LITTLETON — In a few weeks, town meeting voters will consider Article 13, which asks them to authorize selectmen to enter into a five-year lease-purchase for a new fire engine-pumper to replace a current engine that is a quarter-century old.
The total $600,000 purchase for the new apparatus carries annual payments of $120,000, after which the town will own the vehicle and still expect to get another 10 to 15 years of service from it.
The warrant article is part of a larger, long-term and proactive plan to replace the Littleton Fire Rescue fleet to improve crew safety and fire service and reduce costly vehicle repairs and maintenance while keeping the tax rate stable for taxpayers.
LFR’s fleet consists of two engines, one 23-years-old and the other 27, and both with a water-carrying capacity of 1,000 gallons, a tanker with a capacity for holding 3,500 gallons of water, and a ladder truck.
“That is our fleet right there and we don’t have a lot of depth to those,” LFR Chief Michael McQuillen, said Thursday. “There’s been a couple of times both of the engines have been out of service for mechanical issues or maintenance issues and we’re either relying on the ladder truck or the tanker truck.
McQuillen, the department’s new chief who is two months into the job, described the plan.
“By doing a lease-purchase where we can spread this out will reduce the hit to the taxpayers,” he said.
Otherwise, the town would have to come up with half a million dollars in one year for the replacement of a vehicle that reaches the end of its life, he said.
“By leasing it, we can spread those payments out and also forecast the replacement of apparatus further out so that it becomes more stable in the future, so that we know 10 years from now what piece of apparatus we’re going to be replacing and how those payments will look spread out over a period of time, whether it’s five years or 10 years,” said McQuillen.
And the Fire Department Vehicle and Equipment Reserve Fund established in 2020 will also help ensure a flow of money for new vehicles, said Selectman Chad Stearns.
The fire service-recommended lifespan of an apparatus is 20 years, with the recommendation that the vehicle go into reserve status after 15 years.
“Our plan is to be able to replace the truck every 20 years at the latest,” said McQuillen. “Having the four primary response vehicles, between the tanker, ladder tuck and two engines, hopefully what that allows us to do is get a new piece of apparatus every five years and rotate those through. We’ll have a new truck that saves us on the maintenance, but also gives us the newest technology to be able to accomplish our goals and mission … Ultimately, if we can spread this out over a five-year period after one truck is paid off, we can replace the next truck. That payment would remain stable and we would be able to move forward without seeing a large increase to the taxpayer.”
Wear and tear includes engine hours spent pumping and running (both current engines have more than 10,000 hours) as well as a slow, but deadly New England destroyer — the salt brine mixture applied to roadways during winter that over time eats through the undercarriage of fire trucks.
LFR’s 23-year-old engine, called Engine 6, has more corrosion than the 27-year-old engine, and because of that, it’s likely the engine will be replaced if town meeting voters on March 9 approve it.
“Corrosion just eats these things,” said McQuillen. “And one of the things we will have is a more reliable truck. Our truck has had some failures in the past where it’s shown up to a fire and hasn’t been able to pump due to mechanical issues and the age of the truck. In the last 25 years, we’ve had a lot of technology in the fire service that has made the delivery of those services much easier and more efficient, which we’ll have on this truck that we don’t currently have on the other trucks.”
If approved, the town would get a pumper that can likewise carry 1,000 gallons of water and have on it a governor to prevent water pressure spikes, a 1,500-gallon-per-minute pump, and a Class A foam system that will assist in more effectively extinguishing fires.
The water delivery system for the current engine-pumper, when hooked up to the hydrants, can have spikes in the water pressure that can damage the pumps and also change the pressure on the hoses the fire crews man, making it difficult to manage those hand lines and requiring a crew member to stand at the pump the entire time to regulate the pressure.
“Having one of the governor control systems on a truck prevents that water spike on the nozzle coming in from the hydrant so that the guys who are operating that hose line don’t get thrown,” said McQuillen.
The Class A foam, not carrying the PFAS pollutant in Class B foam, is not harmful to human health or the environment and helps reduce the tension in the water so it seeps into the materials that are on fire and helps extinguish and control the fire better, he said.
The new truck will also have a more solid under-body and undercoating to better withstand corrosion, which can accelerate and really activate brine salt in the heated fire station bays in which apparatuses kept, he said.
“We spend a lot of time on the road chasing accidents in inclement weather and we almost bathe the trucks in it because we’re out in it all of the time,” said McQuillen, who added LFR crews do a great job rinsing down trucks after a call.
“The other thing that factors into it for me as fire chief is the safety of my crews that are responding because none of the current apparatuses have any air bags or some of the safety rollover protection that is built into the new apparatuses they’ve been building in the last 15 years,” he said.
He’s looking at three manufacturers — Pierce, Emergency One (or E-ONE, which is the make for LFR’s tanker), and Rosenbauer — and the different options and financing packages.
If Article 13 passes in March, the new truck would be built at a plant in either Florida or Wisconsin and brought up to Littleton from a dealer in Massachusetts, Vermont or Maine, where the lettering, equipment, and final items are added.
“We’re looking at anywhere from four to seven months,” said McQuillen. “As soon as possible would be the best case, but if I can get a truck that is a good deal, we hope to have that truck before the fall at the latest.”