Old Hoses, Tired Trucks

The Sag Harbor Fire Department, which serves Noyac and North Haven as well as the village, is facing “almost a crisis situation with the apparatus we have,” Chief Tom Gardella told the village board last week. He hopes the board will vote to replace three of the department’s vehicles, including a fire engine, at a cost of $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

Besides the engine, the chief said, the fleet needs a new rescue truck and a fire police truck, all vital equipment with the number of fire-related calls growing every year. Over all, he said, calls were up 30 percent in 2015 over the preceding year, a figure that does not include calls for emergency medical services, which are provided by a separate agency in the village. There were  466 calls to the fire department in 2015, the most it has ever had.

Asked by phone this week if the tired engine, which is more than 20 years old, had affected firefighting, Chief Gardella said it hadn’t — yet. “It’s at a point where, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm, it would be more likely that the truck could break down,” he said. “I had one incident where the brakes grabbed, where a member flew forward and bumped his head,” which sent the firefighter to the hospital with a minor injury. “We can’t just keep pushing the problem aside. It has to be dealt with. It’s not something we can say we will deal with next year or the year after.”

 At the meeting, on Jan. 12, the chief rattled off a list of what’s wrong with the two-decades-old engine, known as 7-1-3 and the first piece of equipment due at a fire: everything from leaky gauges to noncompliance with federal and state standards. Overhead lights, for instance, cause interference with radio communications, he said, so in order to transmit a message, the emergency lights need to be shut off. The truck’s hoses come from a truck before it, making them over 20 years old. A new truck would have a complement of new hoses.

A committee formed to put together specs for 7-1-3, which was due to be replaced last year, estimated that a new truck would cost $533,000. The rescue truck, known as 7-1-7, is 25 years old and has similar problems, and will cost about $365,000 to replace.

The chief also wants the department’s fire police company, which closes down roads during fires and accidents, to have a vehicle of its own. Volunteers have been using a passenger van for the last decade. Mr. Gardella often gives up his chief’s truck in emergencies — which leaves him without a command post — so that fire police personnel have a vehicle equipped with emergency lights.

The proposed fire police truck is large, with a utility body that can not only light up a scene but carry equipment to barricade it. It would cost $184,000 to $198,000.

Eileen Tuohy, the village treasurer, has been working on a proposal to replace all three trucks over the next 10 years through a bond, said the chief. “The idea is to space it out over 10 years so that it’s a minimal impact” to property owners throughout the Sag Harbor Fire District.

The proposal is to fund the three purchases without touching the village’s truck reserve fund, currently with a balance of about $290,000. The reasoning, the chief said, is, better to finance purchases now, before interest rates rise again, rather than later. The next truck, a pumper truck, will need to be replaced in 2021. By that time, there would be enough in the truck reserve fund to pay for it.

Village officials are expected to meet with the chief and the treasurer before the end of the month to consider specifics: yearly payments on the bond and the cost to taxpayers.

The department has also been working with the village’s grant writer on a federal grant for radio communication, in conjunction with other departments in Suffolk County’s Ninth Fire Division.