April 21–Allentown’s firefighters made a public plea to City Council to invest in new firetrucks, saying an equipment shortage has reached a “crisis” level.
Keith Pierce, the city fire department’s safety representative, said that as of this week, all of the city’s reserve fire equipment has been moved to the front line because of breakdowns with other gear.
If one more fire truck breaks, the city will be forced to respond to fires with pickup trucks, Pierce said Wednesday.
“We are essentially returning to material conditions that we were in nine years ago,” he said.
Firefighter Adam Perreault told council the fire department is the only city department without an approved equipment replacement plan even though the fire chief has repeatedly submitted one.
Council President Ray O’Connell said the condition of the city’s fire equipment is “embarrassing” and a “slap in the face” to the city’s firefighters.
“The budget comes down from the mayor’s office,” said O’Connell, who is running against Mayor Ed Pawlowski in the May 16 primary.
Pawlowski said Thursday the firefighters’ complaint was “nonsense.” The city has one pumper truck down, and is buying a new one, he said.
Pawlowski said he was informed about the pumper problem April 5 by fire Chief Lee Laubach, and has found a used replacement pumper. It has fewer than 10,000 miles and will be available immediately, unlike a new pumper truck, Pawlowski said.
The mayor did not respond to Perreault’s contention that the department has no vehicle-replacement plan.
On Wednesday, O’Connell questioned Public Works Director Craig Messinger about the fire equipment. Messinger said he sits on the fleet committee with the fire chief and is well aware of the department’s needs. The committee has repeatedly “put forth what needs to be replaced,” but funding is needed, he said.
The city has tried to maintain its aging fire trucks, Messinger said, but the older the trucks get, the more difficult that becomes.
“Parts aren’t available like they used to be,” Messinger said. “Some of the trucks, they have to make the parts.”
Allentown’s five-year capital plan includes a new firetruck in 2018 and two more in 2019, Controller Jeff Glazier said.
Jeremy Warmkessel, president of the city firefighters union, said new firetrucks have been included in the capital plan before, but were cut before money could be allocated.
“For me, it’s where the rubber meets the road,” Pierce said. “It’s when those trucks back into the station for the first time.”
O’Connell pledged to meet with representatives from the fire department to discuss the issue further.
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