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Fire companies left with tire fire bill

April 04, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

A 13-hour fire can burn a hole in a fire company's budget.

It cost $508 just to feed Washington County firefighters during a tire pile blaze in Cearfoss last month.

The March 11 fire destroyed a 100-by-200 foot stretch of tires used for gardening purposes behind a house on 17049 Castle Hill Road. And because insurance won't cover the losses, 13 local fire companies have been left holding the bill for the $40,000 in materials, supplies and personnel costs to fight the blaze, according to Incident Commander Lt. Ian Swisher of the Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co.

In comparison, Swisher said, it costs between $3,000 and $4,000 to battle a typical house fire. He said the tire fire was the most costly he has fought in his eight-year career.

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"Operation-wise, this was an expensive fire," he said.

The most expensive item was approximately $22,000 worth of foam.

Firefighters bought hundreds of gallons of foam from Allsafe Fire Equipment Co. and borrowed hundreds of gallons more from Washington County Regional Airport and California Microwave Inc.

Foam contributed by those two companies was replaced by Allsafe. County firefighters will have to pick up that tab as well.

Volunteer fire companies normally bill insurance companies to recoup their losses, Swisher said. But he said the property's owner, Denzil Poling, has agricultural insurance, which will not pay the costs.

That has left fire companies scrambling for alternate solutions.

"It creates a dramatic impact on our budget," said Jay Grimes, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Swisher said the companies are seeking reimbursement for about half the total cost, which includes the materials used. They will simply write off the rest, he said.

Swisher said the Environmental Protection Agency might pay part of the bill. Grimes said Washington County officials have volunteered an employee's time to help fill out the complex application form.

In addition, the fire and rescue association has asked county officials to front the cost of the foam and other materials before federal funds become available, because that may to take a long time.

In addition to the foam, costs include about $17,000 for fire apparatus, $3,100 in manpower hours and roughly $700 in supplies.

Food accounted for most of the supplies figure, Swisher said. He said it battle-weary firefighters need to recharge with food, Gatorade-like drinks and hot chocolate.

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