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On the Front Lines: Spokane Valley Fire Department mechanic ensures crews make it to the scene

Mechanic Wayne Tuttle is in charge of keeping the Spokane Valley Fire Departments fire trucks and engines ready to fight fires during the COVID-19 pandemic and all year long. He is photographed at the fire department garage on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Mechanic Wayne Tuttle is in charge of keeping the Spokane Valley Fire Departments fire trucks and engines ready to fight fires during the COVID-19 pandemic and all year long. He is photographed at the fire department garage on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: Our series On the Front Lines recognizes those in the community who are confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on, while the rest of us do our part by stepping back.

The last thing a firefighter needs is to worry about arriving on scene safely.

That’s where Wayne Tuttle comes in.

As lead mechanic for the Spokane Valley Fire Department, he has spent the past 15 years making sure fire trucks are ready to get the job done.

Tuttle was about to start a job working long hours on the Coeur d’Alene River when he saw the fire department mechanic job in the newspaper.

Tuttle thought, “That’s as much as I’m making now, and I can be home every night.”

So he took the job and never looked back.

“I really feel blessed to get this job, and I’ve been happy here,” Tuttle said.

After about a year on the job, Tuttle became a volunteer firefighter.

“You see the guys training out here and you think, ‘Oh, that looks kind of interesting,’ ” Tuttle said.

Tuttle serves as the captain of a fire station in Rockford and a commissioner for Spokane County Fire District 11.

“I like being able to help the community, and there’s a lot of camaraderie,” Tuttle said. “We’ve got a really tight crew.”

One of Tuttle’s fellow mechanics, Josh Evans, also works as the chief of Spokane County Fire District 12.

“We’ve both been late to work here coming back from a call,” Tuttle said. “It does help to know what they’re going through, because we’re just getting a small snapshot of what they do.”

Tuttle and two other mechanics maintain the 72 pieces of equipment the Spokane Valley Fire Department uses.

“We bring all the front-line trucks in four times a year,” Tuttle said.

Firefighters at the department make note of problems with each truck, and Tuttle reviews them every week.

“If it’s something small, a lot of times guys could run out in the parking lot and fix it while they’re standing there,” Tuttle said. “We can delay the truck an hour without making the move to a different truck.”

Lately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, chatting with firefighters and letting them hang around while mechanics work on the truck isn’t possible.

When trucks come in for maintenance, mechanics disinfect the whole rig before starting work.

The call volume is also down, Tuttle said.

Working on fire trucks isn’t much different from fixing any other large truck, Tuttle said, except for the pumps.

The one thing that is different is the pressure to make sure firefighters have what they need to save lives.

“It makes you a little uneasy because when they leave here they could pull out of the shop and be … going as fast as they go, so they have to be 100 percent,” Tuttle said. “We do try to fix them right so they can leave here and feel confident they’re going to make it to the job.”

Fire department mechanics all maintain master certifications as emergency vehicle technicians.

“These guys out here are very meticulous in how they fix them,” Tuttle said of his mechanics. “We like to keep the firefighters happy, because when they’re happy, everybody’s happy.”

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