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Selectmen remain divided on purchase of new forestry truck

August 11, 2009
NEW DURHAM — New Durham selectmen had hoped to make a decision a little easier with news of whether or not the fire department's forestry truck is certifiable.

During their board meeting of Aug. 3, however, selectmen remained divided on their opinion as to whether or not they should grant permission for the fire department to purchase a new forestry vehicle, and fire chief Peter Varney did not come to the meeting to give an update on whether the truck got certified or when it was scheduled to be checked.

The board returned to a summer-long discussion on whether or not to make the purchase, given the arguments that have been presented by the fire department in previous meetings.

The department has previously submitted to the board that it needs to use its new skid unit on a truck that will be used as a forestry vehicle. The Federal Emergency Management Agency donated nearly all of the money used to purchase the unit, and the agency has stated it needs to be in use by a date in December.

The plan the department had submitted to FEMA was that it would use its U2 vehicle as its forestry truck and therefore mount the skid unit on it. However, since the plan was submitted, the department began using the U2 for other uses, including rehabilitation outside of an emergency scene during a call. The department has stated it would now like to use the U2 as is because it provides such good resources to the department that were not being used before.

During the July 20 board meeting, department representatives gave a detailed explanation of the options it has to choose from for a forestry vehicle. It could use its current forestry vehicle; however, Varney stated it needs to be certified first and the problems with the vehicle should be fixed.

Varney added that the forestry unit shuts down during calls, and it has an electrical problem where all the lights will shut off. Additionally, the truck is about 27 years old, and it also may not be able to be certified. He and Deputy Chief Mike Davenport went on to say purchasing a new truck is the best option as it would put no additional impact on the taxpayers, and the current economy provides for a very good purchase price.

On Aug. 3, Selectman Terry Jarvis said a resident approached her and was adamant the decision to purchase a new forestry truck should go before the voters at Town Meeting.

Chairman Ron Gehl, however, said it was obvious that purchasing a new truck was the best option. The purchase won't affect the tax rate, he said, and the current forestry unit is not fit to respond to calls.

"It's a no-brainer, quite frankly," he stated.

Michele Kendrick of Drew Circle agreed with Gehl, and cited the risk to losing the grant money from FEMA if the department were to go with a plan that was worse than that submitted to the agency. (The department had stated previously FEMA may not have a problem with a plan different from what was submitted to it if that plan were better, such as purchasing a new truck to be used with the skid unit.)

If the town loses the grant, she said, "[W]here does that put us?"

Jarvis said, however, that people are concerned buying a new truck is unwise in light of the current economy and the uncertainty of whether or not it will go bad again.

"Is it going to change again?" she posed.

Citing the argument put forward previously by the fire department that purchasing a truck would extend the life of the other trucks in the department, she expressed reserve that this was a sure thing.

"What happens if they have to be replaced sooner?" she asked.

Selectman Dave Bickford said the best thing to do would be for the fire department to request a deadline extension from FEMA. If it is approached by the department with an explanation of the board's discussion, it will probably be understanding. Waiting for Town Meeting will only push the deadline 10 weeks back, he added.

"So I think it's reasonable to see if we can do this first and foremost before we say we're backed into a corner," he said.

Bickford further expressed reserve about a purchase because the department has changed its plan. In April the department stated it would not pursue a new truck, and now they are doing that, he said. Besides, if the event arises where the department must have a new truck, Road Agent Mark Fuller is good at finding trucks, he noted.

Gehl said he is concerned people have the "wrong perception" about the facts. Opposed to the idea the board should go to Town Meeting with the decision, he said the board's meetings provide the opportunity to explain the facts to the residents.

"I think we are in a position to thoroughly explain why we want to do this," he said.

Furthermore, he referenced the problems of the forestry unit, including three incidents in which the truck failed the department.

"I would simply ask that you err on the side of protecting the residents of the town," he said.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.

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