City approves fire truck purchase

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published October 22, 2013

HARPER WOODS — After more than an hour of discussion at the City Council table Oct. 7, the council voted unanimously in favor of the purchase of a $337,995 fire engine.

The lengthy discussion included concerns from firefighters who felt that the purchase wasn’t the best choice for the city. 

The city also approved up to $5,000 for any modifications that are needed. The city is using a more-than $300,000 grant it received for the fire purchase. The council needed to make a decision due to time constraints.

“In order to comply with the grant, we have to have the wheels on our ground by March 24,” City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk said.

The city chose not to purchase a truck that would have cost more than $500,000. That would have cost the city more money, so the city went back to find a truck that could be purchased within the grant parameters but still meet the city’s needs.

“The primary issues are the needs of the department, as well as the financial ability of the city to meet those needs,” Skotarczyk said. “I had to weigh quite heavily on the fact that, in our audit presentation, our auditors specifically said that we should be very careful with capital purchases, even under grants, and getting tied into long-term financing arrangements.“

The issue at the meeting, however, was whether it truly met the city’s needs. The council listened to the varying viewpoints on the issue.

Public Safety Director James Burke and Skotarczyk said that it did, and the firefighters felt that the storage capacity on the less-expensive truck wasn’t adequate.

“It will offer us the essential equipment that we need,” Skotarczyk said. “It will last us the term that we need.

“The choice we’re looking at is between a Cadillac as opposed to a high-quality Ford,” he said.

The firefighters didn’t see it that way.

“As far as relating it to a Cadillac versus a Ford, this isn’t a luxury vehicle for us,” Firefighter/Paramedic David Carrico said. “This is a tool. … It will spray water on fire, but that’s not all we need it to do anymore. We need it to do a lot more, and it’s going to have to do it for the next 20-25 years. “

Their issue was storage capacity.

Carrico said that, at one time in the past, the city had the manpower to bring multiple trucks to a scene, so the need to fit everything on one truck wasn’t an issue.

“Through the years, we’ve become a one-truck department,” he said.

There is a lot of equipment that needs to be stored, including extrication equipment.

“The reason why we recommended the bigger truck isn’t the bells and whistles,” Carrico said. “The amount of square footage that the bigger truck has to offer will fit all this equipment.”

Carrico said it’s a safety issue because they will be able to store equipment properly with the larger truck and not have to use bungee cord.

Resident Susan Uhl spoke at the first hearing of the public about the firefighter’s concerns.

“Since this is a piece of equipment that will need to service the city for the next 15-20 years and costs several hundred thousand dollars, I think it might be worthwhile to discuss some of those concerns,” she said.

While Burke said the firefighters did a good job researching, he did not agree that the less-expensive vehicle would not meet the city’s needs or that it was less safe.

“I’m not going to come in here and ask for a truck that’s unsafe,” he said, adding that he did research and has been assured that the truck meets all standards.

“This, somehow I’m getting the feeling that it is turning into a negative, and it is an ‘us vs. them,’” he said. “This is an extremely positive development for this community, getting $322,000 given to us to purchase a piece of equipment is fantastic.”

In the end, City Council agreed that the best option was purchasing the less-expensive fire engine.

“I’m sure you can understand our desire to get what the department needs, but at the same time, we are rather bound by our ability to pay,” Council member Vivian Sawicki said.

Council member Charles Flanagan agreed with the less-expensive purchase, as well.

“I don’t find a lot of merit to their argument, and I think we need to stick with the one we can afford,” he said.

Ultimately, Mayor Ken Poynter said he felt this was a positive experience.

“The discussion has been great, (and) the presentations have been great,” Poynter said.