Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s and new Fire Chief Eric Smith’s proposal to borrow up to $1 million to buy both a new pumper – which can cost up to $650,000 – and a used ladder truck, which should cost significantly less, is one that deserves the City Council’s support.
But, as we’ve noted regarding other issues, it’s equally important that city officials commit to also boosting – perhaps even through this same borrowing request — the budget for maintaining these and the department’s existing vehicles if the city and its taxpayers are to get their money’s worth.
And while they’re at it, councilors would also do well to get a revised handle on the department’s manpower situation and set aside money to cover costs needed to keep open at least the Bay View fire station – remembering that even pumping $2 million or more into badly needed new equipment for the department still won’t tackle the city’s greater safety need. That’s keeping the West Gloucester and Bay View stations open on a regular basis.
Smith noted that some help should be on the way on the personnel front. Smith said he has five vacancies to fill, primarily in the wake of retirements, but that four new firefighters are due to start Oct. 22, with the city looking to hire the fifth at a later date. That will certainly help.
Maintaining the trucks, however, is a different matter. Smith noted that he’s continuing to work on a capital plan for the department’s equipment and maintenance. But Phil Bouchie, the firefighters’ union chief, is right to again point out the folly of budgeting only $40,000 for maintenance covering the full year — and that’s for a department that, in addition to the heavy fire trucks, handles its ambulances and rescue trucks as well.
Look, the city is wise to invest in new firefighting equipment, and, to reiterate, the council should back borrowing of the $1 million sought for that use. But it’s also important that no one think these purchases will solve the city’s immediate public safety needs, from maintenance shortfalls to the still-closed outlying stations that keep far too many residents at risk.
That’s the proposal residents are still waiting to hear.