Fire Department authorizes additional safety spending

Fire Dept. authorizes additional spending
Fri, 03/23/2018 - 8:45am
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Properly equipping firefighters is expensive.

The Block Island Fire and Rescue Department membership faced that reality at its March 19 meeting, learning that the $54,000 they had approved in February to buy new air packs was not enough; and that replacing or remodeling one ambulance could cost as much as $300,000.

Citing quotes from the supplier, Shipman’s Fire Equipment, Fire Lieutenant Mike Ernst explained that buying six sets of self-contained, backpack breathing apparatus matching the Department’s existing equipment would cost over $87,000, including 26 air cylinders. The other option, replacing all the packs with a new design using new higher-pressure cylinders and a new air compressor to fill them, was priced at $154,000.

Ernst laid out the pros and cons of both choices, but stressed a decision was needed. Some of the Department’s air packs are out of service, and there are not enough operable packs to equip all the trucks, he said.

After much discussion, the members approved an additional $30,000 to purchase six air packs matching their existing breathing equipment. Once ordered, the gear will take up to six weeks to arrive.

Vehicles to be replaced

Earlier in the meeting, Foreman of the Drivers Peter McNerney reported some progress by the Truck Committee towards purchasing a new four-wheel drive fire engine to replace Engine 1 and a new ambulance to replace Rescue Unit 2.

“We’re working on it,” he said, including preparing preliminary information to solicit bids for a new fire engine.

The committee has narrowed the field of fire truck builders to three. McNerney recommended that the Department send up to four members to a national fire equipment trade show in April to view “a lot of really cool options” that are available for modern fire trucks. The newest truck in the Department’s fleet is 18 years old. The members voted to make hotel reservations for a delegation to the exposition.

At the May 2017 Financial Town Meeting, voters approved a $500,000 capital budget item as the Town’s contribution toward the purchase of a new fire engine. A rough estimate for the total cost of the new vehicle is about $750,000, with the balance to be paid from the Fire Department’s restricted fund.

The ambulance project has hit a snag. The last FTM had approved a capital budget line to fully fund replacement of the chassis for Rescue 2 at a total price tag of $178,000. That assumed that the ambulance body could be remounted on a new chassis. Now, McNerney reported, he is waiting for a state official to call him back on whether remounting the old body on a new chassis is even permissible.

“Rhode Island is one of the toughest states in terms of ambulance standards that there is,” McNerney told the membership. He said re-using the body of Rescue 2 is problematic because it is “very small,” and does not meet current standards for equipment cabinets and crash-worthiness.

Prices range from $120,000 to remount the body on a new chassis to $178,000 for an all-new ambulance, according to McNerney’s research. But Block Island really needs a four-wheel drive ambulance, he said; a new one could cost between $200,000 and $300,000.

Rescue Squad member Kate McConville responded that she had spoken to Town Finance Director Amy Land about the funding issues. “Amy is willing to work with us to find the money to get the Department what it needs,” she said.

A solution to alarm woes

In other actions, the members agreed to change the duty schedule for crews responding to alarm calls, using 24-hour on-call periods (as does the Rescue Squad) instead of the present one-week on-call schedule. Alarm duty has fallen to the BIVFD in recent years because off-island alarm companies have contracted to serve Block Island homes and businesses without stationing their staff on-island to respond when an alarm is triggered.

The Department has been irritated about the situation for some time. The current Town budget includes a separate $6,000 line item — proposed by the BVFD last year — to fund a reimbursement program for fire crews responding to alarm calls. The proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget maintains that funding, but the BIVFD members at the meeting were not happy with the program’s results.

Members agreed with Ernst’s plan for Fire Chief Peter Gempp and the other officers to write a letter to the Town proposing to reduce the volunteers’ burden by hiring a new employee — an “Alarm Officer” — to answer alarm calls. Whether that person is employed by the Town or the BIVFD, they said, the Alarm Officer should have the authority to enforce local ordinances and issue fines.

Also, an amendment to the Department’s bylaws was proposed to add two new fire lieutenant positions, for a total of six; however, it was amended to add only one new officer, totaling five lieutenants. The revised language will be posted and voted on at the next meeting, set for April 9.