G’town firefighters unveil long-term upgrade plan

GERMANTOWN—The Equipment and Truck Committee of the Germantown Fire Department reported its 10-Year Purchase Plan Recommendation Monday.

All committee members belong to the Fire Department. Committee chairman John Gay, Roy D. Brown and Steve Cox are also members of the Board of Fire Commissioners, which Mr. Brown chairs. Chief Michael Lawson, First Assistant Chief Douglas Pearson and firefighter Nathan Clum served on the committee, as did company member Stefania Maruniak, who had to drop out during the 15 months that the committee met at least once a month, did price research and visited other fire companies.

The Germantown Fire Department—which consists of Germantown Hose Company #1, founded in 1908—has six vehicles, ranging in age from a 1987 pumper to a 2007 pumper. In between are a 1990 rescue truck with a small (300 gallons) water tank, a 1996 pumper (with a 3,100-gallon water tank, one of the largest in Columbia County), a 2001 rescue truck (no water) and the 2003 utility van, which carries, among other equipment, the Jaws of Life.

The department, being on the Hudson River, also has two small boats, for assisting with water rescue.

The mileage on the trucks ranges from 9,100 miles on the 2001 rescue truck to 96,800 miles on the 2003 utility van.

The estimated values, as appraised by Adirondack Fire Apparatus, don’t reflect the initial investment. The 2007 pumper came in highest, at $145,000, and the 2003 utility van lowest, at $12,500.

There are rules about replacing aging equipment, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, founded in 1896) sets standards, with the goal that all fire department personnel, apparatus (trucks) and equipment will meet certain minimum requirements to keep fire and rescue personnel safe.

In general, any truck over 25 years old should be retired from service.

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) worn by each firefighter—helmet, mask, turnout coat, pants, gloves, boots, hood and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA, the firefighter’s air supply) must be replaced every 10 years even if the PPE has been worn only a few times a year or never into a burning building. The NFPA standard is to replace “everything but the ax,” as Mr. Brown said.

In New York State, NFPA is not the law, but the standards have been used in criminal cases to convict fire department personnel of neglect where other firefighters were injured or killed in the line of duty.

A state Comptroller’s Office audit in 2013 found the district was putting aside money for equipment and apparatus purchase but had no plan for using the money. It needed a formal plan, adopted by the Board of Fire Commissioners. The committee, which started work in the summer of 2015, and is now reporting its findings.

In the matter of equipment—the PPE and the SCBA—the committee recommends continuing the current PPE purchasing and replacement plan, and that the Board of Fire Commissioners formally adopt that plan.

The committee recommends that the board lease new breathing units, replacing all current (9-year-old) SCBA and then replacing SCBA every 10 years. The SCBA has a life of 15 years, and leasing it will allow for a four- to five-year payment option and the ability to trade in or sell existing SCBA after 10 years.

The committee recommended the following replacement schedule: in 2016, replace four sets of SCBA at a projected cost of $37,040 and in 2017 replace 35 sets of PPE at a projected cost of $102,550.

The district has this money in reserve, and by continuing to salt away funds, it would be able to replace this equipment as required in future years.

For apparatus, the committee recommends, first, the purchase of a new or used utility truck, either at $40,000 for a brand new vehicle or $38,000 for a 2016 used model.

Second, the committee recommends consolidating the 1987 pumper and the 2001 rescue truck into one vehicle, a four-person crew-cab rescue pumper. All the new trucks, including Germantown’s 2007 vehicle, have four-seat cabs and SCBAs strapped onto the seats, so that firefighters can put them on in transit and be ready at the scene.

Replacing both of the older trucks would cost about $730,000. The one new vehicle retails for about $450,000. The district would sell the two older trucks for about $125,000 for a total savings of just under $405,000. “And,” said Mr. Brown, “if you have fewer trucks, you pay less insurance.”

In the future, instead of replacing the 1996 pumper ($665,000), the committee recommends the purchase of a new truck chassis and repurposing the tanker body with a new ply liner for a cost of $300,000.

Instead of replacing the 1990 rescue truck ($149,000), the committee recommends purchase of a new truck chassis and repurposing the body for a cost of $77,000.

Again, the district has money in the bank toward these purchases: almost $320,000 this year in the apparatus fund. By adding to that every year, a rotating fund would pay for the trucks, or, if necessary, a bond would make up the difference.

The committee may make a second public report, at the Germantown Library, on a date to be determined. Then the Board of Fire Commissioners, if it agrees, needs to approve the plan.

Only then can a new truck be ordered. And that takes two years, a process of design, ordering and manufacture. “If we put our order in tomorrow,” said Chief Lawson, “we wouldn’t have the truck for a year.”

The company answers 120 to 150 calls per year, said the chief. Like all of the county’s volunteer fire departments, Germantown’s job of rescue is broader than fighting fires. During recent thunderstorms the company received 16 calls, said Mr. Lawson, many having to do with downed tree limbs—across roads or on roofs. More efficient vehicles will aid in all kinds of emergency situations.

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