Ridgefield officials grumble at $65,000 fire truck repair
A Ridgefield fire truck has needed recurring engine repairs, following a history of electrical problems when the town first bought it decade ago.
Town officials are looking at the possibility of contesting the repair bill — though the Board of Selectmen did approve a $65,000 transfer to cover the expense.
“It’s our lead pumper,” Fire Chief Jerry Myers told the Oct. 7 selectmen’s meeting.
“We have, over the course we’ve owned it, had to have the head gasket replaced a couple of different times,” Chief Myers said. “And this latest time there was a leak and an odor in the cab that our town highway crew traced back to possibly another leak in the gasket.
“We sent it back to Cummins, manufacturer of the engine,” he said. “ …When they took it apart the interior was all rusted.”
So, more work.
“We have to have a new engine for it. The new engine is $65,000,” Chief Myers said.
The fire truck was new in 2010.
“It’s half way through its useful life,” Myers said. “The alternative is buying another $700,000 pumper.”
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark remembered there being problems with the fire truck when it was new.
“It was more than $700,000 this truck. Wasn’t it $1 million — it was pretty high,” she said.
“We have had trouble with this engine right from the git-go,” Kozlark said. “We were nervous that it was a lemon.”
“You’re 100 percent right. There was a recurring electrical issue with the truck,” Myers said. “…We got town counsel involved.”
The electrical problems were eventually fixed.
“Since that 2012-2014 time we have not had that problem come back to bother us,” Myers said.
“Although we fixed all the electrical problems,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said, “…there are still other functions that would go wrong.”
“What’s the typical anticipated life of a piece of equipment like this,” asked Selectman Bob Hebert.
“Standards would say we shouldn’t use it beyond 25 years,” Myers saidi. “We plan on 20 years. The first 10 years it’s a front line piece of equipment.”
After 10 years the department’s plan is to replace the front line fire engine, move the old front line truck to back up duty, and sell the back-up piece.
Myers said the engine company, Cummins, had defended itself by suggesting that the rusting inside the engine was the fault of the town’s maintenance practices — though he and the highway department mechanics weren’t convinced.
“It seems like the only way this could have happened is if the wrong antifreeze was put into the engine,” Myers said.
“We know the antifreeze we use in Ridgefield — it’s the right stuff.”
The vehicle maintenance crew at the highway department keeps track of that, he said.
The engine had been back to Cummins not so long ago.
“We just had it up there three years ago for a head gasket,” Myers said.
“The expenses we’ve incurred on this, are they above what would normally be expected? Selectman Hebert asked.
“Having to repair a head gasket three times in the life of any engine is kind of unheard-of,” Myers said.
In the back and forth with Cummins, Highway Department mechanic Burt Motta had challenged the company on the recurring problems.
“Burt was really putting the screws to them. There was no way we should have replaced the head gasket three times,” Myers said.
“Something was wrong. There’s no way that should happen,” Marconi agreed. “Do we pursue a legal course?”
“We’d probably spend more in a lawsuit than paying for the engine,” said Selectman Sean Connelly.
“I’d want to be sure we got a good warranty on that engine,” he added.
“I think it’s a three-year warranty,” Myers said
The chief said the Fire Department had generally had pretty good experience with the company.
“We’ve got a lot of other Cummins engines. It’s not like this is a funky company that has bad products,” he said. “...That single engine was defective.”
“We’re in the process of having it replaced right now,” Myers said. “When we get it back it will have a new three-year warranty.”
He was hopeful the investment would pay off and “extend the life” of the fire engine.
“The body is in good condition,’ Myers said. “We had it touched up a couple of years ago.”
The issue before the board was to move the $65,000 need from the repairs into the fire department’s vehicles account, from other accounts Marconi had identified.
Then the question would have to go through the Board of Finance, Marconi said.
At the Oct. 7 selectmen’sfinancial meeting Marconi thought transfer might require a town meeting, since it was more than $50,000.
But he said Oct. 13 that Governor Lamont’s executive order over the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed the 2020-21 budget to be approved by the finance board without a town meeting, meant that the finance board’s vote would be the final approval needed for the transfer.
But it won’t be the end of the matter.
“When we get the truck back, we then begin a negotiation,” Marconi told fellow selelctmen, “and have a serious discussion with Cummins.”