Mayor Agrees to Replace ‘Worst’ Fire Truck, But Seeks To Limit Use Of Equipment For Shopping

HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said he will replace the Fire Department’s oldest pumper truck by summer.

The decision follows concerns raised by the firefighter’s union that all eight of the department’s pumper trucks are old and unreliable, and a subsequent review of the oldest truck by a private consultant.

Fiorentini said he received a report from the consultant last week that says the truck is operable, but needs to be repaired or replaced.

The mayor said it would be a poor use of taxpayers’ money to repair the vehicle, so he will ask City Council for approval to borrow money for a new one.

As soon as the city takes delivery of a new pumper truck, the old one will be taken out of service, the mayor said. A new pumper truck costs between $400,000 and $450,000, he said.

Fiorentini said he also wants the fire chief to consider stricter rules prohibiting fire trucks from being used by firefighters to run errands such as food shopping. The current policy, the mayor said, is that each pumper truck can be used to run personal errands no more than once per day.

Fiorentini noted that he implemented a separate policy prohibiting the department’s new $1 million ladder truck from being used at all for errands unless it is on the way home from an emergency call.

“These policies are necessary in order to preserve the life of these very expensive vehicles,” Fiorentini said. “As part of purchasing (a new pumper truck), I intend to ask the chief if there are further restrictions or amendments to the policy which should be enacted.”

The outside review of the oldest pumper truck was in response to emails sent to the mayor and city councilors last month by the firefighters union. The emails said all eight of the department’s pumper trucks are “unreliable due to age and every day wear-and-tear.”

Six trucks have more than 100,000 miles on them and four were bought by the city in the 1980s. The oldest is a 1984 model with 110,000 miles, and the truck used most is a 1995 model with 159,000 miles, the union said. The two newest trucks, added to the fleet in 2006, have 74,000 and 93,000 miles on them.

City Council was expecting a report on all the pumper trucks from Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro at its last meeting, but the matter got postponed at the last minute. DeNaro oversees the police and fire departments.

In an interview after the meeting, Fiorentini said he didn’t want to discuss the issue with councilors until the review of the oldest truck was completed. The mayor said he or DeNaro will speak to the council about the pumper trucks at its Dec. 10 meeting.

In its emails to councilors, the firefighters union said the department’s mechanic has done his best to keep the pumper trucks running properly.

“Safety is our priority,” the emails said. “We want to keep city leaders notified of any issues that may compromise the safety of the citizens of Haverhill, as well as the members of the Haverhill Fire Department. Not only has our fire apparatus become a safety issue, but it also interferes with everyday efficiency.”

Councilor Thomas Sullivan, who put the matter on the council’s meeting agenda, said he has become frustrated that it has taken so long to get an official update on the condition of the pumper trucks from the administration.

“We have a 2011 report that says we should have a capital plan for replacing fire trucks and fire equipment,” Sullivan said, referring to the 127-page report by the Matrix Consulting Group. “But we still don’t have any such plan.”

Sullivan said he planned to question DeNaro about the condition of the pumper trucks at last week’s council meeting, but that he was told the matter was being removed from the agenda toward the end of the meeting.

“It was obvious from the mayor’s tone that night that it’s been a rough road dealing with all the Fire Department issues, and it’s clear it’s not all healed,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to get in the middle of all that. I just want this issue of aging fire trucks dealt with in a calm and rational way.”

The Matrix firm was hired to review the Fire Department in the wake of a long line of scandals, including firefighters abusing sick time and lying about receiving required emergency medical technician training. Fiorentini and union officials have clashed publicly over those and other issues, including staffing, overtime spending, injury claims, health insurance, the condition of old equipment and neglected fire houses.

From The Eagle-Tribune