When it came time to retire three vehicles from the Beaufort Fire Department's fleet, conventional wisdom told Chief Sammy Negron that the large trucks should be replaced with new pumper trucks.
But he says the $1.4 million price tag to replace all three trucks -- not to mention the city's low incidence of structure fires and high volume of medical calls -- gave him pause.
"The thinking has always been bigger is better," Negron said. "You retire fire trucks and you buy brand new pumpers. Sixty-six percent to 70 percent of all of our calls are medical. Why are we using these large trucks to run medical calls?"
In a move that raised eyebrows, the city reduced its inventory of large fire trucks and purchased one new pumper truck and two smaller all-purpose vehicles that can respond more efficiently to medical calls.
Although the all-purpose vehicles are smaller and cannot hold as much water or pump it as quickly as the large trucks, Negron said the purchase made economic sense and will reduce wear and tear on the city's three pumper trucks and its larger ladder truck.
And instead of paying $1.4 million to replace all three pumpers, he said, the city paid $675,000 for the new Class A pumper truck and the two all-purpose vehicles, all three of which arrived last month.
"We wanted to think outside the box," he said. "It was the right thing to do for our department."
Not every local fire department has sought to downsize its fleet.
When retiring a pumper truck last year, Burton Fire District Chief Harry Rountree said he did not consider purchasing one of the smaller all-purpose vehicles.
"We had those mini-pumpers back in the 1990s and found that they just didn't work for us," Rountree said. "We cover 80 square miles and our jurisdiction is a lot more rural. We're going to areas that don't have waterlines. I don't have a hydrant on every corner, so we have to take a lot more water with us. We need a truck that can carry 1,000 gallons of water."
The Burton Fire District received its new pumper truck late last year.