TUPPER LAKE - Firefighters want the village to buy their department a new truck, but village trustees say that may be a tough sell when the department is already trying to get a new fire station built.
Mark Arsenault, former mayor and current firefighter, gave a presentation to the village board Tuesday night about the fire truck the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department is hoping the village will buy for it.
The truck is a used 1998 Pierce pumper that belongs to the West Albany Fire Department and would cost the village $139,000. A similar truck, bought new, would cost around $375,000, Arsenault said.
Mark Arsenault, along with several other members of the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department, gave a presentation to village board members Tuesday night asking them to buy the department a new truck.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
He said that with a low-interest loan the credit union has quoted, the $139,000 spread out over five years would mean a $10,000 to $11,000 increase in the fire departments operating budget over the next five years. That would mean an extra 7 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value for village residents and an extra 4 cents for town residents, he said.
In West Albany, two stations about a mile apart from one another consolidated, and the 1998 was the oldest truck between the two stations, which is why they're selling it.
The truck has a little under 18,000 miles on it, about what most of the TLFD's current trucks have on them now, and 104 pump hours, having only pumped at two major fires, Arsenault said.
Firefighter Royce Cole, who was also at Tuesday's meeting, went to West Albany to look at the truck with a handful of other members from the TLVFD. It can hold eight people in the cab and has a number of features like a generator and a deck gun.
"The truck is flawless," Arsenault said.
TLVFD members are looking to use the truck to replace a truck it currently has, which Arsenault said has served the community well but is ready to be retired after 30 years. He said the department can probably sell it.
Arsenault said the department hopes to reduce maintenance cost significantly by switching to a truck that is 15 years newer.
"Not only do we need a building, a station; we need to be able to keep the equipment in that station to fight the fires for the future of this community," Arsenault said.
Arsenault detailed the history of the department, which he said has served Tupper Lake for 110 years.
He said the department currently has three pumpers, from 1984, 1991 and 1997, though the department's website lists its pumper trucks as a 1983, 1990 and a 1995. Arsenault said the oldest two have about 25,000 and 22,000 miles on them, respectively.
The department also has a 2006 tanker, which was purchased new with money from the village, town and a grant, and several vehicles it bought with fire department funding: a 1991 mini pumper, a 1995 tower platform truck and a 2011 pickup.
He said the village bought trucks for the department in 1929, 1953, and two in 1959. It bought another in 1969, and after that, the village started buying new trucks whenever payments on the last one finished, until a few years after Arsenault's time as mayor ended in 2000.
At that point, the village board decided to use elsewhere the money it had set aside for paying for trucks. Then the village eliminated the three paid driver positions it had funded in years past, saving it $488,680 since 2004, he said.
"None of that money has been put back into replacement of equipment," Arsenault said. "It's time that the village and the town get together and start replacing some of this equipment."
Arsenault said fire department members put not only their blood, sweat and tears, but also some of their own money into their work.
"I would like to remind the board that we are volunteers," Arsenault said. "We don't get paid. We ruin clothes. We leave our families. ... For the many years that - I put 38 years into this department - I can't tell you how many meals we've lost. But we do it because we care about the community."
One of the challenges the TLVFD faces is distance to other towns, Arsenault said. Other than Piercefield, the closest departments that can help out in a serious fire come from Saranac Lake and Long Lake, and it can take 40 minutes for them to get here.
The TLVFD handles 95 percent of calls on its own, Arsenault said.
The number of calls keep rising, and they are projecting to respond to more than 200 alarms this year.
He noted that his department has an outstanding attendance record for fires, with an average of 15 to 20 firefighters showing up in three to five minutes, while some other departments in the area have trouble scraping together five members.
Arsenault said he knows it will be difficult to ask taxpayers to fund both a truck and a new fire station right now.
"I understand the situation with the community," Arsenault said. "I've sat on the village board for 16 years. I know the circumstances. I know this community as well as anyone else in this room.
"I've been told the timing is bad. Well, I don't know when a good time is. God forbid that one of our trucks breaks down responding to a call because we just haven't been able to keep up."
He said the service that the people of the community get for their money will be worth it, and he said he doesn't want to keep having to put good money after bad in maintenance costs for a truck that should be out of service by now.
Trustee Rick Donah, who is the fire commissioner, said the village's contract with the town expired in December or January, and though it continues to be renewed on a temporary basis, it needs to be renegotiated.
He said maybe the best way to go is to negotiate into that contract a vehicle replacement program for the future.
"I think the fire department is working on old equipment," Donah said. "There's no doubt about it."
He said he wants to look at the cost of a new vehicle to compare it to the used 1998 truck, since the TLVFD plans to use the 1998 as its front-line vehicle if it's bought.
Donah also noted that it's going to be difficult enough to get the referendum for the building passed.
"That's the project that you guys came to us with," Donah said. "You guys ask us to do things for you, we do try to do them for you, we've been sitting here as a board talking about it over and over and over again, and then we get a bunch of feedback like this is not something we're supporting."
He asked that the TLVFD give the village its truck proposal in writing, and he said the village will decide what to do about it, along with the town.
"A joint fire protection agreement is really where this fits," Donah said.
Cole said the department does prioritize the building project, but the opportunity to buy the truck is an unexpected bargain.
"We didn't plan on seeing this truck come available to us," Cole said. "It's just a great deal that we're presenting to you guys, and we just hope that you seriously look at it. That's all that we're asking."
Arsenault said the town has never refused an equipment request from the department.
"No one knows about what time is until you sat at this table 16 years, not 15 months," Arsenault said
Truck being held
The West Albany department recently refused an offer from the city of Albany to pay $150,000 for the truck, Arsenault said.
West Albany has become Tupper Lake's sister fire department, Cole said.
"They want to adopt us as the poor lost child in the North Country," Arsenault said.
Firefighters there have told the TLVFD that the truck will be held for them until they hear a "no," but Cole and Arsenault said they don't expect them to hold it for them forever.
Arsenault said he plans to speak at the next town board meeting on the issue as well.