An incident involving a firetruck that put two Methuen firefighters' lives at risk demands a prompt and thorough investigation.

While battling the Christmas morning fire at Shadi's restaurant, a part on the Fire Department's ladder truck failed, dropping two firefighters onto the roof of the burning building.

An outrigger designed to stabilize the truck while the ladder is in use collapsed. Two firefighters were in the bucket attached to the ladder, which was suspended over the burning building. The collapse dropped the bucket onto the roof of the building. The firefighters shouted to the truck operator to get them out of the heat and smoke.

Fire Chief Steven Buote told reporter J.J. Huggins that had the roof not stopped it, the bucket would have continued to fall.

"If it wasn't directly over the roof like that, it could have been a tragedy," he said.

Buote described the collapsed of the outrigger as some kind of steel failure. The outrigger should have lasted for the life of the truck.

"It's not a lack of maintenance. It's not rust," Buote said.

"There's nothing they can point at us for abusing it and causing it to happen. It's absolutely a defect," he added.

While Buote is quick to insist the failed outrigger was not a result of poor maintenance, the records on maintenance of the truck should be examined. If the Fire Department can indeed demonstrate that the truck was maintained properly, that will bolster its claim of a structural defect in the outrigger.

The truck is a 1996 Nova Quintech. Pierce Manufacturing of Wisconsin bought certain assets from Nova Quintech in 1997, and it owns the rights to the ladder truck. The Fire Department has sent photos of the damaged components to Pierce engineers.

The truck had been sent two years ago to Pierce for repairs, which took nearly a year, Buote said.

"Before we got it back, they tested everything," he said.

If there was a flaw in the steel outrigger, Pierce should have detected it.

The failure of the outrigger has left Methuen without a ladder truck and worse, jeopardized the lives of firefighters. A complete investigation into the cause of the failure should determine who was responsible and, more importantly, help minimize the chance of similar failures in the future.

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