RICHMOND — The town’s oldest fire engine often gets left behind at the station during fire calls because very few firefighters can shift the truck’s unsynchronized manual transmission.

Fire Chief Matt Roberge recently proposed to selectmen that the town buy a newer, but used, firetruck with an Allison automatic transmission. The $45,000 purchase would replace the town’s 33-year-old engine.

Roberge said the 1980 truck already was scheduled to be replaced in 2016 or 2017 and should be replaced within the next three to five years, according to National Fire Protection Association recommendations.

It’s not just that the truck is old, however. Its manual transmission is so hard to use that it is taken only to major fires.

“Engine 1 doesn’t respond a lot, because we have very few people that can drive it,” Roberge told selectmen Thursday.

Veteran firefighter Glenn DeWitt said the transmission is hard to use because it is unsynchronized. He also said the truck itself “is getting tired.”

Manual transmissions come in two basic types: unsynchronized systems, in which gears spin freely and their relative speeds must be synchronized by the operator to prevent noisy and potentially damaging grinding when trying to mesh the rotating gears’ teeth; and synchronized systems, which mesh automatically while changing gears, according to transmission-problems.com.

Roberge said in a memo to selectmen that the old engine is one of two Richmond firetrucks with manual transmissions, “and because of this, very few (Fire Department) members are able to effectively drive the truck to a fire scene, so it is not being utilized to its full potential.”

Roberge said he recently found a 1997 HME Smeal pumper firetruck with 43,000 miles on it for sale by a Connecticut company on the Maine Municipal Association’s website listing of municipal items for sale, for $45,000.

He said the department will have $50,000 in its truck reserve account, which is used to save money for future truck purchases, after July 1. He proposed that selectmen ask the town to approve the use of those funds in the reserve account to buy the used pumper truck as soon as possible after the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said the proposal probably would require a town meeting vote but said she would look into the proposal further and report back. She said it may be too late to put the question to voters when they go to the polls for local elections in June.

Selectmen said Roberge should look at the truck in person before the town considers putting a deposit down on the vehicle.

Selectman Peter Warner suggested looking into training for firefighters to drive the truck, which he noted would be cheaper than buying a different truck.

Roberge said previous fire chiefs had a plan to replace Engine 1 in 2016 or 2017, with a brand new Class A pumper that would serve Richmond for 25 to 30 years. He said the current cost of such a truck would be $300,000 to $400,000.

He said buying the 1997 truck for $45,000 would not cost residents any additional tax money and would delay the need to purchase a brand new truck until 2020 to 2025.

He also said the town probably could sell Engine 1 to a town that has even older equipment, for up to $5,000.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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