GREENVILLE, Maine — Greenville firefighters have a new pumper-tanker. It starts with a key, has a horn, its lights are operational and its tank doesn’t leak.
The vehicle, which should be on line in about a week, will replace a homemade tanker that was cobbled together from parts of a circa-1950 oil truck and a 1989 milk truck. The old tanker is a hazard in itself. It caught fire twice, loses its lights on big bumps in the road, can easily be tipped over if an unseasoned driver is behind the wheel and the water tank leaks.
The 1998 Freightliner pumper-tanker that was purchased by the town from a private company in Virginia for $145,000 was driven home last week by Greenville Fire Chief John Cobb and Assistant Fire Chief Joey Harris.
“We decided it was time to go ahead and move on making a purchase so that we could get a safer piece of equipment,” Cobb said Saturday. The purchase ended a long process that began about two years ago, he said.
Town and fire officials were unsuccessful in each of the four applications the town filed for a Homeland Security grant for the tanker’s replacement, which included this year’s request. At the annual June town meeting, residents authorized town officials to borrow up to $200,000 for the vehicle, if this year’s grant request was not funded.
The town had yet to borrow the funds when Cobb found the 1998 Freightliner, which both firefighters and town officials felt would meet the town’s needs. Aware of the interest in the vehicle from other fire departments across the country, selectmen placed a $7,000 retainer on the vehicle.
Greenville Town Manager John Simko said town officials had hoped to have a purchase-sales agreement on behalf of the town and then have 30 days to execute the final payment, but the tanker’s owner was unwilling to do that.
Selectmen then decided to fly Cobb and Harris to Virginia to inspect the vehicle. Town officials provided them with a check for $138,000 from the department’s fire apparatus account. In the event the truck was not worthy, Cobb and Harris would have returned home with the $7,000 and the $138,000. Since the tanker passed their approval, the firefighters paid for the vehicle and drove it home.
Now town officials plan to solicit bids for a $145,000 bond to repay the apparatus account.
“‘The reason we acted so expeditiously is in the best interest of the town — we feel as though this truck fits very nicely and we also feel we can save money over buying a brand new truck,” Simko said this week. The opportunity would have been lost if we hadn’t acted rapidly, he said.
Simko figures that between the interest and principal on a loan of $145,000 verses $200,000, the town will save about $70,000.
“The fire department has shown good faith by doing all the legwork and finding the used truck,” Simko said. He also praised Cobb, who he said, had done an immense amount of research.
“I think it’s going to end up being a very good truck for us,” Simko said.
As for the Homeland Security grant process, town officials are pushing for reform in the way the application process is reviewed and has solicited help from the congressional delegation.
“Unfortunately, the way that process is set up, they have an initial review of the application and if you don’t meet all of the initial requirements then your application goes into the garbage,” Cobb said. He said that under the Homeland Security grant criteria, fire apparatus has to be 20 years or older before consideration is given for its replacement through the federal program. “That’s one of the keys that’s gotten us,” he said.
Since part of the old tanker is dated 1989, that date kicked the application into the out bin, both Cobb and Simko believe. If Homeland Security officials had taken time to read the narrative, how it was cobbled together and how it operates, the end result might have been different, they believe.