Christmas comes early for Valley Springs fire department

Jill Meier, Journal editor
The Valley Springs Fire Department welcomed a shiny, red Class 1 pumper truck last week. The 2015 model truck has been on the department’s “wish list” for about 25 years, said fire chief Don Johnson. Jill Meier/BV Journal
Christmas came early for the Valley Springs Volunteer Fire Department. But it wasn’t Santa who delivered the long-awaited “gift” – a shiny, red Class 1 pumper fire truck, lightly dusted with snow.
“It’s a pretty nice Christmas present, and it is red, you know,” said fire chief Don Johnson.
The 2015 model truck has been on the department’s “wish list” for about 25 years.
“That’s the honest-to-God truth,” Johnson said. “We’ve known that we’ve needed it. By all general consensus, as far as all of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards, we’ve been out of date for so many years, but there’s just no money there, so you do with what you’ve got.”
The pumper was delivered Dec. 5 from nearby Rosenbauer America by Mike Harstad, Valley Springs native and son of longtime Valley Springs firefighter and first assistant chief Steve Harstad.
As the truck rolled into the fire hall last week, volunteer firefighters with the 30-member department were on hand to admire, inspect and equip the new rig.
“It’s been years that we’ve wanted to do this and this was the first real opportunity that we got, thanks to Mike (Harstad) and Rosenbauer and all them, we finally have it. It’s a blessing, let’s face it,” Johnson said.
Mike Harstad said Rosenbauer was happy to oblige.
“We had a unique opportunity with this truck, so we were looking for a department that could use one and we could make a deal for them, and we’re just glad that we could keep it local,” he said. “When we can put nice, new pieces of equipment in, I’d rather keep them close to home and take care of the people around here better.”
Harstad also admits to a bit of hometown allegiance.
“It’s where I grew up, so it’s important to me,” he said. “That’s my dad, he’s still an assistant chief and has been here forever, and I’ve known most of these guys all of my life.”
The truck will replace the 1979 model purchased from the Brandon Fire Department in the late 1990s.
“If someone really needs a fire truck, it’s theirs,” Johnson said of soon-to-be-retired Pumper 2, which has already received interest from two buyers. “The old truck will be heading for the retirement ground.”
He praised the Lyons-based company that led them to the $130,000 pumper truck.
“Rosenbauer treated us just fantastic,” he said. “And we got help from the Brandon Community Foundation, George Boom Funeral Home. Many businesses in Brandon and Valley Springs have contributed money to make this thing possible. The city did a good chunk, the townships, the community club – just people at random were a great help so we didn’t have to borrow a huge amount of money to buy this thing.”
Proceeds generated from the fire department’s annual fundraiser also helped to beef up the purchase account for the $130,000 truck.
“This one was probably the best one we’ve ever had, and was a pretty good kick in the shorts for us. We were able to put a good down payment on the loan,” Johnson said. “If you were to order that truck tomorrow, it would cost you $255,000.”
The truck was previously leased, which made the favorable price possible.
It comes with a bit of notoriety, too. The pumper was on the NASCAR circuit in the summer at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and tracks in Tennessee and Kentucky.
“We sponsor those races, so they use it for infield fire protection for all the campers, everything else on the infield of a NASCAR race,” Harstad said.
The 2015 model comes with a five-year warranty and a lot of “bells and whistles.”
“This one seats five and has the air packs in the seats already in them, so when we get in the truck, the guys will be able to put the air packs on before they ever get out of the truck,” Johnson said.
The new truck also features additional storage in the side panels and a 1,250-gallon pump.
“All of our tankers have 500-gallon-per-minute pumps on them, but this one has more capacity than either of our old trucks,” he said.
But Harstad said the new pumper is more about upgrades than “bells and whistles.”
“A lot of the standards have changed, a lot of safety features have been incorporated in, ladder racks and different steps, lighting, all of that stuff is updated equipment, and everything’s that’s updated is with safety in mind,” he said. “Safety’s the first priority – always.”
The pumper is also outfitted with back-up lights, a foam system, and generator, all required standards today.
Johnson anticipates the upgraded pumper truck will improve the fire department’s ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating, which is factored into setting premium costs on residential home and business property insurance policies.
“In the last few years, we’ve got a new tanker, we’ve upgraded another tanker, we got a new rescue and a couple of different grass rigs now. Now that we’ve got a newer pumper, we should be able to get that rating up even more,” Johnson said. “(Property owners) probably won’t see a reduction (in their premiums), but what happens with all the major catastrophes around the world or in the United States especially, your rates would go up a lot more if it wasn’t for the fact that ISO ratings have kept up with the times. With all of these disasters, insurance is a funny thing. It’s a pool of people and we all throw money in the pool, we get averaged out, and if there is money in the pool we get paid, and if there is no money in the pool, rates go up to fill the pool back up again. It’s a funny thing, but I’ve worked with insurance companies pretty much all my life because I run a body shop, and guess what, that’s a pool of people throwing money together to cover the damages when you have a catastrophe.”
If Johnson and company never had to pull one of their fleet of fire-fighting apparatuses out of the bay, they’d be ecstatic, he said.
“It’s the only place in the world where you spend a million dollars and hope you never have to use it, but unfortunately we know better,” Johnson said. “I’ve been here 26 years, and we seem to have to come out every now and then. We were even out last night (during winter’s first blast on Dec. 4). God only knows we didn’t want to be, because it was a miserable dog out there.”
The department responded to a two-vehicle accident on Hwy. 42 that night.
“I think everybody was fine, more shaken up than anything. It was just one of those over-driving road conditions, probably. One truck spun out and another truck broad-sided him,” he said.
Just as firefighters familiarize themselves with the new pumper truck, Johnson said the department’s wish list is never-ending.
 “You have to remember Pumper 3 is an ’83, and it will be the last one to go for sure. In all reality, it should go because it’s too damn old, even though it only has 6,000 to 7,000 miles on it,” he said.
While the 2015 pumper rolled from one speedway to another this summer, the ’79 pumper has some notoriety of its own, too. The department loaned the pumper to the Delmont Volunteer Fire Department after a mid-May 2015 tornado wiped out the community.
“Fortunately, we have mutual aid with Brandon and Garretson,” Johnson said. “We’re really a small community taking care of a large population.”
Johnson said Minnehaha County has approximately 380 volunteer firefighters that protect a population of 100,000-plus. That number does not reflect the paid departments in Sioux Falls.
“We probably have one of the smaller territories, but the problem we have is the interstate (accidents),” he said. “Any time there’s a higher flow of traffic on one road, you start having a ton of issues.”
The Valley Springs department never gave up on its dream to upgrade the pumper truck, and local businesses, organizations and residents all pitched in to make it a reality.
“There always has been (great support) in Valley. Every time we’ve ever needed something, if you’re brave enough to ask, you’ll get a little help,” Johnson said. “If they have to call us, they usually want us there, and they wanted us there yesterday, not today.”


The Brandon Valley Journal


The Brandon Valley Journal
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