July 23, 2008

Citizen Questions Proposed Fire Truck Purchase

By Patti Dozier, Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Ga.

Jul. 23--THOMASVILLE -- Some people interested in the proposed purchase of a $500,000 aerial fire truck left Thomas County Commission chambers after the announcement that a vote would not be taken on the matter Monday night.

Vice Chairman Moses Gross, presiding in the absence of commission Chairman Josh Herring, said at the top of the meeting the vote would not be forthcoming until the full commission was present for discussion.

Herring is vacationing on the West Coast. Contacted by phone Friday, the chairman said he was against the purchase.

Commission emergency service and purchasing committees met early Friday morning and voted 4-3 to put recommendation of the fire truck purchase to the full commission Monday night.

On an agenda for the Monday night meeting received via e-mail at the Times-Enterprise at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, the item was listed under committee reports as "Emergency Services/Purchasing Recommendations -- Aerial Truck." The vote to make the recommendation came during a meeting at 8 a.m. Friday.

The item had been removed from meeting agendas distributed at the Monday meeting.

During the portion of the Monday meeting open to citizens, Thomasville resident Bill Raiford asked commissioners questions he thought the board should have answers for before voting on the proposed ladder truck.

Raiford's questions are:

--Is the proposed expedited purchase based on the forthcoming ISO (Insurance Services Office) inspection? If not, on what is the urgency based?

--When the county fire department knew in December 2006, it was assuming responsibility for fire zones 1 and 2, should not the request for a 100-foot ladder truck have been made at that time? A 75-foot ladder truck is merely window dressing and will not meet all current requirements.

--If there is a three- or five-year county fire plan, the plan should have contained all needed new equipment. Is there such a plan, and have all future equipment needs been addressed?

--Where will the proposed ladder truck be housed, and will it be used on a daily basis or just be on call? If only on call, perhaps consideration should be given to a less-expensive used vehicle.

--Are the required trained personnel on board, or will additional personnel be required for the truck's operation, and who will do the training? The driver of a ladder truck is required by law to have a Class-A Non-Commercial driver's license. If additional funds are required for more personnel, are the funds included in the total amount being discussed, or are they in the current year's budget?

--In regard to the proposed automatic-aid agreement, what would be the benefits to the city and to the county in such an agreement? Are county fire personnel sufficiently trained to operate all city fire equipment?

Raiford presented the questions -- in writing -- to the board.

In his presentation, Raiford pointed out that funding for the ladder truck is not in the current budget, and funds for such a purpose are not available without stripping other budget items.

"The proposal to use funds in the impact fee account should not be considered, since those funds are designated for the repair and replacement of currently owned items," Raiford wrote. "The rosy prognostication of additional impact fee monies this year is questionable, given the state of the economy."

Raiford concluded that funds for the fire truck purchase must be raised by borrowing, which, he said, seems irresponsible and a result of a lack of planning.

While the county might indeed need a ladder truck, such an authorization should be made only after a thorough analysis of the three- to five-year county fire plan in which all possible alternatives have been addressed, Raiford wrote.

Commissioner Elaine Mays told Raiford his questions would be referred to the emergency services committee. Mays said she did not think the board was qualified to answer the questions, and fire department personnel was not present.


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