Thanks to careful planning and astute spending, the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department has been able to acquire four new tanker trucks. They are also building three new station locations over the next few months. The department says it needs these upgrades in order to provide a dependable source of fire protection in some of Magnolia's most remote areas, but there is another benefit to all homeowners in the area – lower homeowner insurance premiums. Residents will pay less for insurance if their local fire department is modern and effective, which is what the Magnolia department has been working toward.
Fire Chief Gary Vincent explains.
"Every ten years, fire departments are rated by the Insurance Services Organi-zation (ISO)," he said. "These ratings are used by the insurance companies to help determine the prices that they will charge for homeowner's insurance. The highest rating is a '1' and the lowest is a '10,' which represents the most risk. The fire department is rated for each of its separate service areas. In Magnolia, the individual ratings go all the way from 1 to 10, but the department averages a 3. This is actually a very good score for a department where few homes have fire hydrants nearby. Our department services a broad area that is two-thirds the size of Austin, and growing."
To maintain this high rating with a growing population, the department administration plans ahead and gets competitive bids on everything. They spent more than two years planning for and designing the new tanker trucks, which were made by Farrara Fire Apparatus in Holden, La.
"We designed places for all the equipment to go that would give us fast, easy access, and even designed the red, black and gold color scheme for the trucks," Vincent said. "We think it gives them an identifiable, traditional look."
The new trucks will be strategically placed in stations where they will benefit the ISO rating of the area.
The new tanker trucks are state-of-the art, capable of carrying 3,300 gallons of water (which is considerably more than the existing tankers), four firefighters, EMS equipment, ladders and a thousand feet of five-inch supply hose. The trucks are still being outfitted at the station, but they should be ready to roll in early April and will bring the existing fleet up to 11 fire trucks.
Magnolia firefighter Josh Griffith is one of several firefighters who have been helping to outfit the new trucks.
"It's a luxury for us to be able to get our water, equipment and manpower to the fire all at once in one vehicle – these trucks are a valuable asset," Griffith said.
Along with the new trucks, three new fire stations are being constructed in locations that did not have ready access to an existing station.
"The codes go up all the time. In the past, a home could be located within a five-mile radius of a station and maintain a good rating, but now a home must be within five 'road miles' of a station," Vincent said. "Since most of our roads are winding, that makes a big difference. The later requirement left several areas with low ISO ratings. Our new stations will boost the ratings and provide more comprehensive coverage for the community."
Not all the stations are manned, although all do contain equipment the firefighters can utilize as soon as they get there.
Magnolia began as an all-volunteer fire department. Now, it has approximately 100 part-time paid firefighters who man the larger stations during the day. The department still maintains another hundred volunteers who man stations on nights and weekends, and who will be deployed to fight fire emergencies at other times.
"We are always in need of more firefighters and more volunteers in general. Many of our volunteers don't go near the fires, but they are critical to the operation of our department," said Vincent.
The Magnolia department is funded by Emergency Services District 10. Vincent mentioned that the enhancements were funded with existing revenue.
"We are good stewards of taxpayer dollars," he said. "We look for ways to invest wisely and keep spending down."
As an example, the new tanker trucks were outfitted in the station to avoid the costs of the factory doing the work. Another example - the main Magnolia Fire Station contains furniture that was built in Texas prisons, which kept the price down.
Fire trucks last about 20 years, but it takes two to three years after the money is appropriated to design and obtain the new trucks, then it takes two months or more to train the firefighters to properly use a new one. Training goes on all the time, according to Vincent.
Those wishing to volunteer can find information on the website: www.magnoliafire.org.