The Warwick City Council approved during their meeting on Monday night the purchase of a pre-owned ladder truck from the Town of Westerly for $25,750 – a welcome contrast to cost estimates ranging from $850,000 to $1 million for a similar truck if it were bought new.
The vehicle, a 1994 Simon Duplex LTI ladder truck apparatus, has just 18,811 miles, despite being a regular service vehicle in Westerly until it was recently put up for sale. It would be assigned to Ladder 1, located at the city’s fire headquarters in Apponaug, and would bring the city up to a full complement of three ladder units.
The current ladder truck stationed at Station 1, a 1998 model, will be sold, as it is beyond a point of repair or use even as a reserve truck, according to Fire Chief Peter McMichael, who reported on Wednesday the truck would require about $125,000 in repairs to get back into service.
The “new” truck is equipped with a 110-foot ladder that can be utilized to rescue trapped fire victims from upper story buildings and can deliver large volumes of water from an elevated position. It can also be used to provide structural fire search and rescue operations and building ventilation – in addition to other included features, such as six ground ladders.
The ladder truck passed inspection last week, which was one of the conditions necessary to be met prior to the purchase being approved. McMichael said during testimony before the council finance committee that Solomon played a role in getting the asking price down from $35,000 by reasoning that some modest repairs would be needed to get the truck ready for service. McMichael said most of those repairs were underway or had already been performed on the vehicle. He said the vehicle would be put into service as soon as the purchase transaction is finalized.
Solomon said through a release that the condition of the truck, coupled with its low mileage, “will ensure that it remains in the department's fleet of vehicles for years to come.” McMichael noted during Monday night’s meeting that a similar, brand-new ladder truck would cost anywhere from approximately $850,000 to $1 million.
“We recognized the city does not have the funds to make that kind of purchase right now,” McMichael said, giving credit to battalion chief Tom Bradley of the fire department for finding the vehicle. “This is the best priced and best conditioned type of vehicle that we've seen in our search.”
McMichael hesitated to put a definitive time frame on how long the vehicle would be in frontline service for Warwick, but said he wanted to get at least a few years out of it while the department finds a more permanent solution. Ladder 2, located at Station 2 on Post Road, is a 2010 vehicle that was purchased in 2012. Ladder 3, located at Station 4 in Bayside, is a 2015 model. A fourth ladder truck is currently out of service due to needed maintenance, McMichael said.
“I'm under no misconception that this is a 10-year vehicle,” McMichael said. “But what I’m hoping to do is put this on the front for a couple years and find a new piece and then use it as a reserve.” He said the department was already sending out grant applications to the federal government for new trucks to continue updating the fleet.
Praise for the purchase was widespread.
"Rhode Island's communities, both large and small, face fiscal constraints even as they work to provide essential services to their residents," Solomon said in the release. "It's important to explore a variety of options as we balance the needs of our City with the realities of our budget. This transaction will be mutually beneficial to both fire departments, and I thank Interim Chief McMichael and Westerly Chief [John] Mackay for working cooperatively on this transaction."
Firefighter union president Michael Carreiro lauded the purchase, saying it was “great for taxpayers” and a “step in the right direction” towards shoring up the department’s equipment needs.
The city council was likewise praiseworthy of the efforts from the fire department to procure a functional vehicle at an affordable price.
“I'm pleased to see the efforts made…kudos to the fire department, to your firefighter who spotted it and to Mayor Solomon for using his previous experience in the vehicle business to get us an even better price on the vehicle,” said Ward 5 Councilman and finance committee chair Ed Ladouceur. “I think this is very important because, again, it goes to what we've been working on so hard for the last two or three years about doing a little more with a little less. This is exactly what we need to be doing.”
Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe pointed out that, between this vehicle purchase and an earlier purchase approved in January for a new special hazards truck through a federal grant – in which a $700,000 vehicle was purchased for a price of only $74,362 – the fire department has saved over $1.7 million on two trucks (assuming the $1 million estimate provided by McMichael mentioned earlier for the cost of a similar truck bought new).
“This is really an outstanding purchase and it's a great opportunity,” noted Ward 7 Councilman Stephen McAllister. “Hopefully, we can find more opportunities like this.”