Fire Department tackling truck issues

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 7:45am

Issues with two of the Block Island Fire and Rescue Department's vehicles were the chief topics of discussion at the department's monthly membership meeting on Monday, Oct. 17 at the Fire Barn. According to the Fire Department, persistent mechanical problems with the lone tanker truck have to be addressed quickly, and the department wants to replace one of its fire engines. 

Repair personnel have worked on the tanker on-island, Peter McNerney, the department's foreman of the drivers, said at the meeting, but have not solved what is believed to be an intermittent problem with the electrical system or powertrain. The truck will have to be sent off for repairs.

In the meantime, McNerney assured the firefighters that the tanker truck runs, and “will pump to capacity.” 

McNerney is trying to obtain a tanker and a pumper on loan from New England Fire Equipment for Block Island to use while the company diagnoses and repairs the island's tanker truck. There is no estimate yet of how long the truck will be off-island for service.

At the same time, Fire Chief Peter Gempp and McNerney said the Department's officers have informally discussed what the next “course of business” should be, which they noted is buying a new “first-run” truck to replace Engine 1. McNerney has begun working on price quotes to support the capital funding request that would be submitted in the town's budget process.

Gempp explained that Engine 1 is the first piece of equipment dispatched to attack a fire. If the fire department bought a new, built-to-order truck as its first-run vehicle, the present Engine 1 would replace Engine 3, the oldest in the fleet, built in 1985. The department's newest fire engine is 17 years old.

Age is not the only factor. “The worst part about our trucks is that they don't get used a lot,” McNerney said. “The worst thing you can do to any machine” is to let it sit unused. The ladder truck was last used in a fire two summers ago at the Salt Pond Settlement, another firefighter added, but the ladder was tested last month and “is in good shape.”

Secretary Beth Rousseau noted after the meeting that since the department doesn't receive “mutual aid” from other fire departments, “it is critical that every piece of equipment we have works, and works every time.”

In other business, the members approved paying $4,200 for the new air conditioning system installed in the fire station's communications room. That room is the base for the Fire Department's radio and pager system, and the other town departments will have their radios serviced there.

Members noted that the HVAC installation means the non-profit Fire and Rescue Department is making improvements to a town-owned building at its own expense. Rousseau clarified that the Department would seek reimbursement of that expense from the town.

The firefighters are looking forward to receiving new digital radios soon. The new equipment will eliminate “skipping” on the radio frequencies, from which local firefighters receive alerts from other fire departments.

Frank Higgins was voted in as the newest member of the Fire Department. Rousseau reminded the membership that nominations for officers will open next month, at the Nov. 14 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Fire Barn.