PITTSFIELD, Maine — When Pittsfield Fire Department’s Engine 1 was new, it was considered cutting-edge technology, recalls Fire Chief Bernard Williams.
But that was 31 years ago.
Williams, whose involvement with the department predates Engine 1’s purchase by at least five years, said the truck is so outmoded that it recently took more than a month to receive parts for a simple repair to the exhaust system.
“Normally, you plan on a firetruck lasting for about 20 or 25 years,” he said. “This has been a good truck. The pump in it is still good, but the chassis is wearing out.”
At a meeting of the Town Council on Tuesday, councilors gave preliminary approval to the purchase of a new truck at a cost of up to $500,000. Final consideration of the expenditure is expected in the future, according to Town Manager Kathryn Ruth, who said the truck may actually cost far less than the amount discussed Tuesday. She said the intention of starting discussions now was to have the purchase preapproved in case a suitable truck is found for a favorable price.
“If the fire chief does find a demo model that has low mileage at a reasonable cost and there are no problems with it, a lot of fire departments would be after it,” said Ruth. “This way we have the ordinance in place so if they find something we can purchase it quickly. They might find something right off, and it might be months.”
Williams said he favors buying a truck that has the capability of fighting fires from the air, such as a ladder truck or one that has a basket and water nozzle mounted on a boom. He said the closest firetrucks with that capability are in Dexter, Skowhegan and Waterville — any of which would probably take up to 45 minutes to ar-rive at a fire in Pittsfield.
“In a fire, that’s forever,” said Williams.
In addition to bolstering firefighting capabilities in Pittsfield, Williams said the truck would benefit surrounding towns through mutual aid agreements. But he stressed that the new truck would roll only for major structure fires, particularly those at large buildings.
“It won’t be going out on every call,” he said. “That just wouldn’t make sense financially.”
The Pittsfield Fire Department already has three tanker-pumpers, a tanker and a utility truck. Williams said replacing the oldest tanker-pumper with an aerial truck will improve the town’s standing in the eyes of homeowners insurance companies, which look at a fire department’s capability and the availability of water to deter-mine rates in a given area.
The cost of a truck with aerial firefighting capabilities varies widely because of various features such as engine size, water and pump capacity and other features. Costs can range anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million.
“There’s no doubt about it, this is a lot of money,” said Williams. “With the number of metal roofs and taller buildings we’re seeing, we need the capability. Hopefully we’ll find something that’s new and affordable. If not, we’ll look at used. We’re looking for a solid vehicle that will give the town many years of service.”
Ruth said the town has built up approximately $132,000 in the fire department’s reserve account. If the council grants final approval, $100,000 would be used from that account and the rest would be borrowed. She said the goal is to accomplish the purchase with as little impact as possible on taxpayers.
“We know it’s difficult times for everyone,” she said. “The cost of everything has risen around us, but it’s important to have our firetrucks updated. Tuesday’s discussion was just a starting point.”
The town’s most recent firetruck purchase was a tanker-pumper bought in 2005.
The purchase of the newest addition to the fire fleet is likely to be discussed at the next Town Council meeting on Feb. 1, said Ruth.