to the dangers firefighters commonly encounter on the fire ground. These dangers can lead to slips, falls, sprains, strains, cuts, burns and broken bones. Often overlooked is the health effects experienced by many firefighters. Firefighters (career or volunteer) are three times more likely to experience certain cancers than the average person. By quickly mitigating incidents, we are not only getting our people back to their families and jobs, we are limiting current and future liability.

We have several buildings that we cannot effectively protect with our current equipment. We have a 5-story hospital that houses non-ambulatory patients, a 3-story assisted living facility, and several other medical or assisted living occupancies within our township. One Penny Place has a 50-foot ground ladder stored in the underground parking structure. In the event of a fire, we must access the basement of a burning building to utilize a ladder that takes four people to move and set up.

The buildings in our downtown area are all near each other with little or no fire break between them. I remember three working fires in our downtown since I have been on the department. We caught all these fires early and put them out with no major damage. If a fire would reach a free-burning stage in the downtown area, a ladder may be our only option to save surrounding buildings. On top of these, we have several large commercial buildings, churches, and an aviation facility with fueling equipment on-site to contend with. We should not forget that two ladder trucks were used at Dolhun Field.

Now, let's talk about buildings outside of Woodruff. To our south is Lakeland Union High School and to our north is AV-W Elementary School. While these two buildings are in Minocqua and Arbor Vitae, The Woodruff Fire Department is automatic mutual aid for both buildings. First and foremost, we have an obligation to provide the best life safety protection possible at both schools. Second, we have a vested financial interest in protecting both assets as they are funded with taxpayer dollars. Wouldn't it be sensible to house a ladder truck as close as possible to both buildings?

In reference to cost, funding, and interest; I wish I had an easy answer for that. As a taxpayer, I will take the tradeoff of a few dollars on my tax bill for improved public safety. As the owner of a small but growing business, I view interest and loans as a necessary evil. Terms and payments can be structured to minimize overall cost.

Mr. Zoch eludes to a $750,000 price tag for this project. This was the highest priced truck, there were less expensive options presented.

Yes, we have a small roster, we always have. But, all our members are active, reliable, and highly dedicated. We have 20 members and 14 seats in our trucks. Are we stretched thin during daytime calls while people are at work? Absolutely, and with a lack of second and third shift work in the area, most departments are. If anyone is truly concerned with our numbers, I strongly welcome you to join our department. Applications can be picked up at the Woodruff Town Office. Training is paid and being a volunteer firefighter can be quite rewarding.

Our town does carry a small budget. Department heads keep spending to a minimum while trying to maintain the best possible people, training, and equipment. The fire department is no exception. While we are paid $10 an hour for calls and $10 per training or meeting, our members donate countless hours for fundraising, fire prevention, and equipment maintenance. Our annual pig roast, along with grants, and the generous donations from our supporters, keep thousands of dollars in equipment off the tax roll each year. Thank you to all of those who contribute!

Thank you to those of you who have been following and supporting us on this issue for the past three years. For those who still have questions, please contact either myself or any other fire department member.

Victor Gee


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