On Wednesday morning Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz took a final ride on a state Department of Natural Resources fire truck before officially handing it over to  Lewis County Fire District 4 in Morton as a part of ongoing DNR efforts to strengthen rural fire departments.

Before receiving the 2005 brush rig on Wednesday, the East County district had only one fire engine, built in 1977. 

“When there’s a fire you guys are often first on the line and we need you guys to have these resources,” Franz said to Fire Chief Bill Reynolds Wednesday at the Morton firehouse. 

This year DNR’s fire district assistance program has provided surplus engines to 17 fire districts in Washington. The fire engines provide the fire districts with a strengthened ability to respond quickly to wildfires in their area, reducing the chance of wildfire spreading.

The state legislature authorized DNR to transfer ownership of surplus engines to rural fire districts in wildfire-prone areas at no cost in 2017. 

“Transferring engines directly to fire districts ensures that local communities are better protected and better able to quickly put out wildfires. We are all in this together — all lands, all hands,” said Franz. 

Lewis County Fire District 4 in Morton has 25 volunteer firefighters, “Most of our guys are 20 to 30 years old, small families and live and work here locally,” said Fire Chief Reynolds. 

“With the volunteers, everybody has a regular job. This is just filling, fill when you can, that’s how it was presented to me 15 years ago. Giving back to your community, that’s huge,” said Fire Chief Reynolds. 

“When there’s a fire, there’s like three districts coming just so we can get more numbers,” Reynolds said.

In addition to the fire engines, the DNR also provides training to small districts.

“We focus on quality training because I know that federal governments limit their training because of lack of resources and funding so our goal here is to start building the team,” said Franz.

“When we first launched that (training program) we had about 500 to 600. This year we had over 1,000 people training,” said Franz.

Franz shared an anecdote that showed the importance of a fire district having more than one truck, recounting a time when the DNR transferred a fire engine to a fire district in Chesaw in 2017.

“The day I got there with the fire truck was the day their truck broke down,” she said.

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