‘Older than me’: Wisconsin rural fire department updates aging engine equipment

Safe Community grant allows City of Ashland FD to modernize essential life-saving tools

Chris Bulovsky has worked for the City of Ashland Fire Department in Ashland, Wisconsin for more than 25 years. And in that quarter-century, one thing has never changed—the constant need to upgrade or replace equipment.

“As time goes by, things become outdated and newer products are developed,” says Bulovsky, who started as a firefighter EMT with Ashland in 1993, and is now the department’s training officer.

“Currently, there are tools and fittings on our engines that predate anyone in our fire department.”

The fire department will be replacing important tools to its engine—built in 1978—this summer, including brass hose fittings, wire cutters, screwdrivers, socket sets, and brackets to mount tools onto the trucks.

Bulovsky said he’d also like to purchase a thermal imager for the department, funds permitting.

“There is some equipment that can stand the test of time, but advances in technology give us access to better tools that we’d like to update,” says Bulovsky.

This is not your typical phone upgrade. This is technology that saves lives.

The Ashland Fire Department serves a population of about 9,000 as well as townships that are adjacent to the city. Bulovsky estimates that the department’s geographic coverage is a wide-ranging 212 square miles for fire response.

“We actually respond to more EMS calls than anything,” says Bulovsky. “Fire response is typically secondary, which is standard across the country.”

If that didn’t keep them busy enough, fire departments also respond to rescue and hazmat calls—which Bulovsky says occur infrequently.

Enbridge’s Safe Community program offers grants to first response organizations near our operations for tools, training and equipment that improve safety and save lives.

Enbridge’s recent Safe Community grant of $4,500 will allow the City of Ashland’s Fire Department to upgrade engine equipment and purchase toolboxes. Since its launch, our Safe Community program has invested nearly US$9.6 million in North American emergency responder organizations.

The next item on Ashland FD’s wish list is a shiny new fire engine. According to the National Fire Protection Association, engines are recommended to be replaced every 10 years.

However, due to the nature of rural fire departments, Bulovsky says limited budgets prevent fire halls from purchasing items other than absolute essentials: “Sometimes we feel like we can afford to purchase the vehicle, but not to outfit it.”

In the next few years, Bulovsky says he hopes the fire department and general public are able to remain educated on available innovations and existing hazards, saying public buy-in is “crucial.”

But in the meantime, he’s happy to continue finding ways to keep people safe.

“This grant was finally an opportunity to outfit a secondary engine and make it useful,” he says. “We’re very appreciative and I’m sure the people we serve are, too.”