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Fire vehicle replacement is $3.5 million referendum question

Shelton Fire Chief Fran Jones and mechanic Joe Kunzik stand beside one of the vehicles due for replacement. — Kate Czaplinski

Of the roughly $11 million in referendum questions on the upcoming ballot, $3.5 million would go toward replacing apparatus at the Shelton Fire Department.

If voters approve bonding the $3.5 million, the department will replace six vehicles with four new emergency vehicles — one to each of the four fire companies. Echo Hose Hook and Ladder will get a rescue truck with pumping capabilities, Pine Rock Park and White Hills will each get an engine that is part ladder truck and pumper, and the Huntington Fire Co. will get a rescue truck.

“The most important factors are dependability, reliability and safety,” fire Chief Fran Jones said of fire apparatus.

The department, which has 267 volunteer members, is seeing an increase in calls, according to Jones, who said they responded to 1,300 calls last year. The Board of Aldermen and Mayor Mark Lauretti support the referendum passing.

The need for replacement was evident two weeks ago, when the 1977 ladder truck’s steering knuckle broke while members were returning from a call.

“That could have been a disaster, but luckily they were able to stop and no one was hurt,” Jones said.

The ladder truck is now out of service and will be replaced if the referendum passes.

The 1977 ladder is the oldest vehicle that would be replaced. The others include a 1986 “pumper” engine and a 1985 and a 1986 rescue vehicle. Two of the newest vehicles getting replaced will remain in the department to serve other needs. The 1991 pumper engine will be reassigned to Huntington Fire Co. and a 1990 engine will be placed into reserve/training status.

Repairs

Fixing emergency vehicles can be expensive, and the department spends about $110,000 a year on repairs, Jones said.

“We’re doing more calls than ever, and the amount of breakdowns and repairs is costly,” Jones said.

For example, Tower 7, a 1997 aerial ladder, is out of service because it needs repairs on its hydraulic system and motor, estimated to cost $30,000 to $40,000.

“Nothing comes cheap with fire and emergency equipment,” Jones said. “It’s like your own car when it needs repairs, but multiply the cost times two.”

A benefit of the new vehicles is it comes with a warranty that could cover possible repairs in the near future, Jones said.

Joe Kunzik is the department’s in-house mechanic and longtime volunteer firefighter.

“We are behind in replacing equipment, and it’s slowly becoming a safety issue,” Kunzik said.

Kunzik handles a lot of repairs, though some have to be contracted out. With a few of the older vehicles, Kunzik has a hard time finding replacement parts.

The department’s newest vehicles are four engines the city approved purchasing in 2004. The oldest vehicles in the department are about 35 years old.

If approved, the new vehicles would also have safety updates, like anti-roll protection, better safety harnesses, and air packs loaded in place and equipment stored in vehicle cabinets instead of outside the vehicle, where it can fall off. Some of the vehicles that would be replaced don’t have enclosed cabs, so volunteers are riding in the open air to calls.

The cost

The new rescue truck with a pumper would cost about $650,000, and the other rescue truck, without pumping capabilities, would cost about $600,000. Rescue trucks hold a lot of equipment used on calls like motor vehicle accidents, including hydraulic rescue tools and ventilation saws.

Each of the two engines, called “quints” because they have characteristics of both a ladder and a pumper truck, costs $900,000.

The rest of the money would cover replacement and mounting of equipment on the vehicles.

“We have a hose in town that dates back to 1975 — we keep it around because it passes inspection every year, but it’s still 40 years old,” Jones said. “We need to replace incidentals like that.”

The $3.5-million question is one of five voters will be asked on the Nov. 6 ballot. Other than choosing candidates for state and federal office, the local referendum includes voting yes or no for $5 million for city road work, $1.4 million for a new city animal shelter, $1 million for Canal Street reconstruction, and revisions of the city charter.

Chief Jones said he hopes city residents will understand the need for their yes vote on the Fire Department question.

“Getting to our calls quickly, safely and returning back safely is a priority,” he said.

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