ANSON — The town is repairing one of its firetrucks after it plunged into the Kennebec River taking two firefighters with it.

Town officials still don’t know for sure what caused the rescue vehicle to shift into travel mode during an annual pump test at the boat landing off Patterson Bridge Road on June 3. But selectmen, who were updated at their meeting Tuesday night, know it will take at least another month before repairs are complete and the truck is ready to fight fires again.

“Accidents happen, and we just have to pick up and go on,” Fire Chief Alan Walker said.

The pumper-tanker truck, worth between $250,000 and $300,000, has a new transmission. Its engine may need to be rebuilt, and it will need new wiring and computer controls, Walker said.

The town’s insurance — Maine Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services — will cover the cost of repairs, said Robert Worthley, administrative assistant to selectmen.

Walker said he’s not happy about the accident, but it occurred in the best possible place. “If this had happened on a fire scene I don’t know where that truck would have stopped,” he said.

The accident appears to have been caused by an electrical malfunction during a standard pump test session.

Each year the department has to make sure its pumps meet state requirements. When it did its initial testing in June, the pump worked fine, Walker said. When a technician proceeded to the next part of the test and increased the revolutions per minute, “the next thing he knew, he was in the water,” Walker said.

Even though the brakes were on, and the wheels were blocked to keep the truck from moving, the gear box came out of pump mode, went into travel mode, and the truck rolled into six feet of water, Walker said. The wheel chocks flew 50 to 75 feet.

The pump technician, who was at the pump panel behind the cab, was thrown into the water, Walker said. Another firefighter nearby lost her balance and also landed in the water. Neither was injured.

If there had been a “black box” in the truck recording what occurred, the town would have more answers, Walker said. But his hunch is that the RPM increase caused “some type of false electrical signal,” he said, that shifted the truck into a low gear. The engine, transmission and pump panel are all computer controlled.

At 425 horsepower in low gear, “that’s a lot of power,” Walker said — enough to propel a braked vehicle into the river.

He doesn’t believe it was human error, he said, because he has spoken several times with the operator. “Every time she answers me the same way, so I know she did the application right,” he said.

The truck has been drained of water, and the engine runs, but there are more tests to complete. Walker said he wants a statement from the insurance company when the vehicle is repaired.

“I’m not going to say this truck is acceptable until somebody says so on the bottom line,” Walker said.

The town bought the truck new in 2000. The manufacturing company Rosenbauer built the back part of the truck, while Freightliner built the cab and frame. The computer controls were installed by a company called Cummins, Walker said.

While Walker and the town’s approximately 30 firefighters do not like being down one truck, departments in neighboring towns are available to help. The truck is one of four in Anson.

“Thank goodness for mutual aid,” Walker said. “We will be covered.”

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]


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