Ann Arbor Fire Department to get new $1M aerial truck and hire 3 firefighters
The Ann Arbor City Council voted Thursday night to accept a $642,294 federal grant that allows the city to hire three more firefighters this year.
That grows the fire department's ranks to 85 full-time employees.
The council also approved the purchase of a new 100-foot aerial platform truck from Ohio-based Sutphen Corp. for a little more than $1 million.
"I know that some of my constituents who live in tall buildings have been quite concerned that we had a tower truck that wasn't functioning well," said Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward. "They are pleased that we're going to be able to purchase a new truck."
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"I know we have in excess of 100 buildings in the city that are considered high-rise," Hubbard said. "So we've got quite a few."
Thomas Gibbons, financial analyst for the city's fleet and facility unit, said the new aerial truck purchase allows the fire department to remain in compliance with national standards for fire truck service life.
That includes the recommendation that a fire truck stay in front-line service for no longer than 15 years and be removed from service completely after 25 years.
The new 2013 truck will replace a 75-foot ladder truck from 1999, which will be retained in the fire department's fleet as a reserve aerial truck. The estimated delivery of the new aerial platform is 10 to 12 months after the order is placed, Gibbons wrote in a memo to council members.
"I think both of these actions are positive steps and very appropriate actions, wholly consistent with the community's priorities," Council Member Jane Lumm said of the two items approved. "I will be working to increase public safety staffing in next year's budget, but that's a conversation for another day."
Mayor John Hieftje said both the city's 75-foot ladder truck and its nearly 100-foot tower truck are back in service following a period when they were out for repairs. But during that time, he said, the city had a box alarm system in effect so it could call for a tower truck from a neighboring jurisdiction.
"And I hope that we can get the region to the point where we can look around at these million-dollar trucks and figure out how many do we really need in the region," he said, "rather than all of the fire departments having one because in many of the departments they're rarely used."
Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, asked Hubbard why the department was going with a platform versus a ladder truck. Some have speculated it's because it would fit inside Station 2, which Hubbard has proposed reopening as part of a plan to switch from a five-station model to a three-station model.
Hubbard said the bucket is about safety.
"The platform has a bucket on it that the firefighters will get into to go up to the higher levels," he explained. "And if they have to perform a rescue, it's a lot easier to bring civilians out into a bucket and bring them down as opposed to trying to bring them down on a ladder."
Kunselman asked more directly if the purchase is in any way related to the proposed reorganization plan to close two stations and switch to a three-station model.
"Absolutely not," Hubbard said. "We still need this truck."
Hubbard said the city has been working for the last six months toward purchasing a new aerial truck. He said he surveyed some of his senior officers to see if they preferred an aerial with or without a bucket, and the unanimous choice was to have a bucket.
Due to its age and mechanical condition, Ladder 5, which is a 75-foot straight stick aerial without a bucket, will be put into reserve when the new tower arrives, Hubbard said.
Hubbard said he's still looking forward to adding two light rescue vehicles that will be used when staffing permits and will be a vital part of the fire department's operations. He said they can be staffed with two people and can respond to the majority of the city's emergency calls.
He noted they were recommended by the ICMA consultant report that came out this past year and would work in both the department's current system as well as under the three-station model.
He said they will be equipped to handle any type of call other than actual fire extinguishment, which is less than 30 percent of responses.
The federal staffing grant is being spread out over two years, with $255,000 each year covering the cost of three extra firefighters and the remaining $66,000 each year covering other operational needs.
Hubbard said hiring a fourth firefighter, which the city hoped to do, would require dipping $19,000 into the department's cash reserves and would hinder its ability to stay within budget.
"I think the $66,000 was going to be used for some of the shortfalls that were already in our budget," he said, noting the department already had somewhat of a deficit planned.
Hubbard said the city will have the option in 2014 to reapply for another federal staffing grant, but he doesn't know what its chances will be of getting more funding.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.