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Gas prices burn through firefighters’ fuel budgets

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — The chief of a central Indiana fire department said Tuesday he’s already making changes to keep his trucks rolling in emergencies.

So far this year, the Bargersville Community Fire Department has run more than 1,500 calls, up from about 1,100 in the first six months of 2020. During the same period, fuel costs rose from about $18,000 to nearly $42,000. Fire Chief Eric Funkhouser said the latter figure represents nearly two-thirds of his fuel budget for this year.

“Not since I’ve been doing this, and probably not for a long time that we’ve seen this,” he said when asked if he’s ever seen that kind of cost increase. “We thought we had put a good pad in this year to make sure that we had plenty. Obviously, we came up a little bit short.”

Funkhouser said firefighters typically buy their fuel in bulk and have their own dispensers at one or more stations. This saves some money compared to what drivers pay at the pump, but it doesn’t fully protect them.

Oil has traded above $120 a barrel since June 8 and Funkhouser said he currently pays $4.62 per gallon for diesel before taxes. Bargersville firefighters typically go through about 50 to 100 gallons of fuel every day. Funkhouser said the fire trucks tend to average about 5 to 7 miles per gallon, and his firefighters top them off every time their tanks go below three-quarters of a tank to ensure they have enough fuel for long stays at a scene.

He said the fire department won’t cut back on emergency services, so there’s not much his firefighters can do to reduce service-related fuel consumption. Instead, he’s holding meetings and classroom training sessions virtually to minimize driving back and forth between stations. He’s also asked his firefighters to consolidate supply runs, training, and other functions as much as possible.

Like many fire chiefs, Funkhouser said he is already putting together his 2023 budget requests. He said he’s already working with Johnson County officials to set a larger fuel budget, though the money supply isn’t unlimited.

“The state every year sets a growth quotient that we can grow by. We look at that and we have to take whatever we get,” he said. “Obviously, fuel is going to be the biggest one going into next year.”