GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 10, 2012

City eyes $1M for fire trucks

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — With a fleet of fire engines starting to show, and in some cases, bare its age, Mayor Carolyn Kirk and fire Chief Eric Smith are asking the City Council to back a loan for up to $1 million to buy two fire trucks.

The Fire Department is seeking to buy a new pump engine and a used backup ladder truck with an eye toward filling gaps left by decommissioned Ladder 2, and a 1989 Pierce pumper.

Right now, the department’s down a pumper and has no backup for Ladder 1, Smith said, so adding the new trucks needs to happen soon.

The loan authorization requires City Council approval, and the request heads to the council’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee next Thursday.

“Right now, it’s very difficult for us to do any maintenance on Ladder 1 because there’s no reserve,” said Smith.

Smith said the department’s firefighter mechanics tackle problems with Ladder 1 when they can. But the truck can’t remain out of service for very long, he said – adding that the mechanics can only do piecemeal repairs on the engine because there isn’t a backup.

Smith said he’s looking for a used ladder that will last 8-10 years. That will cost, according to a memo from city CFO Jeff Towne, around $350,000. Ladder 2 went out of service after an inspection showed severe rust problems on the frame.

Without a second ladder, Smith said, the department will have to ask another city to lend a truck if Ladder 1 breaks down. In March, the Lawrence Fire Department lent Gloucester a ladder to cover while Ladder 1 was in Wapole for repairs.

The new pumper would cost around $650,000 according to Towne’s memo. That truck would take about six months to build. Smith said the department is pushing for the new engine and needs the city to order it as soon as possible.

The truck fills a gap left by decommissioned Engine 5, and long-decommissioned Engine 2.

Gloucester had sent Engine 5 to a graveyard of old trucks in the DPW lot on Poplar Street earlier this summer. The city bought that truck from Lynnfield for $1.

Then, however, the department didn’t have Engine 3 available, either. That truck was undergoing a $225,000 refurbishment; it is, however, back in service now.

Engine 3, the new Engine 1 that’s already in use, and the new engine the department is seeking would make up the department’s main pumping trucks, with weathered Engine 4 and Engine 6 as reserves.

Firefighters are welcoming the plan to purchase new apparatus – with a key reservation.

“It’s good to see the city buying new equipment, but if history repeats itself, we (the department) won’t have the funds to repair them,” said Phil Bouchie, who heads the city’s firefighters’ union.

He said the lack of funding in the department’s maintenance budget leads to engines breaking down sooner than they should. Engines 4 and 6 shouldn’t be in as rough shape as they are, he added, noting that the city bought them both for $700,000 seven years ago. This year’s maintenance budget for the fire department was $40,000.

Right now, he said, Magnolia station – which is almost never opened — doesn’t have a fire engine. So even if the department had the manpower to open the station, Bouchie said, it wouldn’t have the equipment.

In that vein, Smith said he has around five vacancies to fill in the department’s personnel roster, some from coming retirements. But four new firefighters are due to start Oct. 22, with the city looking to hire the fifth at a later date.

Smith said he’s going to fight for enough maintenance funding to keep repairs up to the manufacturer’s expectations. He said he’s also putting a new system for logging repairs on the engines into effect in the coming months.

The new chief, who started on the job in July, said he’s also laid out a maintenance and repair plan for every vehicle down to the boat trailers.

The department should get about a decade of useful life out of a pump truck, Smith said, while ladder trucks, he added, should last about 12 years and three more as a reserve.

“Everyone in the country stretched budgets as thin as possible, “ Smith said, “some communities did it to the breaking point.”

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.