ROCKLAND — Rockland Fire Department needs a new pumper truck, and for every 4 - 6 months that the purchase is delayed, the price of a new truck increases significantly. Grant proposals have been distributed and passed over, and with time wearing thin for the 25-year-old necessity, RFD is turning to the people for help.
On the Tuesday, June 13 City ballot, Rockland residents will find a request to dip into unspent bond money and then to contribute additional funds for the sake of a critical vehicle that can’t be substituted by any other in the Rockland fleet, nor borrowed from mutual aid.
In the past three years, as RFD has searched every alternative route to funding, the cost of a new apparatus has increased 23%, and the wait time for a new truck has increased to 30 months.
In the following letter to the City, Rockland Fire Chief Chris Whytock shares the fire department’s reasons for asking for the taxpayers’ assistance:
Supporting Vote for Question 3, Acquisition of a Fire Truck
On Tuesday, June 13, 2023, the voters of Rockland will be faced with Question 3, a Bond Ordinance asking voters to support allocating $415,000 of unspent bond funding and an additional $385,000 to purchase a new fire pumper to replace an existing 25 year old apparatus. It is important to the Fire Department the voters make an informed decision when they vote and to that end, I have prepared some information:
The Insurance Services Office (ISO) sets insurance rates for every community based on their FD’s suppression capabilities. The higher the rating, the higher premiums for residential and commercial properties. To keep Rockland’s current rates our apparatus must be in good working condition and ready to respond. Rockland is protected with three pumpers (fire trucks that pump water) and one tower ladder (no water), this is the minimum number of apparatus we must have to maintain our ISO rating. In addition to meeting the ISO requirements, operating with fewer than three pumpers presents a significant operational challenge that cannot be overcome by utilizing mutual aid.
Our newest pumper is a 2009 rescue pumper, followed by Engine 2, a 1999 pumper, and our oldest: Engine 1, a 1990 pumper. In 2005 the City paid a nationally recognized apparatus consulting firm to conduct a fleet evaluation and make recommendations. That study concluded that while the 1990 pumper was older, the condition of the 1999 pumper warranted its replacement ahead of the older engine which was slated for replacement in 2013. Engine 2 (the 1999) suffers from rust conditions that would require a significant refurbishment to properly address, and has been plagued with electrical issues that at one time caused a small fire inside the dash. We’ve been very fortunate that our staff, along with local service technicians, have been able to maintain the pumpers’ operational status without going the much more expensive refurbishment route. Given the number and type of issues that would have to be addressed, it is not recommended to put any significant amount of money into this now, 24 year old engine.
The reasons include the quality of the build and material of the 1999 was subpar due to budgetary constraints at the time of purchase, and the fact that the older, Engine 1, was never a frontline pumper, thus it responds to less than 25% of the incidents the other two respond to while in frontline service. Additionally, and notably, Engine 1, the 1990 pumper, was built in a simpler time when electronic sensors were not required to facilitate operation.
The new pumper will be placed in frontline “first due” status allowing our current 2009 pumper to see a significant reduction in calls, again reducing wear and tear. This is just beyond the National Fire Protections Association recommendation that pumpers see no more than 10-12 years active frontline service.
Over the last three years while Rockland has tried to receive grants for apparatus replacement, the costs have increased more than 23%. In this same timeframe the “build” time for new fire apparatus has also nearly doubled. This means replacement times are now almost three years from the time or order. The current proposal will allow the City to avoid a 4% pricing increase effective July 1. A failure to secure funding now will result in multiple price increases that appear to be occurring every 4 to 6 months. With a current lead time of 30 months for a replacement fire engine, we are concerned that we are going to suffer an apparatus failure that costs us operationally or financially before a replacement arrives.
Our fleet continues to age, every year we fail to replace one apparatus we push it closer to the next apparatus’s replacement date. Give the quality of materials, and the new technology that is in these apparatus we will likely never see another 1990 Engine that can extend beyond its anticipated 30 year replacement. Continuing to push beyond replacement dates pushes us closer to a time where multiple apparatus will need to be replaced due to their unreliability and exorbitant maintenance costs.
Rockland Fire & EMS takes pride in our transparency in utilizing taxpayers dollars, and we would not be requesting this replacement engine if it was not a vital piece of our delivering safe fire suppression services. It will allow your firefighters to continue to reliably respond within an appropriate time to protect your lives and property. The department has done its due diligence to ensure we are not overspending taxpayer dollars, and will purchase a fire truck that fits the needs of our community. I thank you for your unwavering support of this department and look forward to the future in Rockland.