|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW – At its Aug. 5 meeting, the Select Board voted in favor of purchasing an aerial apparatus – or quint – for the Fire Department’s next vehicle when supplemental funds become available.
Select Board Chair Marie Angelides and selectmen Mark Gold and Alex Grant voted in favor of the motion, while selectmen Paul Santaniello and Richard Foster voted against it.
“Longmeadow is about one of the only towns in the area that does not have an aerial firefighting apparatus. We haven’t had one since 1992 and there have been some major changes in our town since 1992,” Angelides said.
Town Manager Stephen Crane explained the benefits of a quint – which serves the dual purpose of a ladder truck and a pumper – can be most appreciated when it is seen in action, using a recent fire on Frank Smith Road as an example. In that incident, East Longmeadow responded with their quint and the difference in departments’ ability to handle the blaze once it arrived was noticeable. Also, according to a memo he drafted to the board on Aug. 5, Longmeadow is deducted five points, or 10 percent, by the Insurance Services Office, the rating bureau that sets insurance rates, because it does not currently have a ladder truck.
According to Crane, a replacement for Engine No. 3, which is approximately 25 years old, would cost the town roughly $500,000 while a quint would cost an additional $250,000.
According to the motion that passed, the town would only buy a quint or ladder truck as the town’s next engine if there were funds available to supplement the $250,000 difference.
In order to help finance that difference, the board voted to open a fund through which the public could donate money. Crane was previously directed to talk to non-profits and tax-exempt entities in the community in order to gauge interest in donations, but said he found it difficult without any commitment from the board.
“It’s hard to go and make a pitch when it hasn’t been established by some kind of non-binding referendum – which essentially this is – that if the money is raised the board will do this,” he said.
Foster voiced concerns in investing money into an apparatus without the board knowing all aspects, good and bad, of making such a purchase.
“There are benefits to a quint and there are also some very significant faults to a quint for any size community,” he said. “There are communities who bought these and never even put them into service after finding out more about them. There have been communities that have gone with the total quint concept only to get rid of them four, five, six, seven years later because it didn’t work out.
“This board has never been officially briefed, which I think needs to be done, on what I’d guess you’d call side effects of the quint. We have not identified what I think is all of the factors surrounding this purchase,” he continued, adding any information the board has received in the past on the issue has amounted to that which would be found in a sales brochure.
Crane said that the proposal he received from Fire Chief Eric Madison went well beyond a sales brochure.
Foster also pointed out that several members of the community could not be reached with a quint due to terrain and power lines. He also said the maintenance costs on that vehicle would be 65 percent higher than that of a regular engine.
Santaniello objected to the discussion of a truck at this juncture, stating that the town had an established seven-year timeline for replacing Fire Department vehicles. The last apparatus, he said, was replaced three years ago.
“We’re talking about something we shouldn’t be talking about right now because we’re on a cycle to replace the next fire truck and that’s when we need to look at it,” he said. “I also think we have charged the town manager with coming up with a capital plan every year and we have an ongoing capital plan and I think this needs to be a part of that capital plan.”
Crane said he was never made aware of such a timeline.
Santaniello also opposed the idea of asking private citizens to donate to a fund to pay for a fire apparatus.
“The only thing I’ll say about the citizens donating money is that they do it every time they pay their property taxes,” he said.
Gold voted in favor of the motion because it stipulated that the apparatus would only be purchased when the supplemental funds were available. He voiced concerns about the need for the truck and added that there could be other uses for supplemental income. Any decision, he said, should be one based on clear information.
“There’s the issue of public safety clearly, but one thing Richard said that really struck me was that we shouldn’t be making an emotional decision; we should be making a factual decision. Is this the best use of the next $750,000 of the town’s money?” he said.
Grant said that while the quint would not help in every situation, the prospect of it saving lives made it a worthwhile investment.
“I think I would agree with Mr. Foster that there are some things the quint can’t do. It’s not a panacea, it’s not going to fight every fire, and it’s not going to save every life. I recognize that the number of times that this quint truck would make the decisive difference is not that many times,” he said. “But if it was my family or somebody I know, or really anybody, that’s worth it. That extra $250,000 is worth it … If your house was burning down, would you be willing to pay that extra $250,000? Probably any family would be willing to pay the $250,000 themselves if it were to rescue someone they knew and loved.”
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