The Westfield Town Council unanimously approved a bond ordinance Tuesday to purchase a new fire truck. The ladder truck will cost close to one million dollars.
The new truck is replacing the Westfield Fire Department’s old ladder truck, which was totaled in Hurricane Irene last September when a fallen tree mangled the ladder. Simply replacing the ladder would have cost more than the whole truck was worth, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said. The insurance company totaled the truck at $73,000, all of which the Town Council is using to offset the cost of the new truck.
Gildea said the truck is 19 years old, and that the town’s practice is to replace fire trucks after 20 years of service. “We have a plan for replacing apparatus, so we would have been talking about this in 2013 anyway, so we just sped it up,” he said.
Unlike the previous vehicle, this new apparatus is not simply a ladder truck; it also carries a pump. The first such dual-purpose machine Westfield has ever owned, the pump and ladder truck should offer the WFD new flexibility with its fleet.
The truck was approved for purchase in accordance with National Fire Protection Association standards and guidelines, which mandate Westfield have a ladder apparatus.
The purchase comes at a time when there are Westfielders concerned with the staffing levels of the WFD. After cuts took staff from four shifts of nine firefighters plus a deputy and a chief to the current four shifts of seven (maintaining the deputy and chief), Gildea said the town is at a point it cannot go below. Westfield has applied for a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant from the federal government, which, if received, will fund four more firefighters, allowing for four shifts of eight.
Departments all over town have had to take cuts, Gildea said, including the police and fire departments. Strapped by budgetary issues, the fire department was forced to reduce its staff, but did not do so through firings. All the reductions were done through attrition.
Gildea said the reduction in staff does not mean the new truck will be underutilized. After the six-alarm fire at Ferraro’s restaurant in May 2011, there was concern limited staff resulted in the WFD leaving the ladder truck at the fire house only a half a block away. Gildea said the ladder truck is a strategic piece of equipment, and it did in fact come out of the fire house when the conditions at the blaze called for it, but initially it was not needed.