PRINCETON — The city of Princeton is considering getting a new aerial ladder truck to insure the public will continue to have a high level of service in case of fire.
At Monday’s meeting, the Princeton City Council heard from Princeton Fire Chief John Petrakis and Justin Walters, fleet maintenance superintendent for the fire department, on their concerns about the department’s existing ladder truck, which is 30 years old and showing some signs of problems.
Walters said firefighters need to have confidence in their tools and equipment, and that is not always the case with the current aerial truck. Enough small things have gone wrong on calls with the aerial truck that the firefighters no longer have faith in the apparatus, he said.
“This group (of firefighters) that you have right here, I would say, is the best trained group of firemen you’ve ever, ever had, and they want to work with their tools,” he said. “If they can’t trust their tools, it’s a problem.”
According to standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, Princeton’s aerial truck should have been replaced 10 years ago, Walters said. The truck has served Princeton well through the years in emergency situations and has also been used regularly for training purposes.
Walters also talked about why refurbishing the current aerial ladder truck isn’t the best solution. For one thing, the company that made the current truck is out of business, and no replacement parts are available. The truck would have to be retrofitted, or the city would need to have parts for the old truck.
Also, the cost to refurbish the existing truck has been quoted to the city at $540,000, Walters said. And the fire department would still have an obsolete, 30-year-old truck, he said.
The cost to buy a new “demo” truck is $780,000, Petrakis said. The city could pay for the truck through the ambulance transfer program, at no additional cost to the taxpayers. The cost to buy a brand new custom-specified truck would be more than $1 million.
In his presentation, Petrakis also reviewed the uses and importance of the city having a reliable aerial ladder truck.
The aerial truck allows firefighters to attack fires, handle rescues and provide entry or ventilation from above a multi-story building, Petrakis said. The aerial truck can also be positioned a further distance from the burning structure, which might be necessary because of setbacks or parking issues. The issues of rescue, entry, ventilation and support are addressed in each and every emergency fire call, Petrakis said.
Princeton’s aerial truck is one of only nine in a four-county area. The closest aerial truck for mutual aid is 16 miles away in Spring Valley, but the Spring Valley Fire Department will only send its truck company for mutual aid if the temperature is above a certain level, so the unit doesn’t freeze, he said.
“We’re kind of on an island of our own, so having this resource available to us is very, very important,” Petrakis said.
The Princeton Fire Department has included an aerial truck since 1957, Petrakis said. Not having an aerial truck would be detrimental to the community, he added.
After the presentation by Walters and Petrakis, Princeton City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said he supported the recommendation to buy a new demo aerial truck.
“If our fleet maintenance superintendent and our fire chief and all of our firefighters think it’s a good idea, then I think it’s a good idea,” Fiegenschuh said. “I think we should bite the bullet and go ahead and do it.”
The council agreed to issue an invitation for bids for a new aerial truck at its next meeting.
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