GIG HARBOR, Wash. -- Deteriorating and uninspected bridges are prompting concern and changes for Gig Harbor firefighters responding to emergencies.

A portion of up to 40 bridges in the area are so old, they may not be strong enough to support the weight of a fire engine.

It forces our incident commander to make some decision whether they can or cannot go across the bridge, said Eric Watson, Gig Harbor Assistant Chief.

If a bridge is too weak to support a full engine, firefighters must call for a smaller Medic Unit to respond to the emergency. The extra step is causing longer response times.

To address the issue, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One sent letters to homeowners with private bridges, asking them to have a professional inspect them.

It doesn t take much, it wouldn t take much too all of a sudden send this place up, said Vincent Crow, a homeowner.

Crow, who lives in a wood-constructed home a quarter mile away from the arterial road, received one of the letters. His private bridge isn t strong enough to allow a full engine to cross it. He s contemplating putting in a new one that will support the weight, a cost of up to $50,000.

Certainly they re looking out for their safety to make sure they don t go over a bridge that is in poor condition where a truck falls into whatever; in my case a creek then nobody gets help, he said.

Among the troubled bridges, firefighters say the Raft Island Bridge was one of the worst.

The nearly 60-year-old bridge deemed deficient two years ago was also too weak for a regular fire engine, which worried residents on the private island about what would happen during an emergency.

It s never happened but the threat that it might happen was big enough for us, said Mike Neil, a resident.

Concern drove the nearly 200 Raft Island residents to build a new $6.5 million bridge, which will be done by July. Since it s a private island, the residents will split the bill for it.

Thanks to the public outreach effort, firefighters have information on all but 11 of the trouble bridges uploaded into their computer, which they say will improve emergency response.

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