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Fire district donates old engine to needy town

Island County Fire District 3 commissioners gave at the office last week.

What they gave was the district's oldest fire engine, a 1968 Van Pelt pumper. The lucky recipient of the pre-owned vehicle is Malden, a community of 215 people in eastern Washington that was in desperate need of a vehicle for fighting fires.

South Whidbey's commissioners were ready to retire the engine from its fleet this year when they decided donate it to a department in need.

"Our goal was to ensure the engine stayed in fire service to benefit another community," said Dennis Webster, chairman of the FD3 commission.

Webster said private individuals on the island were interested in purchasing the vehicle -- which officially became a classic several years ago -- but "the couple thousand dollars we might gain was not as important as helping another department with fire protection."

Advertising the Van Pelt's availability in trade publications brought in seven applications. All had good reasons for needing the engine, but Malden best fit the criteria set by the commissioners and district officers -- by a hose.

"At the end of the process, we wished we had an engine for each request," Webster said.

Selection was based upon need, area of service, population and status of current equipment.

Malden was the choice because the community has a smaller fire protection area, which mean fewer miles driven for the aging engine. Believe it or not, the Van Pelt will be a big boost of modernity for the Malden Fire Department.

Although it is the oldest engine at South Whidbey's Freeland station, it will be the newest addition to the Malden department.

Malden's 15 volunteer firefighters, five of whom are emergency medical technicians, currently respond to fires, car crashes and other emergencies in an uncertified 1958 engine.

"We hold our breath every time it goes out," said Tamara Harwood, secretary for the Malden department and wife of its chief, Dan Harwood.

The department runs the truck without appropriate state certification because if tested it might fail, leaving the department without a fire truck.

"We're scared to death to get the 1958 certified," Harwood said.

Malden is a agricultural community in Whitman County and, according to its mayor, Louis Laws, has a puny tax base. Consequently, the fire department only has a $3,000 budget.

"The only commercial buildings we have are a post office, city hall, one church and a Masonic Hall," he said.

Laws said the department depends heavily on grant money, fund-raisers and donations, like the truck from Whidbey Island.

"Like the Boy Scouts, we will be better prepared with the new engine from South Whidbey," Laws said.

Last year Malden volunteers responded to nine fires -- one of them a structure fire and eight grass and forest fires -- two car fires and 25 emergency medical calls. Volunteers even delivered a baby last year.

Representatives from Malden will travel to Whidbey to pick up their new vehicle next month.

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