First new engine goes into service in East County

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Engine 53, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District’s newest engine responds to a commercial fire call at El Gallito Drive In restaurant in Brentwood Monday, Aug. 31. The Oakley-based crew of Engine 53 responded to the fire just minutes after the completion of a dedication ceremony for the new apparatus.

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) held a dedication ceremony Monday, Aug. 31, for its first new fire engine in 14 years, and true to form, the engine and its Oakley-based crew responded to a service call just minutes after the completion of the event.

The engine that went into service at Station 53 is the first of three new engines expected to go into service in over the next few weeks, the culmination of an effort that has taken more than two and a half years.

“Our residents and firefighters deserve to have reliable apparatus,” ECCFPD Fire Board President Brian Oftedal said. “On behalf of your ECCFPD elected fire board, I am excited and honored to present our communities with these beautiful new fire apparatuses.”

The district’s current fleet of Type 1 engines — those designed primarily for fighting structure fires — is long overdue for retirement. The National Fire Protection Association, which sets standards for the American fire service, states that an engine should remain in service for 10 years or 100,000 miles, after which it can be relegated to backup service for an additional five years. The district’s three primary-service engines have seen at least 14 years of everyday use and have more than 160,000 miles on them.

Battalion Chief Ross Macumber was the lead on the apparatus committee that also included fire engineers Bob May, Greg Baitx, Joe Grima and Sam Somerhalder. Macumber credited them with doing the “heavy lifting” on the project that started as a quintessential blank slate.

“You really are limited only to your own imagination and your own budget,” Macumber said. “You can do anything you want as long as you have the budget for it. Every fire department has their own unique special needs. So we had to figure out what we needed, and more importantly what we didn’t need.”

Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing was selected to build the engines, and then a months-long process to develop the specifications for the engine design began. Once the specifications were finalized, the engines waited their turn to begin the three-month long build process.

“One thing that really impressed me about Pierce is that there are still people building the engines, not machines” Macumber said. “There are still human beings working these lines putting these things together almost by hand. It’s still real people doing real work. It’s impressive.”

With an all-in cost of approximately $800,000 cost per engine, planning for the expenditure is also a significant effort.

“In 2010, the fire district developed a Capital Replacement Fund, which requires the district to save money it would need when our engines no longer could support the demand we place on them on a daily basis,” ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick explained. “They are truly showing the impact from 24-hour responses, answering emergency calls twice as frequent. This is due to only having three stations instead of the six we should have today.”

The engines were delivered to Sacramento in November for fitting and preparation for service. Sharp-eyed observers might have noticed that one of the new engines made an appearance in the 2019 holiday parade in Brentwood. The next morning, it went back to Sacramento for more work. Engine 52 assigned to Brentwood and Engine 59 assigned to Discovery Bay are expected to go into service by the middle of September.

“You’ll see these engines on the road for a long time coming,” Macumber said. “We haven’t had a new engine in this district since 2006. It seems like yesterday, but it was 14 years ago.”