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Wellesley councillors split over new fire truck purchase

A new pumper truck is in the works for the Linwood fire station, but not without debate as Wellesley council was split on the merits of replacing the existing 15-year-old unit.

The price tag of up to $380,000 was cause for concern to Coun. Shelley Wagner, who unsuccessfully pushed Tuesday night to have the existing pumped inspected for possible further use.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that fire departments replace their pumpers after 15 years, after which time the possibility of failure increases. Wagner, who interviewed the mechanics who inspect Wellesley’s trucks at Mike’s Auto Service, relayed that expenses on the pumper have been minimal, and that the current Linwood pumper is in good condition. She added that Wellesley’s fire trucks see less service than those of Waterloo and even Woolwich.

Township fire chief Andrew Lillico responded that the employees at Mike’s Auto Service are not emergency response specialists, and that a new pumper would be up to current standards. When asked about possible ramifications of ignoring the NFPA guidelines, Lillico said the township could be liable if the vehicle failed to start.

Kevin Beggs, general manager of community services, told council, “I don’t think any of our departments are blessed with extra equipment, so if a piece of equipment does go down, it’s down.”

Wagner suggested putting forward a motion to defer purchasing a new pumper until refurbishment of the old model had been considered.

“Part of doing good business is also checking your other options, and I don’t see why we don’t at least investigate having it refurbished to look at what our costs might be,” she said.

Coun. Herb Neher, however, leaned towards following the staff’s recommendation. “We have to be very careful. If we’re going to start to question every time we get a new truck and say, ‘This one might have seven years, this one might have six years,’ then we’re also have to ask ourselves: Do we want to take that additional risk?’”

He added, “Obviously these are guidelines; they are not mandatory … So we in council have to decide, ‘Do we get a cheaper deal the other way, but do we also want to take the risk factors associated with possible breakdowns?’”

Ultimately, Neher declined not to withdraw the motion to make room for a deferral by Wagner. “We have a program here in place. I rely on the integrity, on the professionalism, on the knowledge of the fire chief. I agree with the motion,” said Neher. The motion passed in a recorded vote 3-2, with Wagner and Mayor Ross Kelterborn voting against.

In an interview on Wednesday, Neher called the debate a symptom of “putting the cart before the horse” with regards to budget deliberations. He suggested that capital expenditures be proposed in advance of budget deliberations to offer more time for debate.

“We approved the budget – Shelley fully approved the budget, that was in the budget – but now that [Lillico] said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to present something that you’ve already approved,’ all of a sudden there’s this hoopla.”

Also cause for concern was the fact that Lillico would be visiting the manufacturer twice in New Brunswick to inspect the pumper and its design. Lillico noted that the first trip would be paid for entirely by a fire station tender sale fundraiser, and the manufacturer would cover accommodations on both trips. Chief administrative officer Willis McLaughlin pointed out that such trips are not uncommon, and said that after attending a similar inspection in Peterborough, “I had no doubt it was in the interest of the taxpayers to have it done.”

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