City now owns its own ladder truck
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
A Hartselle apartment fire that killed a family of three last summer wasn't the deciding factor in the city's purchase of a ladder truck, say city officials.
Mayor Clif Knight said the ladder truck had been in the city's Capital Improvement Plan since 2002, nearly one year before the July 2003 Quail Run Apartment fire.
"The city has struggled to try and buy a ladder truck over a number of years," Knight said. "The CIP was presented in 2002 and approved the better part of a year ago. The council pushed hard for the ladder truck and were fortunate enough this time last year to have a good balance in the general fund to purchase it."
At the time of the Quail Run fire, Hartselle did not own a truck tall enough to put out a fire in a multi-story building. On that day, Decatur's Fire Department brought its ladder truck to the scene. It took about 10 minutes for the Decatur truck to arrive on the scene.
One week before the fatal fire, Hartselle's City Council has rejected a 1-cent sales tax increase. The proceeds from that increase would have gone towards, among other things, a new ladder truck.
Knight said Fire Chief Rickey Joe Smith had addressed the need for a ladder truck as early as 1990, based on ISO standards.
A ladder truck was purchased last October for $257,000.
"We're pleased to now have this piece of equipment in our inventory," Knight said. "It's well-equipped and ready to go."
The ladder truck was equipped through a $171,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant Hartselle Fire and Rescue applied for last March, nearly four months before the apartment fire. The grant was received in November.
Smith said each piece of equipment the department planned to purchase with the grant had to be listed in the application. According to Smith, he included enough equipment to stock a ladder truck in hopes it would soon become a reality.
"I looked for several years for a steal," Smith said. "We purchased a 1997 ladder truck in South Carolina last October with only 22,000 miles for $257,000, compared to $630,000 brand new. There was enough money left to purchase a 1997 E1 Rescue truck with 6,000 miles for $50,000 with the majority of equipment it needed, compared to $108,000 plus equipment brand new. So, we got a steal."
Smith also listed building ventilation in the grant application. He knew Station No. 1 on Main Street would need additional space when the department received the ladder truck.
Genesis Construction began building the 1,000 square foot addition this January to house a reserve truck currently stored at City Hall. Smith said the additional space will also ease the "tight fit" of the ladder truck.
"Genesis is doing a $70,000 job for $41,000, which is nearly at cost" Smith explained. "They cut us a super deal on the job and have provided great workmanship."
The project is expected to be complete in a few weeks. Smith and other fire fighters have contributed by painting and landscaping.
Knight said the next big improvement the city needs to accomplish for Hartselle Fire and Rescue is the construction of Station No. 3.
A Fire Department Special Fund was established last October for the purchase of equipment and construction of a new fire station. The city council moved $10,000 from the general fund into the Fire Fund last November.
"This is a pretty hefty project," Knight said. "The Fire Fund is still active and currently stands at about $13,500. We're trying to find ways to make it grow. With help from the community, it is growing."
Knight said the Hartselle Enquirer Fire Fund subscription drive, donations from Hartselle Wal-Mart Supercenter, and memorial donations have contributed to the fund's success.
Resident Mike Dowdy said he was inspired to create the fund after reading an editorial in the Hartselle Enquirer titled "A Penny's Worth of Prevention" about the Quail Run deaths and the lack of fire fighting equipment. Dowdy started the fund with a contribution of his own and challenged other residents to take part.