HARVARD — After some discussion Tuesday night, selectmen gave Fire Chief Richard Sicard the go-ahead to purchase a new tanker truck and, with four out of five members present, voted three-to-one to approve his request to buy a used tower truck now housed at the fire station.
Both decisions had strings attached.
Backed by Town Meeting approval of the pending tank truck purchase for $350,000, with $250,000 of that amount expected to be covered by a state grant, Sicard said the committee formed for the purpose sent the project out to bid in June.
Now, the bids are in. Having compared numbers and specs, the committee selected Eastway, one of three companies that responded. Sicard asked for the board’s approval to move forward.
Eastway, a Canadian firm, was the lowest bidder, he said, coming in $50,000 below the warrant article amount appropriated to purchase and outfit the new truck.
Of the three, Eastway’s specs most closely matched the committee’s criteria for a tanker truck, Sicard said, including dimensions.
The goal was to keep it short, low and maneuverable, Sicard said.
Chairman Ron Ricci said size might matter for another reason and shared a story to illustrate his point. He recalled a pair of fire stations he’d once seen in another town that were next door to each other, one old, one new. The older building was still in use while the newer neighbor stood empty and unused. It turned out that the second building was too short for the fire trucks, he said.
Sicard assured him the new truck would fit in the existing fire station with room to spare.
But there’s a catch. The state grant the town has been approved for might not come through. “We’re on the list,” he said. But only a few hopefuls on the roster are likely to be funded this year.
Sicard said he should know for sure by Labor Day. “We could hold off until then,” he said.
The selectmen approved his pick, with the purchase contingent on news of the grant.
The used tower truck, for far less money, generated more discussion.
Sketching the history of this request, Sicard said when he last came to the board, he was asking to buy the used tower truck for $24,000. It was being housed at the fire station and had proven to be a big help at a fire at least once. The board directed him to the Capital Planning and Investment Committee.
He took the request to the CPIC, whose job it is to review proposed projects and purchases over $10,000 and make recommendations, prioritizing various departmental requests over time for planning purposes. “They support it,” Sicard said.
In addition, the truck passed aerial certification and a mechanic has checked out its systems, Sicard said.
The question now is, “Do you want to buy it or not?” he asked.
Selectman Leo Blair did not. “You say it’s necessary, ” he ventured. But what if the truck breaks down and requires costly repairs?
Once the tower truck becomes part of the fleet, and with a new tower truck purchase penciled in for 2022, wouldn’t the next push be to fix the broken down truck in the meantime? The purchase price might seem like a bargain now, Blair posited, but the possibility of a potentially costly breakdown seemed to him like a deal-breaker.
Sicard basically promised not to ask the town to fund a money pit.
And in his view, it’s too good to pass up.
CPIC had placed buying a new tower truck on the capital plan for 2018, and then bumped it to 2022 when another major expense trumped it, Sicard said. But for now, it’s not about upgrading the fleet.
“We’re buying an opportunity,” he said.
Firefighters can train on the truck, get familiar with it. And having it in-house, versus borrowing one from Ayer when the need arises, could make a difference, Sicard said.
But if it quits, then the department would be no worse off than it was before.
Currently, in situations where the height of a building calls for a tower truck, the Harvard Fire Department can call in mutual aid from the town of Ayer, which has a tower truck.
“The price tag has so much to do with it,” Selectman Ken Swanton said.
But Blair still didn’t buy it.
Ricci was leery, too. He disliked the notion of saying no now or saying no later if the truck breaks down, he said.
But Sicard said that won’t happen.
Based on that assumption, a majority of the board voted to buy the truck and to tap the Rantouille Trust (which currently has a $190,000 balance) for $20,137 to pay for it. To make up the difference, Rollstone Bank has pledged to kick in $5,000 toward the purchase of the tower truck, Sicard has said.
Asked if the offer still stood, he said yes.