Big Red joins Tusayan Fire District; funding uncertain after home rule "no" vote

The Tusayan Fire Department recently purchased Big Red, a 40,000-pound ladder apparatus. The 1992-model ladder truck will replace the previous truck, which blew its engine over the summer. (Erin Ford/WGCN)

The Tusayan Fire Department recently purchased Big Red, a 40,000-pound ladder apparatus. The 1992-model ladder truck will replace the previous truck, which blew its engine over the summer. (Erin Ford/WGCN)

TUSAYAN, Ariz. — When the engine on Tusayan’s only ladder truck blew its engine a few months ago, things were looking pretty grim for the Tusayan Fire Department. After months of searching government auction sites and negotiating a generous deal, the department is now home to a new Ladder 5-1 — Big Red.

The department’s old ladder truck went out of commission in July, and although the department did some creative budgeting to afford the necessary engine rebuild, the repair cost exceeded both the budget and the cost of the vehicle. Fire Chief Greg Brush the department searched numerous government auction sites before finally finding a good deal and an understanding fire chief in Ohio.

“I probably looked at a couple thousand listings, and made calls on just under a hundred,” Brush said. “We pared it down to about five strong candidates and finally got a department that was willing to negotiate on the price. They were compassionate to our situation.”

Brush purchased the ladder truck for $10,000 from the Little Miami Joint Fire and Rescue District near Cincinnati, Ohio. It was about $6,000 to ship the apparatus on a flatbed truck to Tusayan. Brush said the new apparatus wasn’t much more than the department had already allocated to make repairs on the old one, which was sold as-is for $4,000, making the total expenditure about $12,000.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better, other than us winning the lottery,” he said.

Brush called the truck a fiscal miracle — the same model truck one year older sold for $80,000 just a few days before he was able to purchase Big Red. The truck is a 1992 model with a 75-foot ladder and a higher tank capacity than the previous apparatus.

“The engine is in great working order, the pump works great, the cabinets, the lights — everything works. They took great care of it,” he said. “It looks like it’s been in a time machine.”

After it arrived at the station, TFD personnel got to work making it look nearly new. Since the truck was dirty from the trip, staff members waxed and polished the exterior and did some upholstery repairs on the inside.

“They did a really good detail job on it and she looks 10 years younger now,” he chuckled.

Although the new ladder truck was an extraordinary find, Brush said the department is still applying for federal grants. Engine 5-1, the department’s workhorse and first-out vehicle, is also in need of replacement and has a host of mechanical failures that continue to add up. Staff recently spent an entire day working on the vehicle’s brakes, and Brush said the department needs something heavier to handle all the hard, off-road miles.

Although the department applies for the grant to go toward to purchase of a new engine every year, Brush said only about two vehicle replacements are awarded per state, per year.

Department looking at potential funding cuts

While the department already operates on a strapped budget — even with payroll assistance from the town of Tusayan — more financial hardships could be on the horizon.

Tusayan voters recently rejected a continuation of the town’s alternative expenditure limit, or Home Rule. As a result, the town council will now be limited to an annual budget of just under $1.4 million for the next two fiscal years. This year alone, the town contributed $335,000 to the department’s payroll, allowing them to staff more full-time firefighter/EMTs in addition to a few volunteers. Brush expressed his gratitude to the town and said the assistance allows the department to keep operating.

“I can’t even express how much I appreciate how the town has helped us in this fiscal year,” he said. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without their support.”

Although no decisions have been made regarding future funding for the department and other programs the town helps support, Brush said he is concerned about how the department will operate if it’s faced with steep funding cuts. Options could include a reduction in staff or even shutting down, and Brush said the department is considering several different options.

If the department is forced to shut down, there’s some uncertainty about where fire support could come from. Brush said High Country Fire and Rescue wouldn’t be able to respond much farther than Valle, and it’s unknown how much support could be offered by Grand Canyon National Park.

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