Joint boards approve purchase of new ‘jaws of life’

Fire Chief Ken Hanks, standing, makes his request for new "jaws of life" to the Joint Boards Tuesday night.

NAUGATUCK — There was never a question over whether the borough needed to replace its aging hydraulic rescue tools known as the “jaws of life.”

The question at Tuesday night’s special joint meeting of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses and Finance Board was where the funding for the $36,000 upgrade would come from.

Fire Chief Ken Hanks explained the fire department had hoped to use excess funds from the budget that ended June 30, but as other year-end expenses came up, that was no longer possible. His second option was to make a transfer within that previous budget, but ran out of time.

Tuesday, he came to the board to ask it to dip into this fiscal year’s contingency fund to come up with the money to buy the equipment.

With the fiscal year just over a week old, some burgesses were reluctant to pillage the town’s $375,000 contingency fund.

Hanks said firefighters use the cutters five to six times a year to extract victims from car accidents. With one hour to get the victim from the scene of the accident to the operation room, Hanks said the only variable is the time it takes for extraction.

Recently, it took firefighters 20 minutes to extract someone from an accident on Maple Street, when it would’ve taken five minutes with the new equipment, Hanks said.

That extra time makes a big difference, he said.

Newer models of cars have more metal which is tougher to cut through with the fire department’s 25-year old equipment, he said.

“Do we send them out with a butter knife or a steak knife,” Burgess Tamath Rossi asked, saying firefighters need the best equipment to do their jobs.

The joint boards debated taking the money from the fund balance, assuming the approved budget will fail in the referendum scheduled for July 19.

Some burgesses felt the borough couldn’t wait a few more months until the budget passes before purchasing the equipment.

“Our government isn’t stopping completely because of the referendum,” Mayor Robert Mezzo reminded the board, adding the town’s already spending money from the adopted budget for this year.

Borough Controller Wayne McAllister advocated taking the money from the contingency fund rather than the fund balance.

“My concern is we don’t just take the fund balance and make it the first option every year,” McAllister said.

The borough’s credit rating recently went up because it maintained a healthy fund balance, he said. On the other hand, the contingency fund is designed to fund just this sort of unanticipated expense, he said. The borough increased the contingency fund by $25,000 this year.

The joint boards voted unanimously to pay for the equipment from the contingency fund, but Burgess Ron San Angelo said he expected the fire department to cut more in other areas to help make up the cost.

With the funding approved, Hanks said the department should get the equipment within two weeks. The department plans to purchase two Hurst hydraulic power units and two hydraulic cutters as well as hose connections and hydraulic fluid.