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Fire truck purchase presentation prompts heated board debate

Dan McClelland

by Dan McClelland
A presentation by a representative of a Queensbury-based fire equipment sales company at Wednesday night's village board meeting created some heated debate between village leaders.
Dan Olszanski, vice president of Adirondack Emergency Vehicles, a dealer for Ferrara Fire Equipment, was invited by Fire Chief Carl Steffen and the fire department's truck committee to address the village leaders as a last-minute addition to that night's agenda.
The Ferrara company is based in Holden, LA.
“A couple of months ago you asked us what we needed in a new fire truck without all the bells and whistles,” the fire chief reminded the board in his introduction of Mr. Olszanski.
He said the department's fire truck committee met and someone saw an advertisement from Mr. Olszanski's company so they invited him to come to Tupper Lake to talk to them.
“We talked about trucks with a commercial chassis, which doesn't seem the best option for the village.  We also looked at custom trucks, which were a compromise between custom and commercial and which have much lower prices.  But there's not a lot of changes you can make to them.”
The fire equipment salesman presented two proposals each with multiple financing options for the board to consider.  The first was for a single truck- a 2017 Ferrara Intruder II Custom Pumper with a 450 hp motor at a cost of $348,876.
Financed over 15 years at an interest rate of 3.19% interest for the first seven years, the annual payment would be $29,171 if the first payment came in July 2017, or $30,102 per year if the first payment wasn't made until 12 months later. If the truck was financed with a fixed rate for the entire 15 year loan period, the interest would be 3.46% and the payments would be slightly higher.
  The second proposal was for two trucks, which included the 2017 model plus the same one in a 2016 model, but powered by a 330 hp motor.  That truck they would sell for $329,793 plus a $8,000 discount for the two-truck deal.  The total was $670,669.
If the payments were fixed for the entire 15 years the interest rate would be 3.46% and the payments would be $57,099 per year if they began this year or $59,075 if they started in July 2018. If the interest rate was fixed for only the first seven years the rate would be lower at 3.19% and the payments would be $56,079 if the first payment was made this July or $57,868 if the first payment wasn't made until July, 2018.
Mr. Olszanski said that both pitches were based on 2016 pricing.
He said the Intruder II models were solid trucks which “because they are mass produced, that's how the costs have been driven down.”
The newest trucks owned by the Tupper Lake Fire Department are a 1994 and a 1995.
The third pumper the department owns, and which uses regularly, is a 1983.
He cited an industry standard which suggests that trucks 25 years of age and older should be retired from service.  Both of this department's first-line trucks are due to be replaced in the next few years, he calculated.
The salesman said if there was a fire here and someone died, any attorney suing the villageand its department for negligence would go to the age of the fire trucks as ammunition.
The vehicles carry full two-year warranties “bumper to bumper,” five year warranties on the engine, three on the transmission, five on the pump and a lifetime warranty on the truck chassis, according to his information.
He said the village could also use the 18 months between now and the first payment in 2018 to possibly find bond or other municipal financing below their 3.19% plan to reduce the payments further.  If the seven year fixed rate plan was selected, it would be up to the village to find financing for any truck at that point.
“What would be the timeline (of delivery) on the first truck?” Mayor Paul Maroun asked the company representative.
Mr. Olszanski said the 2017 is the last model his Queensbury business currently has in stock and the 2016 was a demo model.  “One truck is ready for delivery and the second one would be60 to 90 days.”
He apologized to the board “for throwing so much” information at them all at once.
Mayor Maroun said he would first want to confer with the joint village and town fire protection committee members, and particularly Supervisor Patricia Littlefield, who serves on that committee, before making any decision on a purchase.
Trustee David “Haji” Maroun, the village fire commissioner and an officer of the local department, said he recently spoke with Town Supervisor Patricia Littlefield and in his words, “she doesn't have a problem” buying a new truck.
Fire Chief Steffen said that at one time the village replaced a fire truck every seven years so that the first-run pumper was always relatively new.
Right now the first-line trucks are almost 25 years old and the reserve truck is 34 years old, he explained.
Of one of the trucks, he said the wheel wells are rusting through, the boxes are rusted and we're spending $20,000 or more each year on repairs.
The fire equipment salesman said Ferrara trucks are used by fire companies in many major cities, including New York City, Houston and San Francisco.
“New York City started ordered our trucks five or six years ago and they are still ordering them!”
“We're certainly going to look carefully at your proposals,” the mayor told the young salesman.  “Some of the trustees want to buy one!”
One of them was Trustee Maroun.  “I'd like to consider getting a truck” right now, he told his colleagues on the board.
Not everyone at the board table was happy about the presentation.  
“This is the first I'm hearing about” this proposal, asserted Trustee Ron LaScala.  He added the matter warrants more discussion before purchasing anything.
Mayor Maroun called the offers before them “good proposals.  ButI would like to look them over more carefully,” he told the salesman.
He wondered if Mr. Olszanski's company sold the last truck in stock, how long would it be before another could be delivered.
“Time is not the issue.  It's the price increase” you'll see if you wait, the salesman told him.
He noted that fire trucks have increased substantially in price over the years.  “Ten years ago fire trucks were selling for $350,000.  Now for a fully equipped truck you are looking at $500,000.  Plattsburgh just bought a new truck which cost nearly $1 million.”
Mr. Olszanski, pressing the board for an answer, wondered if they could call a special meeting.
The mayor said one could be called, but iterated he still wanted several days to consider the sales information.
Trustee Hollingsworth thought a special meeting to consider the proposals was a good idea.
Asked about state bidding, Mr. Olszanski said there is a new process many communities are using now to purchase equipment at discount prices without going out to competitive bidding.
Mr. Hollingsworth said he thoughtfully equipped fire trucks these days were selling for $500,000 typically.
Mr. Olszanski said many were.
Royce Cole, an officer in the fire department and a member of the department's truck search committee, said the members of the search group have talked to “all the dealers and reviewed many trucks.  We had a wish list (of equipment) and most that we wanted were $550,000 or higher.  Then we found Dan and we got 80% of what we wanted on the two new trucks for $670,000.  We went with what he had, what was necessary!”
Fireman and former mayor Mark Arsenault, who also sells fire trucks and fire equipment, said the committee should have looked farther.  “I represent the largest manufacturer of fire trucks in the world.”  He said his dealership also represents 30 different manufacturers of fire trucks.
He strongly recommended the village go out to bid to buy its next fire truck(s).  “Bidding is always good for the village and good for the taxpayer!” he stated.
He wondered, after all these years, why the village was in such a hurry to buy a new truck.
Mr. Arsenault reminded the board he has been telling them for years the fire department's fleet needed upgrading.
“So what's going on here?” Ron LaScala said directly to Royce Cole, who answered simply: “We need a new truck!”
Mr. LaScala said in the recent fire contract settled last fall, there should have been enough money set aside by both the village and town boards to buy a new truck soon.  
Both board pledged $15,000 each in a new truck replacement plan in the last two annual fire contracts.
Trustee LaScala figured the annual contributions were too small.
“There should have been adequate money in the fire contracts for buying a new truck.  That way as a community we can decide on the level of fire service we want and budget it out!  -And that's why we need enough money (for truck replacement) each year in the fire contract.
“Mark, you and I agree on this one!” the trustee told Mr. Arsenault.
He said he wasn't going to make a decision on any truck purchase that evening, adding that the presentation had been placed on the agenda less than 72 hours before the meeting.  “We should have been better notified!”
Mr. LaScala asserted at that point: “these games are getting old!”
Mr. Hollingsworth said he wasn't comfortable being rushed to a decision, based on the availability of the last remaining truck at the 2016 prices.
“Our first run truck is a 1995 and now we're being told fire trucks should be replaced at 25 years,” he told his colleagues.  “Our trucks are all old...they may be fine, but they are all old!”
Trustee Maroun argued the presentation “wasn't sprung on the board.  How long have we been looking for a new truck, Mark?” he asked Mr. Arsenault, who replied “since 2002.”
Trustee LaScala criticized Trustee Maroun for his negotiations for the village in the development of the last fire contract with the town. “Haji, you sat in the driver's seat and you didn't put enough money away (for vehicle replacement).  I told you not to do wasn't the right thing for the village.
Mr. LaScala said the truck replacementcontributions from both boards each year should have been $30,000.
“You guys built a building and you didn't have enough money. for..remember that?” he told Trustee Maroun, referring the promise by Mayor Maroun and Consultant Sean Foran that theemergency services building wouldn't   be built without a million dollar government grant awarded to Tupper Lake first.
“Will taxes go up if we buy a truck?” Trustee Hollingsworth asked.
Village Treasurer Mary Casagrain told him: “if we buy two trucks right now, yes.”  She said, however, that to purchase one truck the village and town will have accumulated $90,000 from the three fire contracts before the first payment in July, 2018.  That money could be used for “a big down payment” to bring down the amount of future payments, she reasoned. “So one truck wouldn't increase taxes!”
“-And we're spending $20,000 a year on truck repairs,” said Trustee Maroun.
“More than $20,000 some times,” Fire Chief Steffen added, and the village treasurer agreed.
Trustee LaScala said he thought the issue in this matter of truck replacement is “what's in each year's fire contract.  We need to revisit the contract and get it right!”  He said that is the only way to develop the proper plan to get the fire department what it needs in the future.
Trustee Hollingsworth suggested what he called “a compromise or a solution.” If purchasing one truck won't cause taxes to rise and the department is in need of a new first-line pumper, that should be the immediate answer, he reasoned.
Chief Steffen said he would like to see the village develop a replacement strategy to buy new vehicles on a staggered basis, so it doesn't ever have to buy more than one truck at the same time.  “The decision was make in 1995 not to buy any more new trucks, and now we are left with three old ones!”
The fire chief speculated that the town's state property insurance rating may decrease soon causing insurance rates to rise if equipment isn't updated here.  He said he routinely gets calls from insurance companies asking him how the department will protect a particular property they are covering or plan to cover.
He said it was a good idea to look at the fire contract with respect to the vehicle replacement sums, but that shouldn't hold up a fire truck purchase decision.
“I agree,” said Trustee Hollingsworth.
Mayor Paul Maroun reminded his colleagues “we need to look at what we can afford.”  He said the problem began years ago when the village and town boards stopped setting aside money each year to buy new fire trucks.  “It messed up the whole process!”
He repeated that before he would make any decision he wanted to talk with the town supervisor.
“I think it should be put out to bid,” Trustee LaScala told him.
“Possibly,” responded the mayor.
Fireman Royce Cole said he was getting very tired of the frustrating process.  “I've been doing this for seven years.  We put a committee together and we present truck (suggestions) to the board” that fall on deaf ears.  “Yes, these games are getting old!”
“It's very frustrating,” he told the board. “We get guys to come up here to help us out (with good proposals) and then we hear from we have to wait!” he told the board.
Mr. Hollingsworth asked Mark Arsenault for his estimate of the going price for new fire trucks.
“It depends...between $325,000 and $380,000 you can get very complete rigs,” Mr. Arsenault told him.
“Bidding keeps everyone honest...bidding works!” he said, repeating an earlier assertion.
He told the board it would be “crazy” to buy two trucks right now.
He said there are 37 fire truck manufacturers all eager to sell their products.
Mr. Arsenault said he had nothing against Mr. Olszanski or his company.  “It's a good product...we sold them for years!  He added also the salesman's offers were “very competitive.
However, going through the bidding process and getting a low bid that meets all the specifications “will save taxpayers money!”
“We're going to call a special meeting.  We need a new truck and we're going to decide on the best way to buy it!” Mayor Maroun said in bringing the discussion of nearly one-half hour that evening to a close.
In response to a question from Trustee Hollingsworth how long would it take to get the bidding process going, Mayor Maroun estimated in about a month, adding: “60 days maximum.”
“The truck we're offering tonight probably won't be there, but we'll gladly submit a bid,” Mr. Olszanski told the village officials.
He did note that the problem with competitive bidding is that sometimes fire departments issue such specific bid specifications, keyed to a particular make and model of truck it is difficult for all manufacturers to bid.