By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor
Laguna Beach’s Fire Department is retiring its 17-year-old engine following the City Council’s approval of the proposed budget during the Oct. 18 meeting.
While the expected lifespan for fire engines typically ranges from 10-15 years, LBFD’s oldest engine has surpassed that and is nearing the end of its five-year reserve timeframe. The American LaFrance engine model was acquired in 2005 and is rated 44.45 on the city’s Vehicle Replacement Model Guideline, making the task of purchasing a new vehicle one that “Needs Immediate Consideration.”
Replacing the vehicle will come with a hefty price of just over $1 million. However, for a city with an elevated threat of fires, it is a necessary purchase.
“The replacement cost of fire engines is high and some might find it difficult to justify, but the cost of deferring these costs, repairing or attempting to upgrade older fire trucks have consistently proven higher in cost and fiscally irresponsible,” Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee member Bill Niccum said when the public hearing opened.
“In these inflationary times, we are a very well-resourced city. It’s also an extreme fire risk, we simply cannot afford to imperil residents or firefighters by relying on obsolescence or worn-out apparatus that could fail within seconds and make the difference between life or death and a first or medical emergency,” Chair of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee Matt Lawson said.
Considering it takes more than two years to construct the custom fire truck for LBFD, resident and former mayor Ann Christoph questioned why funds for a purchase of this caliber had not already been allocated through the “normal budget process.”
“It struck me that if it takes two years to build one of these engines, why isn’t it in the budget and with a long time to plan for it and make sure the expenditure is going to fit in with all the other expenditures that are already being planned?” Christoph said during the public hearing. “I wonder why this has come up almost like an emergency item. It seems like it’s something that should have been part of an overall master plan of replacement and take place in that manner.”
There has also been an emphasis on incorporating electric cars into Laguna’s vehicle fleet, Pierce Manufacturing consulted on a potential electrical fire engine with a price tag of $1.5 million without the infrastructure costs included. While Laguna Beach’s city manager Shohreh Dupuis acknowledged that while incorporating electric cars is a goal of the city, they are not prepared to convert all cars just yet.
“We are looking at a complete study of our entire fleet and it’s not just the vehicle purchase itself. It’s the infrastructure needed to support it,” Dupuis said.
However, electrical vehicles were discussed as a potential option for the Marine Safety Rescue vehicles that are getting replaced.
“I can tell you that I’m not alone in my frustration with the slow pace of the city’s effort to address sustainability issues and to adopt measures that support the objectives that the city has already laid out,” Environmental Sustainability Committee member Steve Chadima said.
It was originally proposed that Toyota 4Runners would be purchased to replace the necessary vehicles, but the council requested 4-1 that Dupuis inquire about hybrid vehicles from Irvine-based automotive company Rivian as a push towards incorporating electric cars sooner rather than later.
“This to me is a great opportunity to take an easy early first step in transitioning our vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, where it’s appropriate,” Chadima said.
With the budget approved and moving forward, residents can expect the new fire truck to arrive in July 2025 following the 30-month timeline it takes to construct it.
“Our fire equipment is mission critical, particularly given the fire risks we face. We need the best. I don’t think there’s any dispute about that, or should they be in the interest of our community. We need and deserve the best,” Vice Chair of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee Tom Gibbs said.