LINCOLN, Maine — If the Wal-Mart in town, or any other two-story or taller building — say, with a slate or sharply angled roof — were to catch fire, Fire Chief Phil Dawson’s chances of stopping the flames would be limited even before the first firefighter arrived on scene, he said Monday.
The reason: The town lacks a working ladder truck.
“If they had a fire in the middle of the building roof, we can’t reach it with what we have now,” Dawson said. “In those cases, you attack it [the fire] from the top or, if conditions permit, we send people inside, and even then, sometimes our suppression efforts are limited.”
The hydraulic lifts on ladder trucks allow firefighters to get above roofs without setting foot on them to douse flames, or to reach roofs easily to vent and cool hot spots, measures critical to firefighters’ success at stopping fires.
But the department’s sole ladder truck, a 1981 Mac that the town bought in 1993 for $49,500, has been off line since it failed its annual safety inspection early last month, Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said.
“We have no ladder truck,” Dawson said. “Right now, it’s basically a toolbox on wheels. The aerial function does not work.”
Of the 35 defects found in the truck, eight were rated as serious, warranting the vehicle being taken out of service; five were listed as “caution” warnings, warranting use with caution and recommending shutdown; and 12 were listed as needing repairs soon or with the next maintenance cycle, Goodwin said in her Weekly News newsletter.
Fire Engineer Shaughn Millett told Goodwin that to repair the most serious defects and put the truck into service will cost about $10,000. The entire Fire Department budget for equipment maintenance is $5,400, Goodwin said.
That’s why the town will ask voters as part of an Election Day referendum next week to approve appropriating as much as $225,000 to buy a used ladder truck, Goodwin said.
“I anticipate that we can find one for far less money,” she wrote.
A bare-bones new truck would cost about $400,000, and a fully loaded model would cost more than $700,000 — far too expensive for Lincoln, Dawson and Goodwin said.
“Buying used does not give us the flexibility of knowing a specific purchase price when going to referendum for approval. We never know at what point a quality truck will be put out for sale,” Goodwin wrote. “With the approval of this question, we will be in a position to move forward with a purchase when the time is right. Like other used vehicles, the cost of used firetrucks varies depending on the condition of the truck, but is not cheap.”
Dawson does not favor completely repairing the truck, which he said would cost about $35,000. The truck’s age, wear and the heavy rust the vehicle has accumulated make any repairs questionable, not enough to guarantee the truck’s reliability, he said.
“It’s one old thing after another old thing giving way,” he said. “Putting money into new parts for the old truck is just not feasible. The truck is just too old and worn out. It will keep falling apart little by little.”
Firefighters will call for aid from other fire departments when they need a ladder truck, but the other departments’ response takes time, even if a vehicle is available. Merely waiting for another department is not an ideal answer, Dawson said.
“In a rescue situation, we don’t have the option to wait a half an hour, a minimum of a half an hour, for the other town to respond,” Dawson said.
Hopeful of a positive response from voters, firefighters already have begun monitoring the market for a replacement vehicle.
“We will look for a vehicle to replace this one and will try to get the best fit and the most truck for the dollar,” Dawson said. “We want something that will meet what we feel our needs are.”