Leasing program helps county update its fleet
To help maintain the most technologically advanced fleet possible, the Clackamas County (Ore.) Fire Department has chosen to lease rather than buy four fire engines and a 75-foot ladder truck. The lease allows the department to acquire new equipment with the option to upgrade in the near future.
When the department needed to replace aging equipment, Chief Randy Bruegman considered both the cost of acquisition and the constant changes in technology. “We don’t know if what we buy today, in 10 years, will be what we need to deliver services,” he says.
The 120-member department needed to consider financial outlays carefully because an Oregon tax restructuring, effective in 1997, had reduced its overall budget by 15 percent. It retired 18 employees to meet the budget, then merged with another district, causing further restructuring and equipment compatibility problems.
Rather than begin long-term payments on equipment that might become outdated quickly and have a low resale value, Bruegman’s department chose to lease the needed vehicles from American La France, Bluefield, Va., through its Vantage Fleet Management Program. Between the fifth and eighth year of the lease, the department can return the vehicles for residuals, apply those funds toward a newer vehicle or buy the engine. In the ninth year, the department either can return or purchase the vehicle.
While the lease costs the department approximately 7 percent more than purchasing the same equipment, leasing is a better investment because the department does not have to commit to operating the same vehicles for many years, according to Bruegman. The lease becomes an annualized cost for the department.
The leased fire engines, delivered in early 1999, were placed at separate stations in the county. Each truck has the same organization of engine and equipment, which makes operations easier for firefighters in the field. That fact has perpetuated a department-wide move toward standardization of equipment, according to Bruegman.
Bruegman would like to eventually put the entire front line engines of his fleet on a rotating replacement schedule through the lease program. Currently, the department has 30 heavy rigs, including engines and trucks, and 25 to 30 smaller vehicles. Fiscal analysis early this year will help determine whether the department will move toward full leasing of front line vehicles.