A Richmond Fire Department engine, seen in a Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11, had an alternator fail at an emergency scene Nov. 23. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

RICHMOND — Richmond’s fire chief is asking the town for a new fire truck after the fire department has struggled with maintenance problems that left only one truck available for emergencies at one point last month.

Fire Chief John Bellino said while the maintenance problems are frustrating for the 16-member fire department, the situation isn’t dire and he doesn’t believe it poses a public safety threat. Firefighters in neighboring towns also respond to emergencies in Richmond.

On Nov. 23, Bellino said four of the town’s five fire trucks weren’t working for a couple of hours. The 2,500-gallon pumper tanker truck was still available for emergencies and could pump water in the event of a fire. The forestry truck wouldn’t start initially but was running by the end of the day. The battery in the squad truck had issues and required a jump start. That problem was fixed the same day as well.

The concern is that the two fire engines best equipped to fight fires weren’t running that day either, Bellino said. The alternator broke in one engine, which had to be towed from an emergency scene. It was fixed within a few days but as of Wednesday, the second engine was still awaiting electrical repairs. That vehicle should be fixed by the end of the week, Bellino said.

“It was the perfect storm,” said Town Manager Adam Garland.

He said when he appointed Bellino as interim fire chief in the spring, he asked him to make vehicle maintenance a priority to get trucks in good running condition.

“There was an accumulation of mechanical problems that needed to be addressed, some resulting in breakdowns and equipment not functioning at its optimal level,” he said. “Things weren’t working 100% and we need to make sure the fire department has the tools it needs.”

Bellino has been working to that end but said every time he turns around it seems like another truck needs fixing, which is costing the town.

The town spent $15,937 in 2017-18 compared to $27,109 in 2018-19 on fire truck maintenance. So far, $29,293 has been spent on maintenance this fiscal year, according to data provided by Bellino.

The the bulk of repair costs this year, $15,251, has been spent on a 2006 engine the town bought in 2017 and $13,041 spend repairing a 1997 engine the town purchased new. Garland said the town has spent $22,000 more than budgeted for maintenance on fire trucks halfway through this fiscal year. The town has spent $139,286 on fire truck maintenance costs since 2012-13.

“They’re spending a lot of money to get these trucks fixed,” said longtime firefighter Ian Alexander.

The town hasn’t bought a new truck in more than two decades, he said.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said. “I’m a taxpayer too. Do I like it? No. But we need it.”

Garland said there is no truck replacement scheduled in the near future in the town’s replacement plan for town-owned vehicles. That plan is being revised.

Bellino wrote a letter after to Garland on Nov. 26 requesting $450,000 for a new tanker-pumper to replace two older trucks.

“The ongoing issue of keeping vehicles in service has gotten to a point where I can no longer say that we have a reliable firefighting fleet and there is potential concerns for safety,” Bellino wrote.

Bellino said he is gathering quotes for a new truck.

Garland expects the town would buy the new truck outright, costing between $400,000 and $450,000. Voters at town meeting last year authorized selectmen to spend from $309,499 in the vehicle replacement capital account without town meeting approval. Garland believes selectmen would also need to use funds from the undesignated fund account holding $2.9 million. That would require town meeting approval in June 2020.

Meanwhile, the town is trying to sell its squad and forestry trucks. Bellino said he hopes to buy a pickup truck to use as a utility truck to replace them.

 


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