Fire truck troubles in Fruitland cause concerns for safety

Friday, December 12, 2003

Firefighters, residents and members of a neighboring district shared their concerns with the Fruitland Fire Department's board Thursday night at a monthly meeting.

At issue was the district's aging 1976 pumper truck that recently has suffered mechanical problems -- including a breakdown at a Dec. 2 house fire on Chippewa Lane. At least three firefighters at the meeting said they had no faith in the engine.

"I won't promote or drive 412," firefighter Tyson Medlock said about the aging engine. "I'd hate to be in a burning house and have it go down on me when we've had so many problems with it."

The truck is the district's only Insurance Service Office, or ISO, class A rated pumper, said fire chief Shane Johnston. They could lose the district's current rating and local insurance rates could rise without such a truck.

Firefighters asked the board to buy a new pumper and move the older engine to a backup status.

After hearing the concerns, the board agreed, said president Chris Johnston.

"We will be looking at it in the next year to two years," he said. "Right now the fire truck is still operable. It has been fixed."

Deborah Hanks, a member of the East County Fire Protection District, said she feared for her own department members' lives when they provide mutual aid to Fruitland.

"I've been at these fires when your pump has gone out," she said. "I've got children and a husband out there and I'm afraid for their lives when they come to help you. I personally know this truck has caused you problems a number of times."

Johnston said the engine failed perhaps three times in the last 20 structure fire calls.

Board member Andy Rennis said the problem was a primer pump that became stuck and caused the battery to lose power. The valve for the part has since been replaced, and the problem it was causing has likely been eliminated, he said. In addition, the carburetor was rebuilt and plugs, wires and the distributor were replaced.

But that did little to make the firefighters at the meeting feel safer using the engine, they said.

The district's brush truck is also troublesome. It requires what one firefighter called a "screwdriver trick" to start. The mechanic from the Cape Girardeau Fire Department will be asked to examine it for repair.

A brand new pumper truck purchased last year does not meet ISO guidelines to become the main front-line vehicle until another purchase can be made, board members said. It has a 500-gallons-per-minute capacity but the required capacity is 750 gallons per minute.

Hanks suggested Fruitland do a lease-purchase plan to replace its aging truck. The plan would allow the district to make partial payments instead of one big payment.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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