Chehalis fire chief pursues state financing for new fire engine, ambulance

Chehalis also enters interlocal agreement with Riverside Fire Authority for joint use of spare firefighting vehicles


In continued efforts to modernize aging parts of the city fire department’s vehicle fleet, Chehalis Fire Chief Adam Fulbright received the Chehalis City Council’s unanimous approval to apply for Washington state Treasurer’s Office Local Program financing for the purchase of a new ambulance and fire engine during the council’s Monday, June 10, meeting.

Additionally, the council also unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with Riverside Fire Authority (RFA) in Centralia to allow the RFA and Chehalis Fire Department to temporarily use each other’s spare vehicles in the event either department needs a vehicle due to mechanical failures.

The deadline to submit applications for the treasurer’s financing program is July 18.

“This allows us to receive pre-approval, and would also allow Chehalis to place our order for an ambulance and an engine probably by the end of July. We’ll be ready to place an order and have the council approve it,” Fulbright said. 

He explained the need for a new ambulance and fire engine, as the department is at risk of going through times where it could lack both a serviceable ambulance and fire engines to respond to calls.

The department’s vehicle fleet consists of three fire engines, one ladder truck and one ambulance. The lone ambulance has an intermittent electrical issue that sometimes causes it to fail to start, Fulbright said.

Currently, the oldest fire engine is out of service due to a brake issue. It’s been out of service for eight months as no shop has been able to locate the part needed to fix it.

While the newest engine is serviceable and the other engine is undergoing repairs but expected back in service soon, Fulbright said if the newest engine breaks down, the department will be left without any engines to respond to calls.

Additionally, both the ambulance and the oldest engine are long past their expected service lives.

With inflation continuing to drive prices up, Fulbright estimated the combined cost of the new vehicles to be around $1.65 million before financing.

Depending on which financing options the city goes with, the grand total could be between $1.86 million and just over $2 million for the two new vehicles.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow, and I understand we’ve kicked the can down the street way too long. It should’ve been taken care of years ago, but that’s neither here nor there,” Chehalis Mayor Tony Ketchum said.

The city will purchase the ambulance from Braun Northwest and the fire engine from Rosenbauer.

In April 2023, Fulbright got the council’s approval to purchase a new 109-foot ladder truck for the fire department using just over $1.5 million of the City of Chehalis’ remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

That new ladder truck — currently being built by Rosenbauer — has yet to be delivered, but Fulbright told The Chronicle he expects it to be delivered by the end of this July.

As inflation continues to drive firefighting vehicle prices up and with ARPA funding no longer available, Fulbright told the council it was imperative the city move quickly to secure special financing deals through the Treasurer’s Local Program.

The Local Program offers Washington state municipalities cost-effective financing options for purchasing equipment and vehicles along with funding real estate projects. Some benefits of using this program include financing payments not being due immediately and low interest rates, Fulbright added.

Wait times for new ambulances average around 18 months and fire engines average 24 months as fire departments across the nation are struggling to replace aging vehicles.

Once financing is secured and the new ambulance and fire engine purchased, Fulbright expects the new ambulance to be delivered by January 2026 and the new fire engine by July 2026.


The issues with the ambulance

Presently, the Chehalis Fire Department’s ambulance is a 2005 Ford North Star, which has had a lingering electrical issue after being remounted, Fulbright stated.

Remounting an ambulance is a refurbishing process that involves removing an ambulance’s patient transport box and placing it on a new chassis to try to extend its service life.

“Since it’s been remounted, it’s had a lot of electrical issues, and it has been in and out of service a number of times over the last 12 months for days at a time,” Fulbright said. “And we keep coming back to the same report. They can’t find the problem and they don’t know what the problem is. So we’re kind of left at chance, will it start or will it not start?”

He added there have been times when the ambulance has started during the department’s daily morning checks, then failed to start when a call needing medical response has come in later in the day.

On top of having already been remounted, the ambulance was due to be replaced by this year as it has long exceeded its expected service life of five to seven years.

Though the city does contract with American Medical Response (AMR) to provide emergency medical transport, the city’s fire department still has an ambulance to respond when call volume exceeds AMR’s response capacity.

With the current ambulance electrical issue, there may be times when the department can’t respond.

“It’s a bit of a risk for us. Twenty percent of the time we are doubling or tripling up on call volume, and for 10% of that our contracted service is not available which really puts our citizens at risk of not having an ambulance for transport,” Fulbright said.

As for how much the City of Chehalis will pay for the new ambulance, inflation has driven the base cost of an ambulance up from $271,418 in 2022 to $316,131 this year, Fulbright explained.

He expected the department’s new ambulance to cost around $450,000 after taxes and additional equipment modifications.

Using a seven-year Local Program financing plan option, Fulbright estimated annual payments for the new ambulance to be $76,000. After financing, he anticipated the total cost of the ambulance to be between $508,850 and $532.366 using interest rates between 3.1% and 4.11%.

The actual interest rate will be determined on the official purchase date.


The issues with the reserve engine

The Chehalis Fire Department’s reserve fire engine is a 1993 Western States Hale Pump engine that is currently inoperable due to a malfunctioning valve in its brake system, which has left it out of service for eight months.

“The ABS valve has failed, we’ve been to several mechanics and we’re still on the hunt trying to find the part,” Fulbright said. 

Additionally, mechanics the city has talked to have also refused to rebuild the brake system due to liability concerns.

Being that it is also now 31 years old and well beyond its expected service life of 20 years, the Western States engine was already slated to be replaced in 2026, Fulbright stated.

The Chehalis Fire Department has a total of three fire engines, with the oldest — the Western States — being the reserve. The other two engines used by the department include a 2004 Pierce Enforcer fire engine and 2016 Pierce Dash CF fire engine.

The 2004 Pierce engine was in the shop as of Monday with a brake issue as well, and though Fulbright expected it to be fixed and back in service by the end of the week, the 2016 engine recently needed a new head gasket leaving it out of service for a couple weeks.

If the one remaining engine broke down again this week, the department would be left without any serviceable engines until the 2004 engine returned, he told the council.

Since 2022, Fulbright stated inflation has driven the base cost of a fire engine from $550,000 to $1,050,000. He expected the department’s new engine to cost a total of $1.2 million after taxes and additional equipment was added.

Using both seven- and 10-year Local Program financing plan options, Fulbright estimated annual payments for the new fire engine to range between $136,000 and $201,000. After financing, he anticipated the new fire engine to cost between $1,356,433 and $1,491,958 using interest rates between 3.1% and 4.14%.

The actual interest rate will be determined on the official purchase date.

According to the treasurer’s website, the Local Program has helped municipalities around the state purchase 140 new vehicles since 1999. To learn more about the Local Program, visit the treasurer’s website at