Middlebury Fire Department wants to buy a new ladder truck

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury fire officials will receive proposals this week from three companies in the running to build the department’s new ladder truck — the most costly, sophisticated and arguably most important piece of apparatus in the town’s fleet.
Officials will carefully review the companies’ proposals and order the ladder truck from a finalist sometime in October, according to Middlebury Fire Chief Dave Shaw. That would put Middlebury firefighters in a position to receive the new apparatus — which will cost in excess of $800,000 — in October of 2017, according to Shaw.
In the meantime, Middlebury firefighters will work through a mechanical problem with the department’s current, 23-year-old ladder truck in order to deal with any fires that could arise at the more than 75 high-rise buildings in town (a high-rise is defined as one that either has more than two stories or has a large square-footage, such as the building that houses TJ Maxx). And the local force will also be able to rely on mutual aid from the Vergennes Fire Department, which has its own ladder truck.
“We are pleased about where we are in the process and look forward to receiving our replacement (ladder truck),” Shaw said on Monday.
It was last May that the swivel mount on top of the department’s 1993 Pierce Arrow ladder truck froze, thus preventing the ladder from rotating. That swivel is also patched into the truck’s water system and is therefore key in directing water to the top of the ladder for spraying onto a blaze. The ladder truck is used to fight fires at structures with several stories and that have a substantial amount of square footage, according to Middlebury Firefighter Jeff Carpenter, who served on the department’s Aerial Replacement Committee. The Battell Block, Courtyard by Marriott and Middlebury College’s McCardell Bicentennial Hall are examples of local structures that would require service from a ladder truck.
Middlebury has operated an aerial fire truck continuously since 1948. The current, 105-foot Pierce Arrow is the fifth aerial the department has owned and operated during its history.
Shaw and his force initially considered repairing the swivel mount on the Pierce Arrow. That repair job was estimated at $35,000. Considering the truck is only valued at $75,000, department leaders reasoned it didn’t make financial sense to repair it. Shaw said the department will forego the fix, and temporarily return to some old-school methods of battling fires from lofty heights. This will call for a firefighter to climb to the tip of the ladder and place an aerial nozzle on the end the ladder. A hose would be connected up the ladder, which would then be raised to the appropriate height for fighting the fire. The hose, at its base, is then connected to a water source.
The Aerial Replacement Committee also looked at refurbishing the truck, and received two estimates — one for $430,000, the other for $497,000. Neither of those estimates included the $35,000 to repair the swivel mount.
Refurbishment would have extended the life of the ladder truck another five to 10 years, Shaw said.
“We don’t think it makes sense to spend more than half the cost of a new truck and get less than half the life,” the committee stated in its report.
So the panel recommended buying a brand new ladder truck, a concept endorsed first by the town’s Public Safety & Health Committee, then by the selectboard. Seven vendors made presentations to the department on a replacement. Six of those vendors followed up with proposals. Three companies are still in the running: Pierce Fire Apparatus Co of Appleton, Wis.; Smeal Fire Apparatus Co. of Snyder, Neb.; and, HME (Hotel Mike Echo) Fire Apparatus of Wyoming, Mich.
Committee members attended fire apparatus conventions and checked out aerial trucks in operation in other communities in Vermont and out of state, according to Carpenter.
“We’ve done a lot of work,” Carpenter said of the travel and research.
There is currently $1.1 million in Middlebury’s Fire Equipment Replacement fund that was created in 1995, which will be tapped for the purchase. Middlebury assesses 2 cents on the municipal property tax rate to generate money for new fire department vehicles, as opposed to bonding for such expenses. Older vehicles are sold as-is or for parts in order to help defray the costs of their replacements.
While the ladder truck will have a lofty price tag, its purchase — in addition to being an important public safety feature — will contain costs for local residents, according to Middlebury fire officials. Property owners’ residential and commercial insurance premiums would rise if the town did not have such a vehicle, according to Shaw. He added new business is attracted to areas with lower insurance premiums and better fire protection.
Carpenter noted an aerial apparatus also allows firefighters to put out a fire more efficiently, thus allowing members of the force to return to their regular jobs more quickly.
Laura Asermily is chairwoman of the Public Safety & Health Committee. She praised the fire department for making a persuasive presentation.
“It was very compelling, and they convinced us,” Asermily said.
Carpenter said he and his colleagues are grateful for the support.
“As much as the town appreciates us as firefighters, we appreciate the town for providing us with safe, up-to-date equipment,” he said. “It makes a big difference in morale.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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