Brattleboro Fire Department: A few simple points
We are not the only town in the United States facing fire station improvement issues; what has been learned, if anything, from other jurisdictions?
Fire trucks such as engines, ladders, rescue trucks, etc., have become bigger and heavier over the years for many reasons including safety features, what fire departments expect from their machines, and community infrastructure, among other factors. As part of looking at the "fixes" from many different angles, some of the options investigated have been raising the ceiling for more height, lowering or digging out the floors to gain height, or trying to widen door openings. These options have all proven to be impractical or impossible due to existing building construction, lack of physical room, cost or a combination of those factors. Central Station is built on ledge with a partial basement. The floor over the partial basement holds a truck that weighs much more than it was designed for and has been repaired once already, a repair that is beginning to fail. Chesterfield and Keene, N.H., Newfane, Williston, Putney and South Burlington have all faced similar problems in the recent past and all have constructed new facilities. Greenfield, Mass., and Hinsdale, N.H., are presently proposing new stations. As far as lessons learned, I would say what I have heard most from other chiefs that have gone through it is not to throw good money at a bad situation. Fix it right the first time because you will end up paying out more in the long run if you try to piece meal it.
Is it a viable alternative to refurbish older engines, with the considerable work, expertise and maybe self-warranty required? Do we have the capability to do that? Brattleboro refurbished two engines back in the 1980s and in both circumstances, though the results weren't bad, we still put $100,000-plus into 20-year-old trucks, which resolve any of the problems. Additionally, trucks are built much differently today — workmanship is not as good, materials are not as good, etc. During this last budget preparation, I declined a budget increase of $40,000 to do work on the body and frame of one of our trucks because I don't think the truck is worth that money and it is good money being spent on a bad situation. It is important to remember that you can refurbish a 20-year-old truck but there will still be 20-year-old components in the truck. The cost outweighs the benefit. So, while it is an option, I do not feel it is a viable one.
Are there unintended consequences to bigger fire engines? How can we avoid them? When we spec a truck for our needs we list everything including the size water tank and hose-bed size that we need to carry the needed hose, the size motor, right down to where the ladders are stored, how far the bumpers can stick out and how wide the mirrors can be. All of this goes into determining the size that the truck will be. They have to carry enough hose for us. They have to carry enough water for us. They have to carry enough tools for us as well as have enough seating for staff. Anything less does not serve the community effectively or efficiently and the taxpayers get cheated.
Mutual Aid: One final, unseen consequence of stations that are too small, when all Brattleboro personnel and equipment are committed to an emergency we request cover trucks, other towns that bring their trucks to Brattleboro to answer other emergency calls. Many of the towns around us that we use for cover have trucks that will not fit into our stations. As a good example, Hinsdale has the only ladder truck for miles that will fit into our station. That is because they have our old one. Putney, Keene, Greenfield and Westminster all have ladders but they will not fit in. If they come into Brattleboro they need to leave their truck outside, is it fair to them to have their truck freeze up and split the water pump because they are here. Very recently a Mutual Aid cover truck was damaged trying to fit into Station 2. Does the time come when they say sorry, we can't do this anymore? I realize we don't build the stations for other towns, but it is certainly an issue that needs to be considered.
Though this only scratches the surface I hope this helps and certainly encourage anyone with any questions to contact either Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch or me.
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