WATERTOWN — With costs of repairs to its ladder trucks skyrocketing, the city is considering the purchase of a new aerial truck for the fire department.
The City Council will be presented with a proposal to approve a $1.4 million bond ordinance to purchase a new ladder truck.
Fire Chief Matthew Timerman said the city has been discussing getting a new ladder truck for about five years but budget constraints have prevented it from happening. During last spring’s budget deliberations, council members set aside $220,000 to repair the 2004 Pierce ladder truck instead of buying a new one.
The new ladder truck would replace an E-One aerial that has been in operation since 1986. The 2004 Pierce ladder truck would then be used as a backup. The purchase is included in the city’s 2020-21 capital budget.
City Manager Kenneth A. Mix said a $1.4 million bond ordinance was put together for Monday’s meeting because the fire department “has selected what truck they want and which vendor they want.”
With a vacant council seat, council members cannot vote on Monday because the bonding would need “unanimous consent,” or five votes, to proceed, Mr. Mix said. He expects council members to vote on the bond at the April 19 meeting, however.
According to a March 26 memo to council, City Comptroller James E. Mills wrote: “The city has a bond anticipation note coming due in May and is recommending City Council approve this bond ordinance now so that this purchase can be included in the next borrowing, which allows the city to take advantage of low interest rates.”
Chief Timerman said he’s narrowed the purchase down to a vendor for “a brand new truck.” If the bond goes through, he expects it would take between 12 and 18 months to get the truck delivered. The projected life of a new ladder truck would be about 30 years.
Last year, a Pennsylvania company, Ariel Testing, determined that more repairs are needed to the 2004 Pierce truck, and it would cost at least another $500,000 because its chassis must be replaced.
Before he retired, former Fire Chief Dale C. Herman contended the fire department needs two ladder trucks because it cannot rely on getting enough manpower from the town of Watertown to bring in an aerial truck to respond to city fires, and the Fort Drum Fire Department was having its own repair issues with its ladder truck.
Rather than spending possibly as much $800,000 to refurbish the ladder truck, it would make more sense to buy a new one, Mr. Herman said. Additionally, the 1986 E-One truck is 35 years old and lacks such safety equipment common to newer vehicles as air bags, three-point seat belts.
In the end, council members decided to wait on a new ladder truck. They were worried about taking on more debt just as the city was spending $3.1 million for a new pool at Thompson Park.
The development to possibly purchase a new ladder truck comes at a time when the fire department just got back a pump truck from major repairs, spending $204,000 on refurbishing its frame rail and completing some other repairs.
Chief Timerman emphasized that the city needs to make sure its fire department apparatus keeps up its maintenance before the equipment falls into more disrepair and ends up costing more money.