Pelham City Council adjusts plan to purchase new firetrucks for Pelham Fire Department

Published 5:11 pm Monday, June 24, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – The Pelham City Council heard a presentation related to the Pelham Fire Department’s current plans to purchase new firetrucks during its work session on Monday, June 17.

During the session, Pelham City Manager Gretchen DiFante and Pelham Fire Chief Mike Reid presented their findings and request related to the adjustment of a currently planned purchase of a new firetruck made several years ago. That original plan would have called for the procurement of another quint, or quintuple combination pumper.

“We put together a vehicle replacement plan a few years ago, we also started a fund for that vehicle replacement,” DiFante said. “It was planned that we would purchase a new quint for the fire department in 2028. When we began to look at this—as it got closer to purchasing the quint—we started looking at whether or not we really wanted to purchase another quint (and if it best suited our needs in Pelham).”

The quint unit, which receives its common name in reference to the five functions that the vehicle provides, can serve in a dual role as both a pumper and ladder truck and includes the operational capabilities of a pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladder.

While immensely useful to any department, the vehicle’s large utility armament comes at the expense of being much heavier than other models. This increased weight puts a far greater load on the fire engine itself and ultimately results in a shorter lifespan than other engines.

“The lifetime of a first-time out quint is 10 years, which is the age of our (current) quint that is now having transmission problems,” DiFante said. “(In comparison), the life of a ladder truck is 20 years and the life of a pumper is 15 years.”

This lower life expectancy is further multiplied by the very nature of the fact that Pelham’s quint fulfills both roles of a ladder and pumper truck. Whereas two individual trucks may not be required to respond to every situation, the quint’s positioning requires it to respond to every call, further driving up its usage and mileage and ultimately resulting in a decreased lifespan.

“We had a recent transmission hiccup that came out of nowhere and we are starting to see some wear and tear on that apparatus because it runs out of station 1 and handles about 1,500 calls annually,” Reid said. “We look at the hours—not necessarily the mileage—and it is almost double our next oldest engine, which is Engine 93 that is seven years old. We’re seeing a lot of wear and tear and I am concerned about the longevity for even the next 40 months just getting it into that reserve status.”

To resolve this issue, DiFante and other city organizers researched the potential impact of adjusting the plan to instead purchase one ladder truck and one pump truck instead of the single new quint.

“We looked at (projections), over a 40-year period, of if we bought a quint versus both a ladder and a pumper truck,” DiFante said. “We came up with savings of $269,038 if we go with the ladder truck and pumper truck versus purchasing another quint.”

In another matter for the Council to take into consideration, DiFante also cited that Pelham is currently in the process of redoing its zoning code—where increasing the number of floors allowed in new structures is among the primary items under consideration.

“We know that (Pelham has) got to go more vertical,” DiFante said. “We’ve got to be thinking more vertically in Pelham because we are just out of land. In order to do that, we need bigger ladders (on our city’s firetrucks).”

The ladders that are now being recommended to accommodate those potential zoning changes are 107 feet, a ladder height that the quint cannot support.

To that point, Reid highlighted the tangible difference that a new ladder truck will make in the department’s ability to field rescues during potential fires.

“Our 75-foot ladder can safely rescue people from potentially up to a four-story structure while the 107-foot ladder can potentially save people in up to a six-story structure,” Reid said. “That is a huge difference—in the 75 versus 107—in what we can do for those potential rescues.”

The fund previously set up to purchase a new quint now contains $900,000, but $2.8 million will be required to purchase the two new recommended trucks. Ordering those trucks will also include a 40-month lead time on all orders.

“This is why in 2024 we are coming to you and talking about something that we need in 2028,” DiFante said.

DiFante also described that city organizers had weighed whether or not to finance the funds themselves or to pay upfront for the trucks and receive the discounts that Pierce Manufacturing gives for advance payment.

“When we looked at financing (ourselves) or paying for everything up front and getting the discounts that (Pierce Manufacturing) gives for paying cash up front, we decided that we would pay on delivery,” DiFante said. “We don’t get the discounts, but it (still) benefits us to the tune of about $175,000 to invest the money ourselves, better than giving it to Pierce.”

After explaining the situation, DiFante asked the Council to approve the contract and the purchase of the two vehicles at the night’s city council meeting, an action that the Council performed unanimously.

The city will still have to wait 40 months until it will receive these new trucks.

To reduce the current strain placed on the quint, Reid described that it is the plan to shift it to Station 2 on the northern end of Pelham and redirect other units around the change. That adjustment is expected to drop the call volume handled by the quint by roughly 500 calls a year.

According to Reid, it is the department’s hope that the quint will enter reserve status upon the receipt of the two new trucks, where it can be made to last another five to 10 years as a reserve unit.

Pelham Mayor Gary Waters, who previously served as Pelham’s fire chief for more than two decades, also spoke in favor of the decision to purchase the two new trucks over a new quint.

“I praise the forward thinking,” Waters said. “I can remember a time where there was no planning beyond one year’s budget, so this speaks volumes to me. I am always going to be concerned with the elevations that we currently can’t reach given the lack of 107-foot aerials, so I support it.”