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Posted on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials planning to replace fire department's out-of-service tower truck

By Ryan J. Stanton


One of the city's two ladder trucks is used to fight a fire last August at the former Sheesh restaurant on North Main Street. That truck, which is operated out of station 5 near North Campus, is back in service after being out for repairs for at least a week. The city's other aerial truck, based at the downtown station, is out of service and needs replaced, city officials said.

Melanie Maxwell I

One of the Ann Arbor Fire Department's ladder trucks is back in service after being out for repairs, but city officials say another truck still out of service needs replacement.

"As I understand it, the ladder is back in service today," Mayor John Hieftje said on Tuesday. "It was just out for a few days for repairs. The tower needs replacement, though, and we've got money in the budget for that. The chief is presenting as part of the budget next Monday and I've asked for a plan in there about how we're going to replace the tower."


Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard issued a written statement Tuesday outlining the steps the fire department is taking to address mechanical failures with its fleet.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Mechanical failures had taken both of the city's aging ladder trucks out of service, including a 75-foot straight ladder and 95-foot aerial platform.

According to members of the fire department, the ladder was out of service for a little more than a week, and the taller tower truck has been out of service for months.

The trucks carry additional ground ladders that range from 10 feet to 35 feet and are considered essential for firefighting operations, including accessing upper floors and roofs and rescuing occupants trapped in taller buildings like downtown high-rises.

With the two trucks out of service, the only ladder carried by the fire department was 24 feet long, enough to reach a third-floor window. Firefighters told that's not an ideal situation in a city with many buildings that are four or more stories in height.

Hieftje downplayed the disadvantage in which that left the city, saying he doesn't think the fire department uses the tower very often anyway and the city can rely on several from the city's partners in the local area.

Firefighters say mutual aid agreements with surrounding fire departments are nice, but it takes extra time to get fire personnel and equipment to come from other communities and that can leave Ann Arbor residents without tall pieces of equipment for 15 minutes or more. They point out fires can double in size in less than a minute.

Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard issued a written statement in response to those concerns on Tuesday, saying it's true that the department did have two aerial trucks out of service for mechanical problems at the same time. He said a contingency plan was communicated to shift commanders.

The 75-foot truck is back in service at the fire station near the University of Michigan's North Campus, but the 95-foot truck from the downtown station remains inactive.


A Pittsfield Township firefighter uses a ladder truck to help fight a fire last August at Sheesh restaurant on North Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Mayor John Hieftje said the city can rely on trucks from neighboring communities, even when the city's ladder trucks are out of service.

Melanie Maxwell I

"If a ladder truck is needed, the incident commander has the option of requesting a box alarm assignment, which will bring ladder trucks from both Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti City," Hubbard said. "This is a written policy in our standard operating procedures."

Hubbard argued the risk to the firefighters and citizens would be greater if the department allowed firefighters to go to a call on an unsafe truck.

He noted the firefighters are in the midst of union negotiations and emotions are running high in the department, so he understands it's easy to point fingers.

"But I feel comfortable in our decision to take these two trucks out of service so that we can get the proper repairs and get them back into service in a timely and safe fashion," he said. "We sometimes join forces with other neighboring cities so that we can work together, efficiently and effectively, to provide the best service to our citizens as that is our No. 1 priority."

Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters union, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Trucks being out of service isn't anything new for the fire department, but it's usually because of staffing levels, not mechanical problems. found last year that on most days at least one of the two active trucks at Ann Arbor's downtown fire station was listed as out of service due to low staffing levels.

Dan Krueger, the department's master mechanic, said the 75-foot ladder truck came back in service just in time to respond to a fire that caused heavy damage Monday night at Ann Arbor's Broadway Auto Care. As for the taller truck, he said, it still needs some work.

"It's 15 years old, and usually for a large vehicle like that, that's pretty much the end of its active life," he said. "We have a crack in the frame that's an immediate out-of-service issue and that's why it's out of service right now."

Asked whether any steps are being taken in the interim to repair the tower truck and get it back in service, Hubbard said the plan is to just buy a new one.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Now they just need firefighters to drive it...

Frustrated in A2

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 3:16 a.m.

What in the world is the mayor talking about??? Does he live in a bubble where all is well and nothing will ever happen here in Ann Arbor.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

This sounds like what happened on 9/1 with the other 1 out of service!

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

"He noted the firefighters are in the midst of union negotiations and emotions are running high in the department, so he understands it's easy to point fingers.:" Because the Mayor and the former city manager (now Rick Snyder's union busting flunky) poisoned the negotiation process with their continued disrespect and bashing of fire department employees. John Hieftje is apparently 'comfortable' with that as well.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

Obviously there is a lack of concern for life safety by many in Ann Arbor, including those in administrative positions at city hall and the fire department (which is particularly disturbing). The word &quot;clueless&quot; comes to mind when reading the comments offered by the mayor and fire chief. I would think the mayor has personal insurance policies (home/life/auto) that he pays for but doesn't use very often. The fire chief's comments about mutual aid resources show some lack of knowledge or maybe some political allegiance to the city administration. Yes, fire trucks do break down. AAFD has cut back on their maintenance division dramatically in the last 15 years. A cracked frame is not unusual due to weight of the ladder trucks, and yes, design is a factor. So are road conditions. Union negotiations? Just another card that is being played from the deck. Art versus public safety is petty in the overall big picture. Obviously very few truly understand &quot;firefighter safety&quot; or &quot;life safety&quot;. When is somebody (the fire union, the administration, business community, university, etc.) going to demand a look at what impact the operational limitations of AAFD has on the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) rating the city has. The Fire Protection Rating Schedule (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> is ultimately what determines the rates that business and industry pay for fire insurance. Forget the flawed International City Managers Association (ICMA) report, get past the Fire Department &quot;safety&quot; rhetoric, stop the bantering about art versus public safety. Get the business community involved and take a good hard look at economics. A strong commerce base is vital to all city services. All of the other components named above will benefit if a comprehensive review of the ISO rating is completed. Keep up the good work AAFD. Everybod


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:43 a.m.

I would love to know why a vehicle has a cracked frame. Was it overloaded? Was it improperly designed? No ladder trucks in A2 is absurd. If I were a surrounding community with a ladder truck, I would refuse to use mine to help A2 and therefore endanger my residents, given the mayor's attitude. It is pretty clear that A2 isn't close to standards for a city of its size, and that residents of high rises are at risk (with more being built every day). Human life is at risk, as well as higher home/business insurance rates due to the lower rating of the city. A2 &quot;the blog&quot; should find out the official rating of the city over the past decade, compare that to equivalent communities, and document the financial impact on insurance. I also call upon City Council to outlaw all occupancy above the third floor. Add the wording to the crosswalk rules...

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:40 a.m.

It must be like shooting first in a barrel when interviewing the Mayor if your goal is getting a suitcase full of idiotic comments designed to fuel web hits. Congrats!

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

&quot;Hieftje downplayed the disadvantage in which that left the city, saying he doesn't think the fire department uses the tower very often anyway and the city can rely on several from the city's partners in the local area.&quot; Until someone dies from the delay in a truck getting to an incident on time? I'm sick and tired of this guy's clueless take on City issues, how he seems to have nothing but contempt for the blue collar men and women who protect us, and has no understanding of safety issues. Retire already and weasel some appointment from your Republican buddy Rick Snyder and let's move on.

Kai Petainen

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 2:20 a.m.

The AAFD had an event where they needed more equipment but the equipment was out of service. When the Huron River spill happened, this is what happened and how they had problems with equipment. So, this is a documented case of problems with AAFD equipment. &quot;He told me that they were putting booms at Gallup Park to try to catch what they could of the substance and had found the source of the problem. I asked him if he needed the Washtenaw County Team and he stated that he was told that they had some more booming material that was needed. I informed him that we had about 160 feet of boom material on the red trailer located at station #2.&quot; &quot;While en route the BC asked me to bring more booming materials to his location. I asked him to have PD meet me at Station #2 to unlock the door. After arriving at station #2 and gaining entry, I found out that the red trailer was there. Making a phone call to Assistant Chief ###### it was determined that the red trailer was taken to the Wheeler Center for service. I travelled out to the Wheeler Center and tried to gain entry in to the site with no luck. I then called AC ###### to come and help me gain entry into the site. After gaining entry in to the site another phone call was made to the BC to see if anything additional was needed off the red trailer. He told me that booms, pads and blankets were being requested.&quot; Documentation here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 1:55 a.m.

The facts are worse than stated in this article. The tower truck has been out of service all year in 2012 and 174 days last year. Ladder 5 (the only other fire truck that can rescue someone above the third floor of a building) was out of service 34 days last year and many days this year. The city is gambling with the lives of citizens, and we are one fire away from a tragedy.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 2:20 a.m.

If all citizens would just stay on the first floor everything will be ok.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

&quot;Hieftje downplayed the disadvantage in which that left the city, saying he doesn't think the fire department uses the tower very often anyway and the city can rely on several from the city's partners in the local area.&quot; It only takes one fire with a person trapped in a high rise building, to NEED those trucks. Obviously the mayor is willing to bet someones life that the truck won't be needed. The citizens of Ann Arbor and the members of the fire department need these trucks. Mayor Hieftje is leaving himself open to some serious liability with his remarks regarding this issue. He should be held accountable for his disregard of public safety. How long are you willing to wait for rescue when flames and smoke are nipping at your face....Do you want to wait for Ypsilanti or Pittsfield to arrive with a ladder??


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:45 a.m.

Daisy1 - you are right on. Response time is critical. And, these days we have more and more buildints that are considrably taller than 3 floors.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 12:51 a.m.

It is Hiefje's attitude that irked me too. Makes me wary to go above the third floor in any AA building.

Dog Guy

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

High-rise residents should put a tree service on speed dial.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

The ladder truck is 15 years old? Big whoopee doo. The only time the tower is used is when they water down the parking lot behind Kmart. So it has a crack in the frame? With barely minimal use? Makes me really wonder how long it would have lasted if used in, say, downtown Manhattan. Weld the darn thing back together, and get the darn truck back in service. No need for a new fangled multi hundred thousand dollar truck. Get those arc-welders a-hummin'.

Frustrated in A2

Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 3:12 a.m.

If a commercial truck has a crack in its frame that is an out of service violation and the truck or trailer have to be put out of service. There's also only a few things that can be legally welded on a truck frame. The truck is over a decade old, it needs to be replaced. Are they supposed to drive it until the wheels literally fall off?

Fat Bill

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

Proper way to repair a truck in that application would be replacing the frame rail, essentially taking the truck mostly apart and putting it back together... If the money for a replacement unit is where it is supposed to be and the timeline for replacement has been met, this is a good time. And it will take time; cities like Ann Arbor rarely buy a specialized piece of equipment like this &quot;off the rack&quot;


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 4:11 a.m.

Any vehicle with a cracked frame is considered unsafe for the any road..would you drive on a vehicle with a cracked frame to drive your family around in with the possibility if it breaking? ..probably not

Gale Logan

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

It is always apparent that the facts mean little on this blog. It has been stated repeatedly in news articles here and even in an editorial that none of of the money in the city's art program could legally be spent on fire fighters or their equipment. It also seems apparent that posters are aware of the facts but choose to say otherwise.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

The fact is that council can reverse the lock on &quot;Art&quot; funding as easily as they passed it. Whether any of these funds could be used for a truck is another question, but deserves an answer.


Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

The art fund was set up without the citizens approval taking funds from other areas in the budget -- it can be reversed. Hmmm, let's see, human life or a piece of art?


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

Go on, beat a dead horse deader. We all know all about the bucket stuff. It still grates just as much.

Dog Guy

Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 10:48 p.m.

The mayor's office is on the third floor; Hieftje is comfortable with this.

cornelius McDougenschniefferburgenstein jr. 3 esq.

Wed, Mar 7, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

hes worthy of a penthouse sweet at tower plaza.


Tue, Mar 6, 2012 : 10:45 p.m.

Broke down firetrucks but fancy water sculpture thing a ma jigs.