In a display of unity that came as a surprise to some in the administration, about 90 firefighters, wearing black T-shirts, filled a section of Council Chambers Monday in support of their union president, William Lloyd, and his claim that the city’s fire apparatus is in need of repair and replacement.
Acting chief of staff William DePasquale said he knew nothing of the demonstration until he arrived at the council meeting. The firefighters sat respectfully through council committee hearings and zone changes for an Apponaug Hotel and the House of Hope, before Lloyd had the opportunity to address members during the public comment portion.
Lloyd described how a rescue truck had broken down and said equipment is missing critical maintenance and repairs. He said reserve apparatus, equipment that has been replaced by newer equipment, is being brought back on line to fill in for failing equipment. (He also put in a word for those firefighters who were reprimanded after a video showing them at a Greenwich Bay Marina cookout was posted on YouTube. A hazmat truck parked near the marina gazebo was pictured and it was determined the firefighters were on duty.)
“We have rescue apparatus being towed from scenes, we have pumps failing our members as they enter homes, and we watch the six o’clock news, with our members being videotaped as a member of the public sits in a rescue truck for 45 minutes as it broke down and they had to wait for a mutual aid company from another community,” he said.
Lloyd said the average frontline truck is at least 12 years old and a truck puts on 28,000 miles a year. He said Ladders 1 and 3 are 16 and 20 years old, respectively.
“An effective repair and replacement plan must be put in place,” he said.
As for the YouTube video of firefighters at Greenwich Bay Marina, Lloyd said:
“They love their job in Warwick, they love the community of Warwick. That being said, to have a one-minute, 38-second tape change the opinion of individuals and have them reprimanded and disciplined from innuendo for attending a community event, not a general pizza party, is appalling to us.”
Firefighters rose to applaud Lloyd and then left the chambers.
“We heard their concerns loud and clear,” DePasquale said Tuesday.
He said the issue is balancing the tax burden with that of investing in new equipment and infrastructure. He did not limit the concern solely to fire equipment, but also noted the need for road improvements and to update police and municipal equipment.
He said the situation isn’t a surprise, as the city has deferred capital improvements during the recession in a deliberate effort to ease the impact on taxpayers.
But, has the city reached a point where equipment is failing and could be a danger to the department as well as the public?
“It’s absolutely safe. There’s no public safety issue. It [equipment] has been maintained properly,” DePasquale said.
DePasquale made his appraisal after meeting with Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong earlier in the morning. He said the chief assured him, and the mayor, that the equipment is safe.
Armstrong did not respond to calls about the condition of department equipment.
DePasquale said he wants a list of city equipment by department that shows its age, condition and projected life span.
“I want to look and see where we stand,” he said.
“Let’s look at all the apparatus and equipment and our needs,” he added.
As is the practice during the public comment session, the council sat silently throughout Lloyd’s comments.
Asked yesterday whether he had any concerns over the ability of the department to respond to emergencies, Ed Ladouceur (D-Ward 5) said, “I have no idea what prompted their presentation; I guess we’ll find out. The chief hasn’t said anything to me about equipment.”
Ladouceur said he would have expected, if firefighters had issues with the equipment, “they would have brought them to the attention of the chief and he bring it to us.”
The Department of Public Works has performed maintenance on fire apparatus for years.
“We have qualified mechanics who have been maintaining the equipment for an easy 20 years and we’ve never had a problem,” David Picozzi, DPW director said yesterday.
“We’ve never had an issue with maintenance here. I don’t understand where it’s coming from.”