05/11/09 — City fire department asking for two new pumper trucks

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City fire department asking for two new pumper trucks

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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With only inches to spare, Goldsboro Fire Department engineer David Wilkerson backs Engine 3 into the bay at Station 3 on Patetown Road early Monday.

The Goldsboro Fire Department may be getting a new pair of pumper trucks this year, if the proposed city budget is approved, but the fire trucks may not fit in two of the city's five stations because of their size.

The city's aging fire engine fleet is beginning to show the wear and tear of frequent use, Fire Chief Gary Whaley said.

"A lot of our trucks are older than some of our firefighters," Whaley said.

The oldest fire engine still in service with the city's fleet is a 1977 snorkel truck equipped with an 85 foot bucket, stationed at Central Heights Road. Other aging vehicles include a 1976 brush truck, a 1990 Pierce Arrow truck and a 1991 Pierce Dash truck still in current use, and a a 1979 American La France and 1984 Pierce Dash held in reserve.

The older vehicles occasionally break down, and all the trucks require routine maintenance that can leave the stations short on equipment.

"The 1979 truck is not even usable at this time," Whaley said.

The newest engine is a 2006 E-One truck that holds 1,000 gallons of water and foam and also serves as a light tower/rescue tool. The department also has a 2001 E-One ladder truck, a 2000 E-One "quint" combination ladder and pumper truck and a 1998 Spartan Marion truck.

The proposed 2009-2010 city budget currently includes financing, not funding, for two new fire trucks which would replace two of the existing vehicles.

"We're not trying to get the tax rate up to buy two fire trucks, that's not my intention as chief," Whaley said.

The new trucks would be up to the safety specifications set forth by the National Fire Protection Association. Not all of their current complement of vehicles are up to par. Some of the older trucks have open cab configurations that force firefighters to ride in a "chase vehicle" on the way to a fire, Whaley said.

"It doesn't meet the new NFPA standards which deal with the open cabin issue," he said.

Increased call volume is another part of the reason for the department's request. When Whaley started working for the department, fire crews responded to about 800 calls every year. Since 1982, that number has more than tripled to well over 3,000 calls a year, he said.

The city must first approve the budget, then begin the bid process for the new trucks, priced at about $450,000 each. Fire trucks are made to order, so it could be late fall before the city gets its new trucks, Whaley said. The department also requested three new staff vehicles from the city, but instead purchased a used 2005 Ford Explorer.

But if the new fire trucks do arrive this year, the department may have to park them on the street during the day, Whaley said.

Two of the city's five fire stations, built in 1966 and 1984, are too small to hold the bigger fire trucks that meet the NFPA standards. Station 3, on Patetown Road, and Station 4, on Poplar Street were built before fire trucks increased in size, something Whaley said happened in the early 2000s.

The department did consider playing musical chairs with the trucks and fire stations, Whaley said, but once the new trucks arrive, the two smallest rigs will be taken out of the main service and used as reserve vehicles.

"The two smallest trucks we have are in the stations (Three and Four) at the time. I don't know that we could do much more," Whaley said. "All the other trucks we have, we'd only have like one inch of space on either side."

He believes the drivers could maneuver the trucks into the stations even with that limited amount of space and park the trucks inside at night, but during the day they could end up parked on the street.

There is currently no money for renovating or rebuilding the stations in the proposed city budget, which is facing a shortfall of more than $2.7 million, but the fire department is in the process of applying for a federal stimulus fund grant distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It's not a sure thing," Whaley said. "We're pursuing it hard."