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Ronan Volunteer Fire Department purchases new rescue vehicle

RONAN — Last Thursday night emergency lights flashed at the Ronan Volunteer Fire Department as the firefighters buzzed around, playing with the newest addition to their fleet: a brand new Jaws of Life Rescue Vehicle. 

The purchase of the $150,000 vehicle was a joint effort between the Ronan Rural Fire Board and the Ronan Volunteer Fire Department. The enormous truck will replace the old Jaws of Life vehicle, which was not big enough to hold all the tools and supplies necessary for emergency rescue response.

Prior to the purchase of the new emergency vehicle, the fire department was forced to transport the Jaws of Life and other emergency rescue tools in two vehicles, when responding to an emergency. With the new vehicle, the firefighters will have everything for the Jaws of Life in one vehicle.

“When you are talking minutes in certain situations,” Ronan Rural Fire Board Chairman Dan Salomon said, “that’s the difference.”

The new vehicle also has a light tower, two wenches, 200 feet of electrical line on a reel, two 100-foot hardwired hydraulic hoses that power the Jaws of Life tools, and more room for other tools and supplies, ranging from absorbent material for fluid leaks to blankets for covering victims to traffic direction devices. 

The light tower and auxiliary lighting is powered by an onboard power-take-off driven generator. There are 200 feet of electrical cord on a reel for powering tools away from the truck. Also on the truck is one permanent-mounted winch on the front of the rig, plus a portable winch that can be hooked to either side or the back of the truck.

The Jaws of Life includes hydraulic tools called cutters, spreaders and rams that are used to pry open vehicles and retrieve victims from wrecks. Essentially, cutters have a mouth that opens and closes and can cut through metal or any other material in a vehicle. The ram uses its hydraulic capabilities to push apart sections of the vehicle and the spreader tears sections out of the vehicle. The new Jaws of Life vehicle will mostly be used in response to vehicle wrecks, but can also be utilized in other emergencies at night because of its exterior lighting capabilities. 

The purchase is part of the fire department’s continual efforts to keep its department emergency vehicles up to par. 

In the last 20 years, the fire department has extensively upgraded its emergency vehicle fleet. Formerly, the department consisted of some vehicles from the 60s and 70s, including a few converted military vehicles.

According to Ronan Fire Chief Mark Clary, the department is “leaps and bounds” from where it was in 1989. He believes that the Ronan Fire Department is finally at a point where they’re well enough equipped to readily handle the community’s fires and emergencies. 

And the community is quick to give back to the fire department’s continual dedication and service.

The fire department has been fundraising for the purchase of the vehicle for the last four to five years, Clary said. 

And it’s a community effort through and through. 

Over the years, the Ronan Fire Department has received donations from the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, tribal housing and SKC. They have also received donations from Plum Creek Manufacturing Inc., and Ronan Chamber of Commerce, as well as private donors. 

“Everyone’s in this for one thing,” Clary said, noting how grateful he was for the community’s support. “And that’s the community.”

The department also receives financial help from fighting wild fires in the summer and receives financial aid from their fundraisers. 

In this purchase, the Ronan Rural Board supplied a significant portion of finances needed to purchase the vehicle. The Ronan Rural Fire Board controls some of the county taxes designated for Ronan, and is always willing to listen to the fire department’s “wish list.” In this particular endeavor, the fire department contributed $30,000 and the rural board contributed $120,000.

“I love my rural board,” Clary explains, noting that the relationship between the two organizations is a really positive one. Both entities work together supporting the community and many of the members of the rural board were former firefighters who understand the importance of a well-equipped fire department. 

Besides the obvious benefits the new vehicle offers during emergencies, Clary was sure to mention that no city tax money was spent in the purchase of the vehicle. He added that the fire department is reluctant to add to the taxpayer’s burden. 

Another benefit to improving the equipment used by the fire department, explains Salomon, is that with a better-equipped and well-trained fire department, homeowners receive better rates on homeowner’s insurance. 

The fire department was quick to repay the generosity of the Ronan community by purchasing the truck from a local dealership and has continually made an effort to buy locally.

“We wanted to keep the money in the community,” Clary said, explaining that the department purchased the $42,000 truck from Don Aadsen Ford Mercury. The truck was transferred to a factory in Lyons, S.D., where the box on the back of the vehicle was custom built and added onto the frame.

As far as the old Jaws of Life Rescue truck, the fire department plans on selling the vehicle for $15,000. That money will be used to purchase more tools or for other expenses related to the Jaws of Life. 

On Thursday, the sparkling white truck sat glistening under its own lights, as the firefighters inspected and explored their new rescue vehicle. Its $90,000 more expensive than their previous truck, but to the firefighters who know that minutes matter, and for members of the community who depend of the fire department with their life, that price tag is well worth it.

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