Firefighters clash with chief

Local firefighters disagreed with a recommendation from Chief Chase Waggoner over the purchase of a new fire engine. Two committees studied offers, and chose two different engines. The chief disagreed with firefighters and opted for a lesser-priced unit.



June 29, 2021 - 10:26 AM

Firefighters discuss purchasing a new fire engine during Monday night's Iola city council meeting.

Local firefighters openly disagreed with their chief at Monday night’s Iola Council meeting, saying they know best what fire engine would suit their needs.

At issue is the purchase of a new fire engine, for which the city and Thrive Allen County has worked to secure half of the funding through a Community Development Block Grant. 

See related story on the Iola City Council’s distribution of tourism funds.

Of the Iola Fire Department’s five-engine fleet, its newest needs replacing. Beset by “phantom problems,” the Pierce E-311 model, purchased in 2010, is no longer reliable, according to previous reports. 

To that end, former Chief Tim Thyer worked with Jessica Thompson of Thrive in writing a proposal to secure a $690,000 matching grant to purchase a new fire engine. The city is responsible for half of the cost.

The city received five bids for a new engine, ranging from $507,039 to $708,348. 

To decide on the offers, two committees were formed, one of city officials and the other of fire department employees.

The fire department committee recommended the city purchase the highest-price vehicle, another Pierce model. The vote among committee members was 3-to-1, with the dissenting vote by Chief Chase Waggoner.

Iola Fire Chief Chase Waggoner Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

In presenting his department’s preference, the chief said the vendor, Conrad Fire of Olathe, has a good reputation and an “excellent working relationship with our department.”

When pressed by council member Mark Peterson to explain the difference between the Pierce model and the Chief’s preference, a less expensive model, Waggoner said Pierce has a reputation of opting for “top of the line” products and materials in whatever it makes.

Even so, Waggoner did not think that justified an extra $100,000, and opted for an engine made by W.S. Darley & Co. of Chippewa Falls, Wis., which sells for $629,858. This lesser-priced unit is equipped with CAFS, a chemical that makes the water sprayed from a firehose more “lathery,” Waggoner said, making firefighting efforts more successful. 

The committee composed of the city administrator, assistant city administrator and the city clerk also recommended the Darley model.

In their report, city officials noted that the Darley model was the lowest qualified bid, allowing for the purchase of additional equipment including a more “robust” fire hose and nozzles. The city committee noted that the difference in prices swung their vote to the less expensive model.

WHAT THREW a kink in making progress on a decision was when three members of the fire department, Eric B’Hymer, Corey Isbell, and Gary Kimball, lobbied for the Pierce Enforcer, saying it was superior in every way. 

When asked if they could somehow bring the price package down to that of the Darley model, Isbell said, “I’m sure we could find a way.”