Voters choose to wait on grant for fire truck

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Beacon Falls resident John Sikora casts his vote during a town meeting Monday night at Woodland Regional High School. –LUKE MARSHALL
Beacon Falls resident John Sikora casts his vote during a town meeting Monday night at Woodland Regional High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Voters decided Monday night to stick with the town’s original plan to buy a new fire truck.

By a vote of 92-52, residents voted at a town meeting against altering a bond resolution for the fire truck in favor of seeking a grant before purchasing the truck.

Early this month, voters authorized the town to bond up to $700,000 to buy a new 75-foot quintuple combination pumper fire truck, which is also a ladder truck. The bond resolution stipulated the town would not purchase the fire truck until after it applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could cover up to 90 percent of the cost. It could take until July for the town to hear if it had received the grant.

Following a Sept. 8 fire that destroyed a home at 144 Blackberry Hill Road and injured three people, the Board of Selectmen sought to purchase the truck sooner without seeking the grant. Authorization from voters was needed to alter the bond resolution.

“Prior to that event there was a lot of talk about a fire truck, and a ladder truck specifically. I, for one, thought the ladder truck was specifically for high rise buildings and I didn’t really fully understand what a ladder truck was for,” First Selectman Gerard Smith said Monday night.

Smith pointed out the ladder truck would have been useful during the Sept. 8 fire since a hole needed to be cut in the roof to help vent the fire.

Selectman David D’Amico said he had been in favor of purchasing the truck outright since the beginning and not having to wait on a grant the town might not receive.

“Do I like spending money? Absolutely not. Especially the town’s money. But we have volunteers that get up in the middle of the night and take care of the people that live in the town of Beacon Falls. My feeling is those volunteers should have the best equipment to make sure they get home safe to their families while they’re taking care of somebody else’s,” D’Amico said.

While no one questioned the need for a new ladder truck, not everyone felt the truck is needed immediately.

“I very firmly believe this is a knee-jerk reaction, if you will, having witnessed a fire and two firefighters got injured during the course,” resident Gary Komarowsky said. “I think we’ve been waiting on this for 10 years, we can wait on it for a few more months.”

Resident John Gullesh said the town has other financial responsibilities coming up in the future, such as upgrades to Laurel Ledge Elementary School and upgrades to the Sewage Treatment Plant, and can’t afford to turn its back on any possible grant.

Gullesh felt the push to purchase the fire truck was reactionary and not thought through.

“You’re telling me that you can not run the town as you’ve been running it for the last 10 years for a couple more months to get the grant,” Gullesh said. “Now we’re going to throw away $600,000 because you can’t wait a few more months to apply for it.”

Gullesh asked why the town couldn’t shop for trucks and get the necessary quotes while they were waiting to hear back from the grant.

Fire Chief Michael Pratt explained one of the stipulations of the grant is that the town can not move forward until after it hears from FEMA.

“This vehicle could be six months to a year to hear yes or no on the grant and then, once you get to that point, it will be almost a full year before you even see the vehicle. So, we’re looking at the end of 2015 to see a vehicle,” Pratt said.

Former Fire Chief David Rybinski said the cost of fire trucks increase every year. If the town waits for the grant and does not get it, the price of the truck could be $70,000 more than it is right now.

Rybinski said the town had been denied for a FEMA grant in 2012, so he was not hopeful about receiving the grant this year.

Board of Finance Chairman Jim Huk said one of the main reasons the town was denied the FEMA grant last year was the current fire truck was not 25 years old, which is considered the end of a fire truck’s life from a safety standpoint. This year the truck will have been in service for 25 years.

Huk argued the decision came down to whether residents would rather spend their own money or wait to see if they could spend the government’s money on the truck.

“This is your money, folks. It’s not their money, it’s not our money, it’s not the Board of Finance’s money. It’s your money. So I have a simple question: Would you rather go into your pocket and pay the principal and interest on $700,000 over 15 to 20 years or would you rather Uncle Sam pick up the tab? That’s not a hypothetical, that’s exactly what we’re talking about here,” Huk said.

Huk read an email from a FEMA Representative David Parr which said the town would have a chance if it applied for the grant.

“Is it 10 percent, is it 20 percent, is it 50 percent that we have a chance to get it? I don’t know. But the reality is that we have a chance and the reality is we have a $16 million sewer treatment plant project coming up and the Board of Education is going to be handing you a bill for changes to the school. We don’t have the money. If I thought we had the money, if I thought we had the wiggle room, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you today. It’s simple numbers,” Huk said

After the vote, Smith said the next step is to begin applying for the FEMA grant. The grant hasn’t been opened to applications yet, but workshops for the grant have started, he said.