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Selectmen seeking approval for special town meeting

Costly estimates for fire engine repairs prompt board to request a new vote

May 02, 2012
Gilford's Board of Selectmen is seeking permission from Superior Court to hold a special Town Meeting to again vote on a new fire engine to replace the 25-year-old Engine Four after Department of Transportation officials deemed it a road hazard.

Board of Fire Engineers Chairman Bill Akerley said the fire department brought Engine Four to Lakes Region Fire Apparatus (LRFA) of Tamworth for pump repair Friday, April 13. Technicians began working on the truck, and soon asked Fire Department officials to come view the truck.

According to Shawn Mulcahy, LRFA service manager, the entire pump housing was worn through in some spots, and needed to be replaced.

"It's a 25-year-old pump [housing]," said Mulcahy. "It well out-lived its life expectancy."

Mulcahy estimated that a new pump would run about $34,000, and his crew spotted several additional mechanical issues which needed to be addressed. These issues included problems with the brake system, suspension, radiator, tires and cab mounts.

Town and Fire Department officials were concerned with the condition of the fire engine and any liability, so they called a DOT representative for a third-party assessment. Akerley said they also wanted a non-biased, third-party assessment because of the level of contention by some community members through the budget season.

The DOT representative red-flagged the truck, deeming it a road hazard, and required the truck be repaired or towed back to Gilford; they opted to tow the truck home. Additionally, firefighters have found issues with the electrical system including issues with the light bar and radio.

According to Akerley, lights on the light bar were not spinning properly, the dash lights did not work, and the radio was only getting 60 watts when it needs 100 watts for function properly.

Mulcahy said that fixing the wiring issues may "open a whole other can of worms," and though he usually doesn't turn down work, he would not take on the job, or even give a bid. Mulcahy's quote for repairs without tires, light bar or electrical work came in at an estimated $50,000.

Most mechanical issues were discussed during the budget season, when residents voted to repair Engine Four, rather than approve a $450,000 bond for a new fire engine. With the newly found issues, Akerley asked, "When do we stop the bleeding?"

"We could put $60,000 into this truck with no guarantee," said Akerley. "I'm not here to sell a new truck. I'm here to discuss the viability of Engine Four."

According to Akerley, the Board of Fire Engineers deemed it "foolish to throw this kind of money" into Engine Four.

Mulcahy concluded that the truck was not worth fixing, in his opinion, when asked.

Selectman Gus Benavides opened the issue up for public comment, as the repair or replacement of Engine Four had been contested over the past several months during selectmen and budget committee meetings and during the Deliberative Session.

Budget Committee members Kevin Leandro and Pat Labonte were again concerned with the application of a regular maintenance routine for a new fire engine, citing issues with Engine Four which they said could have been prevented with regular maintenance.

According to Akerley, the Gilford Department of Public Works and outside agencies are responsible for their fleet maintenance, and firefighters are trained . Akerley did say that firefighters preform regular inspections and tests of equipment.

After a conversation with Fire Chief Steve Carrier, Selectman John O'brien said the big picture was that the department relied on four specialized pieces of fire apparatus, each with a special purpose. To function adequately, he said, they would need two "attack trucks," Engines Two and Four.

In keeping with their equipment replacement schedule, Akerley said they would move the now 10-year-old Engine Two to reserve with the new truck to be designated as the primary attack truck.

According to the selectmen, they had three options to deal with the situation and get two reliable attack trucks in service. They could set aside $100,000 to repair their current 25-year-old truck, petition the Superior Court for approval to purchase a new truck with monies taken from the town's undesignated fund balance, or schedule a special Town Meeting to vote on another bond to purchase a new truck. The board ultimately opted to seek permission for another town meeting.

According to Town Administrator Scott Dunn, the selectmen would set a date for a deliberative session, with a vote 30 days later. Dunn said the selectmen could also set the time frame of the vote, which is usually 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Carrier, who was not present at last week's select board meeting, said the department's concern was less about getting a brand new truck, and more about having reliable equipment to ensure the safety of residents and firefighters.

Dunn suggested that the selectmen should make preliminary arraignment for the special town meeting in anticipation of the Courts decision to help hasten the process. He estimated that they would have a decision from the Court in two or three weeks.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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