Rockingham's 'first line' firetruck lost to rust

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ROCKINGHAM — The firetruck that has been first on the scene for the past 20 years in Rockingham has been abruptly retired, the victim of rust.

Denis Jeffrey, chief of the Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department, said Monday that the 1998 firetruck had been abruptly taken out of service on Friday after a town highway mechanic found that the frame of the firetruck was so rusted it was dangerous.

Jeffrey, the longtime chief of the rural Rockingham department, said he met with Rockingham Town Manager Wendy Harrison Monday morning to discuss the situation, since it leaves the department with only one truck. In the meanwhile, Jeffrey said, Rockingham will have to rely more on the mutual aid system.

Susan Hammond, chairwoman of the Rockingham Select Board, said the town administration was working on an immediate solution to the problem. Jeffrey said there was a possibility that the Rockingham Select Board would call an emergency meeting in the next couple of days to discuss the emergency.

Next week, during town meeting, Rockingham voters will have to decide whether to borrow up to $500,000 to purchase two new firetrucks — but those would be for the Bellows Falls Fire Department. Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis is applying for a $400,000 federal grant to cover the majority of that cost.

The town's fire committee will hold a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the Rockingham engine No. 1, as well as the $500,000 article that calls for the purchase of two firetrucks for the Bellows Falls fire department.

The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the select board about fire apparatus, according to the agenda for the special meeting.

The town of Rockingham is served by three fire departments — Bellows Falls, Saxtons River and Rockingham — each with its own chief and crew of firefighters. The town pays for the equipment for all three departments. Bellows Falls village residents pay for their fire department.

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Rockingham Fire Lt. Jim Smith, who has been a member of the Rockingham department since he was 17 years old, said the truck frame problem was discovered after the town mechanic finished fixing a leaking gas tank in the firetruck. Smith said he had been driving the Freightliner/Smeal fire pumper truck for 20 years. On the outside, the bright yellow truck looks almost brand new, but the chassis is another thing, said Smith, himself a mechanic.

"It was a busy little truck," said Smith, a 36-year veteran of the volunteer department.

Smith said he thought the truck rusted through because it was always on the road to a fire scene, since the Rockingham department covers a much bigger territory than the Bellows Falls and Saxtons River departments. He said the rural roads were rough, unlike the village roads, and they took their toll as well.

He said the 1,500-gallon tanker was a more flexible piece of equipment than the 3,000 gallon pumper/tanker. Rockingham has to rely on bringing water to fire scenes, since there are few hydrant systems in the rural area. The bigger tanker is only two years old, and he said it is "big and heavy."

Lawrence White, a Rockingham firefighter, said one hope of replacing the firetruck is by getting some value from the truck in a trade.

White said the firetruck was originally undercoated. The town mechanic now routinely undercoats all of the town's firetrucks, he said.

The firetruck is now parked in the back of the Rockingham fire station, which is located next to the Rockingham Town Highway garage, and a hand-lettered sign on red paper taped to the door of the bright yellow truck say "Out of Service."

"We are in the process of figuring it out," Hammond said via an email. Town Manager Wendy Harrison didn't return messages. The special meeting of the fire committee will be held Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the third floor conference room in the town hall.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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