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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brookline officials pumped up about new fire truck

BROOKLINE – Selectmen are supporting a proposal from the Fire Department to enter a lease-to-buy agreement to purchase a $475,000 fire truck, using $100,000 placed in a capital reserve fund last year for a down payment.

Under the agreement, the town wouldn’t be obligated to make its first payment until 2012, and as a result, there would be no tax impact in 2011, Selectman Tad Putney said.

“I’m very interested in the idea of financing this through a lease-to-own arrangement for a variety of reasons,” Putney said. “One of which, it levels off the payments, and we are also able to take delivery of the vehicle at the front end of the lease.”

At the March Town Meeting, voters approved a warrant article to establish a fire equipment capital reserve fund with $100,000.

This year, Fire Department officials had discussed introducing a warrant article to add $300,000 to the reserve.

Selectmen, however, were cool to the proposal, agreeing that voters would be more likely to approve setting aside $200,000 this year and another $200,000 in 2012.

The board also suggested looking into a lease-to-purchase arrangement, Putney said, adding that the town recently made the last lease payment on a fire truck it now owns.

Fire officials returned the next week with the idea of using the $100,000 in the reserve fund as a down payment for a lease-to-buy agreement for a pumper tanker that would replace the town’s 21-year-old truck.

Assistant Chief Scott Knowles said the town had purchased the truck for $161,000. It now has roughly 15,000 miles on it and many hours of pumping.

Under national regulations, fire departments are required to update vehicles and apparatus on a regular basis.

“The big thing is not necessarily the miles, but the hours,” Knowles said, explaining that the truck is a frontline vehicle used in mutual aid calls. “This is our second truck out of the bay.”

Knowles said the pumper tanker holds 2,500 gallons of water and pumps 1,500 gallons per minute. In addition, it accommodates six firefighters seated with breathing apparatuses.

Last year, voters rejected a Fire Department warrant article asking them to support the purchase of a new truck.

Under a lease-purchase agreement, the town would pay less than 3 percent interest for the truck: $132,500 for the down payment and the balance, plus interest, starting in 2012.

The Fire Department owns and operates seven trucks, not including the fire pickup.

If voters give the Fire Department the go-ahead, officials said they would order the new truck late next year and would be able to use it soon afterward, instead of waiting until the truck was paid off before receiving it.

For years, based on rules from the National Fire Protection Association, town Fire Department officials have anticipated replacing the current truck. The Fire Department, which is almost completely volunteer, has 31 call volunteers. Knowles is the only paid employee.

The fragile economy has made such appeals to the voters increasingly challenging.

“Last year, we went for a truck and got shot down,” Knowles said. “We understand the economy and everything else; however, we have to replace them when they are due.”

Knowles said he and other Fire Department officials were heartened by the selectmen’s response to their lease-to-buy proposal.

“They seemed on board with it and were very happy the other night,” Knowles said.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.