Computer trainer big item in fire budget

"Even though firefighters love their gadgets, the year 2000 will not bring as much techno-whiz-bang equipment to Fire District 3 as in past years.The South Whidbey district’s commissioners approved a $728,951 budget Thursday night, down considerably from 1999’s $1.5 million figure. There will be no new fire engines this year, and no new fire stations. Well, one new fire station on Saratoga Road, but the 1999 budget already paid for that.Paying 82 cents per thousand dollars of valuation on their property, district taxpayers will fork out four cents more in 2000 than this year. Most of what that levy will pay for comes in the area of salaries. About $441,000 of the 2000 budget goes into salaries and benefits for full-time staff, and volunteer reimbursements.Salaries for the district chief, assistant chief, captain, and other staff are budgeted to rise 3 percent at the turn of the year. Volunteer reimbursements will be 10 percent higher, since the Langley Fire Department and its volunteers are now part of the district.One of the most prominent equipment purchases in 2000 will be that of a laptop computer and video projector. The district will use the $10,000 package to convert all its training manuals into easy-to-use Power Point video presentations. One of the proponents of this approach to training, volunteer EMT Darrin Reid, said Thursday that the Power Point program will reduce training time and allow volunteers who miss drills to catch up after the fact.Not all the district’s goodies will come in 2000. Due to the annexation of the Langley Fire Department in November, the district has to purchase 11 new sets of breathing apparatus. Chief Don Smith said Langley currently has a different style of breather than the rest of the district, which can lead to confusion at a fire scene if firefighters from another station are forced to use the unfamiliar equipment. The new breathers come at a price of about $26,000 -- an amount Smith said is worth paying if it keeps just one volunteer safe.The district placed its order for the breathers this week.Smith said he doubts that the district will use all the money in the budget. A significant amount will go into the district’s reserves. "

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