PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's replacement ladder truck arrived Friday, being the latest capital investment the city has made in the Fire Department.
The 2014 Pierce Arrow XT chassis with 100-foot aluminum ladder was delivered Friday afternoon. The truck had served as a demonstrator model for Pierce, traveling from trade show to trade show without ever seeing a fire, and was sold the city for $780,000. The ladder is the new Truck 2, replacing a 1993 Spartan Darley aerial truck with a 75-foot ladder.
"It will carry rescue tools, forcible entry tools, ventilation tools and things like that. It will be used on structure fires. It will be called out for auto accidents from time to time depending on the equipment needed. We've got a couple guys starting to plan out where the equipment is going to be laid out on the truck," Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said.
The new truck was registered on Tuesday and staff will now load equipment onto the vehicle to prep it for service. Czerwinski said the plan is to put the new vehicle onto the front line and move Tower 1, a 2009 ladder truck, to reserve.
"We are going to move this truck into our front line and [Tower 1] will be our backup piece. Tower 1 was originally purchased for the bucket capabilities. We felt it was a much safer truck at the time. But then we found, because of that large combination basket on the front which can fit two or three guys, it doesn't get into places as well as we needed to," Czerwinski said. "This truck gives us back some of that versatility to get it snaked into places without compromising the integrity of the ladder."
But he says because of the level of maintenance vehicles need, the two will likely see "equal service." Again Tower 1 is being planned to be out of service for a few weeks to deal with rust on the undercarriage.
At least this time when Tower 1 is in the shop, the city will have a ladder truck available. In late 2016, the former Truck 2 was supposed to be used when Tower 1 was in for maintenance but its stabilizers had failed. The city was left without a ladder truck for about two months, calling for mutual aid from nearby towns.
"We'll have the ability to put a truck into service without having to depend on mutual aid when that truck is out of service," Czerwinski said.
The new truck features a straight ladder, allowing for more versatility, and is much lighter so that the outriggers don't need to go out as far — so it doesn't need as much room to operate on small, narrow streets. Firefighters also have the ability to disengage the attached water gun and extend the ladder without the gun staying underneath.
"If we need to ventilate a building or rescue, you don't want the water gun in the way so that is a convenient feature," Czerwinski said.
Further, the ladder is 25-feet longer than the former Truck 2, and the new one comes with a number of additional safety features.
The condition and features of the truck were what led the Fire Department to ask for additional funding to purchase it. The city had allocated $600,000 to find a used engine but fire officials struggled to find a decent one at that price point.
Then the ladder truck issues surfaced and the Pierce opportunity came up. The City Council approved adding $200,000 to the capital request to make the purchase. The ladder truck wasn't eyed for replacement until fiscal 2019.
"It was just a good opportunity for them to turn over stock and for us to get a good deal on a new truck," Czerwinski said. "Guys have been coming in all weekend — off-duty and on-duty firemen — and they've just been absolutely thrilled with it. It looks like it is going to do a great job for us for the next 15, 20 years."
Now the department will look for an engine in 2019 instead of a ladder truck, flipping the two capital purchases.
"Since we got this, this year, we put off the engine until FY19. We had to make a few adjustments to the plan," Czerwinski said.
Overall, the department is trying to follow a fleet maintenance report issued a few years ago. The chief said keeping up with the trucks is an endless battle.
"We still have trucks needing major service. The one new Seagrave, the 2012 Seagrave, we just had to send that back to the dealer in Connecticut because it was having some problems. Some of that is warrantied, some of it is not, but that is being repaired right now," Czerwinski said. "We've got another problem with one of our engines, they found some problems with the frame so we are having that evaluated right now. It never seems to end with our trucks."
Mayor Linda Tyer says a priority of her administration when it comes to the Fire Department is equipment, rather than staffing. The department did see the hiring of eight additional firefighters earlier this month, but those salaries are paid for through a grant and not from the city's budget.
"In terms of the Fire Department, our priority is making sure we follow the recommendations of the fleet report," Tyer said.
Czerwinski said a new engine was purchased in 2012 and both a new and a used engine last year. Those "supplemented our fleet very well" and this year the ladder truck joins the purchase of two replacement command vehicles.
Two command vehicles were also replaced this fiscal year.
"This year we got the capital funding for the ladder and we got two new command cars — the chief's car was 10 years old and the deputy's car was 11 years old," Czerwinski said.
"We just try to do our best and hold out for as long as we can. The deputy's car and the chief's car were in service for 10 years and they've seen plenty of service. Like a police cruiser, they sit on scenes for hours at a time. The mileage was around 100,000 but the motors had hours and hours of wear on them."
Also this year, the administration purchased two new Jaws of Life units, at a price of about $50,000, continued the department's project in replacing turnout gear, and purchased a new hose washer and dryer.
"Most of the guys by now have gotten new coats and pants. We are still working on boots and that will probably be next year," Czerwinski said.
The chief said the staff's turnout gear was fully replaced with a grant in 2008 and the lifespan of those is 10 years. Headquarters also has a new hose washer and dryer. The dryers can also dry turnout gear. Last year, the department purchased a washer for the gear.
"Those are physically half the size of the ones that were there. The old ones were put in when the station was new. These are much more efficient," Czerwinski said.
"The turnout gear traps all kinds of carcinogens and things in it from the fires. After every major fire now, we come back and the guys are cleaning their gear."
The department is in the second year of three to replace turnout gear, spreading the cost out over time instead of all at once. Czerwinski said he'll be asking for the third year of those project in the upcoming budget.
"We are doing our best to keep our costs contained. Just like at home, you have a budget and you try to set with it. If the finance director says no, we can't afford it, then we won't do it. We are not putting in this year for a lot of expenditures," Czerwinski said.
"We've got the last year of $70,000 for the turnout gear and one other project to repair and replace our diesel exhaust system because it hasn't been working up to snuff. That's almost 10 years old and it needs to be revised."
The mayor says the budgeting for capital purchases this year is a methodical effort to stabilize the department's operation.
"We've made a lot of progress in the first 14 months of my term," Tyer said.
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