‘They weren’t just stealing from us, they stole from the community,’ fire chief says

Whatcom County Fire District 16 will have a more difficult time helping residents in need in the Van Zandt area, after Station 87 was burglarized over the weekend, the fire district announced in a Facebook post Monday night.

According to the post, the Van Zandt fire hall was broken into, and chainsaws and a new generator were missing afterward.

“The biggest thing is they weren’t just stealing from us, they stole from the community,” Chief Hank Maleng told The Bellingham Herald. “This is the community’s fire department, and we’re here to help the people of this community.”

Maleng said he was the one who discovered the burglary when he came to the station on Monday morning, Oct. 14. He hadn’t been to the station since Friday, but noticed that it looked like somebody had pried open the door.

“My first thought was the ambulance, so I went through all that equipment and nothing was missing,” Maleng said. “Then I noticed one of the compartment doors on the truck was slightly open. So I opened that up and saw right away the generator was missing.”

The generator is used to power lights and other equipment out of the field, Maleng said, but the thieves also made off with pair of chain saws — one of which is used to cut through metal and is valued at approximately $1,300. Even a $125 pair of bolt cutters Maleng had purchased only weeks before was taken and even a trash can.

“This is equipment we would have used to help people in this community, potentially even the people who broke in,” Maleng said.

Fortunately, Maleng said, no portable radios or other equipment was stolen.

Maleng estimated the value of what was taken and damage to the door, which must be replaced with an heavy-duty, commercial-grade door, to be approximately $5,000. The equipment is insured, but there is a $500 deductible, Maleng said.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Scott Huso told The Herald that investigators do not have any leads at this time.

“We feel pretty violated right now,” Maleng said. “I’ve had to take care of a lot of things that I wasn’t planning on having to deal with this week — reporting this to the sheriff’s office and the insurance company.”

Maleng said he hopes to have the truck at Station 87 fully stocked by Wednesday, thanks in part to neighboring District 1 lending District 16 a chain saw until it can take delivery of a new one.

“Everybody has stepped up and is helping out,” Maleng said. “We really appreciate our neighbors.”

Fire District 16 covers the area surrounding State Route 9 from the Skagit County border in the south to the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River in the north. The district has fire houses in Van Zandt, Acme and Wickersham.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.