By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The city plans to buy a new pumper fire truck this summer, but there’s still a long way to go — and a lot more money to spend — to update the aging and neglected fleet, fire officials said.
Fire Chief Richard Borden said Haverhill is many years behind in replacing its fleet of eight pumper trucks due to the city’s past financial problems.
Borden said the city should have replaced one truck in 2008 and another in 2011. The last new pumpers were purchased in 2005, he said.
In response to concerns raised by the firefighter’s union that all the pumper trucks are old and unreliable, Mayor James Fiorentini asked the council Tuesday night for approval to borrow $420,000 for one new truck. The council is expected to approve the request at its first meeting in January.
Borden said two trucks should be replaced as soon as possible.
“We need two new front-line pumpers,” the fire chief said. “I’m glad the mayor is doing one now. It will allow us to take a 1995 off-line, which is something we should do as soon as possible.”
Six of the department’s eight pumper trucks have more than 100,000 miles on them and four were bought by the city in the 1980s. The oldest is a 1984 model with 110,000 miles, and the truck used most is a 1995 model with 159,000 miles, fire official said. As a general rule, pumper trucks should be replaced after 10 to 12 years of service, Borden said.
The fire chief said the newer trucks are used as the department’s front-line engines, and the older ones are kept as backups. However, he said the backups are regularly pressed into front-line action on large incidents and when newer trucks are being worked on.
Several councilors said they want the mayor to start putting aside $100,000 every year in an account to buy new pumper trucks, which cost between $400,000 and $500,000.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he wants to see the second truck identified by Borden inspected by an outside consultant as soon as possible.
“I’d like to get that second truck evaluated as soon as possible and start planning to replace it, maybe next year,” Sullivan said. “We are planning a new waterfront zone that could add hundreds if not thousands of new homes, so we need to start thinking about how we are going to enhance our public safety departments. It’s time to start planning for that in a rationale and sane manner.”
Fiorentini agreed to buy a new truck only after a private consultant reviewed the oldest pumper and concluded it should be replaced.
Public Safety Commission Alan DeNaro, who oversee the police and fire department, said he plans to form a committee of firefighters to make recommendations on specifications for the new pumper truck. The process of designing and ordering a specific truck from the manufacturer can take several months, officials said.
Councilors heard from the chiefs Tuesday after the firefighters union sent emails to them last month stating that all eight of the department’s pumper trucks are “unreliable due to age and every day wear-and-tear.” The union said the department’s mechanic has done his best to keep the pumper trucks running properly.
“Safety is our priority,” the emails said. “We want to keep city leaders notified of any issues that may compromise the safety of the citizens of Haverhill, as well as the members of the Haverhill Fire Department. Not only has our fire apparatus become a safety issue, but it also interferes with everyday efficiency.”
A 2011 report by the Matrix Consulting Group recommended the city develop a capital plan for replacing fire trucks and fire equipment, something that has yet to happen.”
“This issue has been bubbling up and now it’s reached the point where we have to take action,” Councilor William Macek said. “We really can’t put it off much longer. We need an annual line item in the budget for new fire trucks.”
A handful of union officials and other firefighters sat in on Tuesday night’s meeting to hear Borden’s and DeNaro’s report, but they did not address the council.
“We need to be better prepared so we’re not doing it at the eleventh hour like this in the future,” Sullivan said.