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Fire Department Sounds the Alarm

Fire Department Sounds the Alarm

Chief Details Needed Apparatus Replacements

The Woodbridge Volunteer Fire Department will need to replace several of its trucks and other big-ticket equipment over the course of the next five years to allow it to carry out its mission of saving and protecting lives and property without compromising the safety of the firefighters.

That was the gist of a recent power point presentation at the firehouse to a combined meeting of the Selectmen and finance board members.

“We just wanted to show you what we do and how we do it,” Fire Chief Sean Rowland told the town leaders, adding that during budget time there is never enough time to fully explain what each piece of equipment does. He said all the replacements are already listed in the five-year capital plan.

Of the department’s eight engines, three will need replacement in the relative near future, with a combined price tag of just under $3 million. In addition the department is looking at replacing the air packs which supply firefighters with oxygen when they are entering a burning building; and updating the hand-held radios and the dispatch console located at the police department.

A replacement for Engine 7 is already on order and expected to be delivered this fall. The whole process from designing the truck to suit the particular circumstances of a community, then building it to specs until it can join the lineup typically takes two years, Rowland said.

The most immediate need in Woodbridge is for a ladder truck to replace Engine 6. It is 39 years old and has a 50-foot ladder, not long enough for many of today’s buildings, the chief said.

Brief news video clips, one of a fire fighter on a collapsing roof, the other of a slipping ladder, reminded the audience of the risks fire fighters face every day,

Without an aerial truck, evacuations at Amity High School, for instance, or Beecher Road School would be slow and cumbersome, as it would be any rescue at the three assisted living facilities in town. Even for many residential houses the current ladder is not long enough, Rowland said. Responding to chimney fires during the winter, for instance, can be done a lot quicker and safer with the appropriate ladder truck. Calling in a back-up aerial truck from Orange takes time when minutes matter.

The cost for a new ladder truck is in the $1.4 million range, the chief said. However, the lack of a ladder truck will lead to higher home insurance costs for homeowners, as insurance companies rate towns according to their fire risk.

Engine 9, a 20-year-old pumper truck, also needs replacement within the next five years. The current truck carries 2,000 gallons of water and a class B foam used in certain fire situations.

Engine 3 also needs replacement in the foreseeable future, the chief said. It would cost somewhere between $600-650,000.

In addition to Engines 3, 6 and 9, the department operates Rescue1; Engine 2, a 12-year-old pumper; tankers 5 and 8; and Engine 7, which is currently being replaced.

Other Equipment

By law, fire companies are required to replace air packs every 15 years. Back in 2003, the last time they purchased new packs, each unit was $4,500; nowadays they go for almost $9,000 apiece, Rowland said. That will be a total expense of some $300,000.

In its capital plan for this fiscal year, the fire department also asked for $100,000 to upgrade its hand-held radios. Since the town is looking to replace the emergency dispatch console, the radio project was put on hold. Instead, selectmen called a committee to assess the needs of all departments linked into that system, namely police, fire, Public Works and 911. Replacement of both the console and the radios it interacts with may cost in the $1.7 million range, the chief said. Serving on the ad-hoc committee are Selectman Susan Jacobs, finance board member David King as well as representatives of the departments.

Storage Shed

The chief did not want to add the expense for a planned storage shed in the back of the firehouse to the fire department’s budget. It is the town that requested the fire department move its equipment from the old firehouse to make room for other uses, he said.

Originally planned as an all-volunteer project that the town would provide the materials for, insurance concerns halted the construction of the shed.

The Woodbridge Volunteer Fire Department currently has about 45 members and a group of five Juniors ages 15 to 17. In addition to fire and rescue operations, the department is very involved in community service, either as the organizers — such as the popular Halloween Truck or Treat, and the Eva Block Fire Prevention Day — or in a supportive role such as road runs. During storms Irene and Sandy, they responded to up to 200 calls and helped in the cleanup.

Pictured: Thomas Kenefick demonstrates the gear firefighters wear for their protection at a joint meeting of the boards of selectmen and finance.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

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