Aging equipment worries Liberty Township fire officials
Revenue from a levy passed this month will keep the lights on at both Liberty Township fire stations -- but it won't pay to replace aging vehicles.
Looking ahead, township officials said they've identified options to cover the local fire department's capital needs without taxpayer support in the next few years.
That includes the need to replace an aging ambulance, a purchase Fire Chief Tim Jensen said has been postponed for more than a year past the typical replacement cycle.
Medic vehicles typically remain in daily service for 10 years, then are relegated to backup status for five years before being replaced.
The township has three medic units. Two are in regular rotation; the third saw its 15th birthday come and go last year. Jensen said it's badly in need of replacement.
"They're just like any car: They wear out," Jensen said. "They're on the road a lot and they take a beating."
A replacement would run the township about $200,000, he said.
It's the fire department's most-pressing need, but not the largest. The biggest single cost on the horizon is the need to replace one fire engine -- roughly a $550,000 expense.
The older of the township's two pumper trucks is 15 years old. Jensen said the trucks typically last for 15 to 20 years, depending on the cost of repairs.
"We can go a few more years with this one," Jensen said. "There's a few issues with this one, but it's still a mechanically sound vehicle."
He said leasing a fire engine is one option in the future.
Smaller capital needs include the need to replace computers and firefighting equipment.
Last year, the township secured a grant to replace most of its hoses, and officials hope they can continue to defer some costs with grants.
Township Administrator Dave Anderson said federal funding recently allowed the fire department to purchase the Opticon system, which lets fire trucks move through traffic signals quickly. A grant also recently allowed the fire department to upgrade its heart monitors.
"We've done very well with grants," Anderson said. "We're looking where the money is, so hopefully we can continue to benefit from that."
Anderson said the township also is pursuing a small increase in per-run reimbursements from the county. A new contract currently is being negotiated, he said.
The township also will consider the possibility of instating a fee for ambulance transport, Anderson said.
Jensen said the cost of the department's capital needs will be clearer once all its expenses are known, particularly after the resolution of a contract dispute taking place this month. The board of trustees clashed over a labor agreement struck with the fire union in 2011 to extend the current contract -- including raises -- for one additional year through 2015.
The board was expected to vote on the provision at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Jensen said putting off some purchases could be costly.
"With fire trucks and EMS vehicles, the cost of raw material is going up every year, and the federal requirements for emissions are getting tacked on," he said. "The vehicles aren't getting any cheaper."