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First responders face rising costs on every emergency call

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Posted at 3:26 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 15:30:02-05

LOWELL, Mich. — Costs for first responders are rising.

At one point in the pandemic, Lowell Fire Chief Shannon Witherell was paying $5 for each required N-95 mask.

Two first-responders would wear them for every call. For 1,000 calls, it's an additional $``10,000 expense.

Witherell says they've had to get creative to combat rising costs, relying on grant funding and some good old-fashioned elbow grease to keep things running.

“We do a lot of our own in-house repairs,” Witherell said.

The day jobs of volunteer firefighters, becoming invaluable hands to help fight a problem they can't control: equipment is getting more expensive, and the fiscal budget isn't getting any bigger.

“There's a thirty-year-old skid system, that we’re rebuilding to save money,” Witherell said.

Their nearly 20-year-old fire truck is ready for retirement. Witherell signed off for a new one summer of 2021.

It was supposed to be signed off at the end of 2019. Then the pandemic happened, delaying that purchase. If Witherell had bought the truck in 2019, it would have been $50,000 less than what he paid in July 2021.

If he were to purchase the fire truck in February 2022, it would be $100,000 more than what he paid in July 2021.

“Fortunately we haven’t had any major breakdowns… because we would be waiting for parts on engines. Then we only have two engines that cover 60 square miles and 22,000 people, that’s where it starts to get concerning,” Witherell said.

Costs for training have also gone up. It used to be $10,000 to train a firefighter, start to finish. Now that costs around $15,000. Currently, Lowell is training six firefighters from start to finish. For the same price just a few years ago, they could have paid to train an additional 3 firefighters.

On top of that, general equipment like boots, helmets, and other protective gear has gone up 20%, Witherell says. That equipment is required to be replaced after 10 years of use.

"It's a moving target," Witherell said.