Adding to the Fleet: Destin Fire District gets new command vehicle

Savannah Vasquez
Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser and Captain Mark Hutchinson demonstrate the importance of a command vehicle on the scene of a fire incident.

The Destin Fire Control District has recently added a new command vehicle to its fleet. The 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe cost the district $35,000 for the vehicle and another $15,000 to be outfitted with technological equipment.

Given the budget shortfall last year and subsequent personnel cuts, the question has been raised as to where the money came from for this purchase.

“We actually used impact fees,” said Fire Chief Kevin Sasser. “It’s not something we decided to do last minute, or bought this month because we got new funds; it has been in the budget the past couple years and because of the economic issues we’ve been going through, we just hadn’t purchased it.”

Sasser explained that impact fees are allocated funds from area builders that have certain restrictions as to what they can be used towards.

“When somebody is going to build a new building such as Lowes, Target or Wal-Mart in our district they have to pay impact fees,” he said. “These are not taxpayer’s dollars, but money collected from the builders. Impact fees cannot be used for personnel costs or everyday facility costs, they can only be used towards new equipment.”

 Sasser further explained that the new equipment must not replace what the district currently has, but only add to their inventory; thus the new addition to their existing vehicle fleet.

“When people ask why we don’t use impact fees to help us get through the year the answer is, we can’t,” said Sasser. “Impact fees can only be used for something new for the station.”

The new command vehicle is set to be the go-to vehicle for the chief with the current command SUV, a 2005 Chevrolet Suburban, to become a back-up.

“Right now we have one command vehicle, it’s ten years old and it is running into some maintenance issues,” said Sasser. “If that command vehicle is in the shop, we are operating in a beach truck.”

The fire chief told The Log that the role of the command vehicle is very important to fire operations as it is often the first response truck on the scene and is used by the chief or acting commander as an on-scene command post.

“It’s actually a working piece of equipment with a command module in the back, radios and computers,” said Sasser. “The vehicle has air-tank trackers and two different radios; one for communicating directly to our dispatch, and one we use to talk to our on-scene tactile team.”

Sasser pointed out the many functions of the vehicle’s computers such as GPS and road maps for locating calls, hydrant identifiers and inter-communicative software that allows the commander to see incoming teams in real time.

“This way the commander is able to give instructions before others are ever on the scene,” Sasser said of the technology. “The computers allow for accountability and tracking of our guys during the whole operation.”

The fire chief displayed the hand-held tracking device used to locate trapped fire-fighters within a building, as well as the physical command board that acts as the chief’s checklist and strategic layout center on the scene of a fire incident.

“Ultimately with this vehicle your firefighters have peace of mind because they know they have somebody on scene looking out for them,” said Sasser. 

The new command vehicle is currently awaiting decals and outfitting before becoming operational.

“I’m hoping that it will be outfitted and ready to go in two weeks,” Sasser said.