NAUGATUCK — After years of putting off replacing fire department vehicles, the costs are starting to add up.
The department is spending more money to repair old vehicles than those vehicles are worth, according to Fire Chief Ken Hanks.
Hanks requested a transfer of $15,000 from the contingency fund to repair two of the department’s emergency vehicles at the Board of Mayor and Burgesses meeting Tuesday. Hanks had asked to replace the vehicles in this year’s budget, but the request was denied.
“We are way behind the curve on replacing apparatus,” Hanks said.
Fire Engine 3, which operates out of the East Side Fire Station on May Street, has been out of service for the last two weeks due to corrosion on the frame and other metal parts. The town purchased the pumper in 1996 and it has logged 73,800 miles and over 6,700 hours in service.
“We’re afraid the frame is going to snap as we’re going down the road,” Hanks said.
The vehicle weighs 45,000 pounds.
Hanks said it will cost about $10,000 to $25,000 to repair the frame, but he would like to see the vehicle completely refurbished next year, which would cost more in the range of $200,000.
It would take about three months to refurbish the engine at the manufacturer in Wisconsin, where mechanics would take the body off the truck and replace everything from electronics, to the motor, to lights, according to Hanks.
Such extensive work would buy the engine about eight more years of life, Hanks said.
He said he would also like to refurbish Engine 5, which was purchased at the same time as Engine 3, two years from now.
In addition, Hanks said he would ideally like to purchase a new engine in the next budget and keep Engines 3 and 5 as spares. Fire engines cost about $560,000 and last about 15 years, Hanks said. The new engine would take about a year to make.
“It’s not like buying a car … it’s designed for what our needs are,” Hanks said.
The department currently has four engines, one ladder truck, and one rescue truck.
Aside from maintenance needed for the fire engines, Hanks is also looking to replace the engine in a 1999 Ford Expedition used by the second assistant chief. The vehicle has 130,000 miles on it and goes through two quarts of oil per week, Hanks said.
Hanks estimated it will cost $4,500 to $5,000 to replace the engine.
“Paul (Russell) was driving it last week with a white smoke cloud coming out of it,” Hanks said.
He said the car can’t be driven on the highway because it sparks and leaks oil.
Since July 1, the department has spent $2,755 on repairs on the SUV, not including routine maintenance. Hanks said the vehicle is valued at $4,200.
Although it doesn’t need immediate repairs, Hanks said the deputy chief’s 1999 Crown Victoria is also on its last legs.
Hanks said those two vehicles should be replaced as soon as possible.
The department currently maintains two SUVs, one pickup truck, two cars, and a minivan.
Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, who is the burgess liaison to the Fire Commission, said its time for the borough to enact a vehicle replacement program. Two engines were out of service Thanksgiving weekend, at a time when the risk of fire was great, Rossi said.
She said the situation was “pretty scary for a community our size.” Rossi said the borough board should discuss the possibility of bonding the project and staggering vehicle replacement so cars don’t fail at the same time.
Hanks agreed, saying emergency vehicles have to be 100 percent reliable.
“There’s been a serious lack of long-term planning,” Hanks said.
Hanks suggested rotating vehicles to replace fire trucks every 15 years, and other cars every four to seven years.
The board referred the transfer request to the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses, which will meet Dec. 14.