HARWICH — In the next few years, voters will be asked to fund a number of big-ticket capital projects, but the funding requests from the fire department will be a bit lower than originally expected. Facing the need for a new ladder truck and a new pumper, the department will instead seek to buy a "quint," which can perform both functions at a fire scene. The move could save taxpayers around $900,000 over the cost of buying separate vehicles.
Speaking on Monday, Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr., said the new truck will take the place both of the 1992 ladder, which was due for replacement in two or three years, and a 2001 pumper set to be replaced in the next budget. The topic is a timely one, he said.
“The ladder is now out of service for repairs,” he said. Thanks to problems with the turntable at the base of the ladder and other “significant wear issues,” the ladder truck recently failed a required certification. In the interim, Chatham’s quint is now assigned to respond to all house fires in Harwich. And on Monday, Engine 69—the pumper up for replacement—was also out of service because of brake failure.
A new ladder truck was projected to cost $1.4 million, and a new pumper was slated for purchase at $600,000. The quint is expected to cost around $1.1 million, providing a potential savings of $900,000 or more.
“The quint concept is not new,” Clarke said. Buying one versatile vehicle instead of two specialized ones makes financial sense, particularly with the town facing expensive capital projects like the sewer system.
“I met with staff and we wanted to see if we could do something to help with this growing situation in town with expenses,” Clarke said. The quint was a chance to provide excellent service in a more efficient fashion, the chief said.
The $900,000 in savings will likely be closer to $1 million once the trade-in value for the old ladder and pumper are included. It will also cost less to operate and maintain the quint, he said.
“It’s one less truck for the DPW to maintain, one less truck to fuel, and one less truck to insure,” Clarke said. “So there are long-term efficiencies, as well.”
The quint will have the same rating and tank capacity as the old pumper, and will have an aerial ladder that is 100 feet in length, just 10 feet shorter than the old ladder. It will not have a tower platform at the end of the ladder, as Chatham’s quint does.
“That’s the savings,” Clarke said. Keeping to a budget of around $1.1 million meant that a tower-equipped ladder would only have had a 70-foot reach. He consulted with other members of the department, who preferred a longer ladder over a platform. “The troops really wanted to maintain that distance,” he said.
In terms of its operational use, the quint will respond in place of the old ladder. It will also be able to function in a back-up capacity to the department’s other two pumpers, serving as a reserve pumper when necessary. “But its first mission will be as a ladder truck,” he said.
The quint is a line item for fiscal 2021 in the town’s capital plan, which will be considered by voters at the May annual town meeting. It’s still a big request, Clarke noted.
“A million dollars is still a million dollars, and the folks have to pay for it,” he said. The idea has been endorsed by the capital outlay committee, and selectmen seem to like it, Clarke said.