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Firefighters give a fond farewell to a fire engine, The Darly

The Darly is leaving South Whidbey for Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands after 23 years of service.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
The Darly is leaving South Whidbey for Shaw Island in the San Juan Islands after 23 years of service.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

FREELAND — It’ll be a bittersweet farewell to The Darly.

The Darly, or Number 32, is a 24-year-old reserve fire engine owned by Island County Fire District 3. Old No. 32 isn’t heading for the scrapyard or a museum, though; it’s bound for front-line first pumper action with San Juan County Fire District 5 on Shaw Island.

Shaw Island, with a population of 240, has four fire stations and its newest engine was built in 1973. That makes The Darly the darling of the fire district on Shaw Island.

“That’s the benefit of sharing these things in the fire service,” said Fire District 3 Chief Rusty Palmer.

The engine had a long history with South Whidbey fire stations. Purchased in 1987 as a brand-new engine, The Darly was stationed in Clinton until it was designated a reserve engine in April 2010. Down at Fire Station 32, the engine’s numeric namesake, Palmer said the firefighters became attached to the engine and will miss it.

“They have mixed emotions about it,” Palmer said.

One former firefighter and current commissioner has a storied past with The Darly. Kenon Simmons was at Station 32 when The Darly came in.

“It’s just a piece of equipment,” Simmons said. “But it’s funny, there is a lot of attachment.”

“There’s part of me that wants to keep it in the district, but we feel that there are some agencies that could use it,” he added.

Replaced by two $374,436 Rosenbauer fire engines last year, No. 32 had its number retired. One of the new engines is stationed in Clinton, the other is in Bayview. A second 24-year-old fire engine, The Marion, was kept as a reserve at Bayview.

Those new engines cost more because of greater technology in the engines, as well as new standards on emissions and safety. Palmer said fire engines were discovered to have too high a center of gravity, which could result in rollovers. As a result, a complete redesign was done to make the new fire engines sturdier, with a lower center of gravity, which led to higher costs all around.

“Our new engines are computers,” Palmer said.

South Whidbey got plenty out of the 24-year-old engine, though, considering it cost $129,532 when it was purchased. The Darly, the name of the manufacturer on the front of the engine, still has plenty of use left, too.

“By the time we surplus an apparatus, we’ve put a lot of miles and wear and tear on them,” Palmer said, adding the struggle becomes its benefit versus its repair and maintenance costs.

Brush fires, roadside crashes — the old engine has seen a lot of action over the years. But the number of calls and emergencies No. 32 responded to is anyone’s guess.

“I wouldn’t even fathom a guess,” Palmer said.

Simmons spent more time with the engine than almost anyone on South Whidbey and couldn’t count his hours on the rig, either. He worked on it with his father, Carl Simmons, who died in April, and has many memories with the engine and his dad.

“I have a lot of fond memories with my dad running the pump and me being at the hose,” Simmons said.

“I don’t know what it is, but firefighters have a strange relationship with their engines,” he said. “There are often times that you are basically trusting your life to that truck.”

Commissioners decided to keep it as an engine, rather than selling it for scrap metal. Simmons and his fellow commissioners awarded the surplus engine to Shaw Island because it served a similar region as an island district.

“I kind of felt akin to them, being that they’re an isolated island agency,” Simmons said.

The Darly was only one of a handful of items sold as surplus when Fire District 3 officials met July 14 for its half-yearly business meeting.

Surplus equipment — including two aid cars or medical emergency response vehicles (MERV) — went on the auction block. Though the top bidder backed out, a previous bidder for one of the MERVs was contacted and agreed to purchase the district’s surplus vehicle. Palmer said both MERV purchasers were private owners, and will no longer be used in official emergency service.

The three vehicles sold for about $4,000 total.

Also, old air packs were sold off as surplus.

“We’ve collected stuff and had it laying around a long time,” Palmer said.

The engine was still in Freeland July 22, and San Juan County fire district officials had yet to officially learn they won the engine. Paperwork still needed to be completed between the two fire districts.

“We have to work out the details of the agreement,” Palmer said.

One of the more major projects approved and detailed at the half-year budget meeting was replacing the Cultus Bay tower. Palmer said the current tower station — which houses radio equipment, a tower and provides satellite service for the district’s notification system — is infested with rats.

The tower is the primary radio center on South Whidbey and relays information to the sheriff’s deputies, emergency responders and hospitals. Replacing the tower was on the district’s capital list last year and was funded in January. The district is buying it from a company in Spokane and waiting for a nest of ospreys to leave sometime in October before installing the new tower and radio house.

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