RAMER: No Aerial Rescue?

Submitted by Jeff Ramer, Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation

Good thing you had no fire last week. If you had, you would have found out that the Greenwich Fire Department had no working ladder truck with which to perform your rescue. It was not the fault of the Fire Department. They are obliged to work with the equipment that they are given, or in this case, not given.

Jeff Ramer - Greenwich Free Press

The five year old front line ladder truck failed its safety inspection, and mandatorily was ordered out of service. Because the Town had not funded a ladder truck replacement in nine years, front line responsibility fell to a twenty-two year old piece of equipment which promptly suffered a hydraulic failure and was pulled from service. Last resort fell to the final ladder truck in the Department’s inventory, also twenty-two years old, which similarly suffered a mechanical failure, leaving the Department with none. No ladder truck able to perform rescue.

Ever resourceful, the Chief reached out to Stamford, requesting fire coverage for Greenwich or for the loan of apparatus. We applaud the effort of our Chief and thank Stamford for its grace, but the fact is that for most of Greenwich, if you were hanging at the bedroom window of your burning house awaiting rescue coming from a firehouse in Stamford, by the time they arrived you would be a Crispy Critter.

In the days that followed, emergency effort by the Town’s Fleet Department has restored the two twenty-two year old pieces of equipment to working condition, but the five year old front line ladder truck remains out of service.

Remarkable that Greenwich would rely for public safety upon twenty-two year old pieces of equipment.

The Town equips six fire stations with apparatus, and distributed among them are thirteen Town-owned major pieces of equipment. For decades, the Town replaced these major pieces of equipment at an orderly pace of one piece each year. With the advent of the new Tea Party regime that now controls the Republican Town Committee, that orderly process has been dropped, and many of these apparatus have become exceptionally old and unreliable.

For the current Budget year, the Board of Estimate and Taxation (the “BET”) finally approved funding for the purchase of a ladder truck. Unfortunately, the funding was set by the BET at a figure too low to place an order. The Department had to come back to the BET, explain the deficiency, and ask for the remaining funding, which finally was approved by the BET last night.

The terrible complicating factor is the time delay. The manufacturer, Pierce, is producing this equipment on a 34 to 37 month lead time from order to delivery.

It is a delay factor well understood by our First Selectman, who serves as the Greenwich Fire Commissioner, and repeatedly explained to the Republican majority who controls the BET. So when the replacement protocol was shifted from the annual replacement of one apparatus, to a nine year delay on replacement of a ladder truck, their expectation was in fact for a twelve year replacement interval.

This equipment is extremely expensive. The Pierce ladder truck is presently priced at about $2,150,000. That is a big number, if your obsession is reduction of the mill rate. But by any measure, going three more years reliant upon equipment already twenty-two years old, seems just crazy.

You might not think that public safety would be a political issue. But if you thought that, you probably don’t realize that the Republican members of the BET hold their positions only so long as they please the new Tea Party regime that has taken control at the Republican Town Committee. So too for the First Selectman, who serves also as the Fire Commissioner. It is the Republican Town Committee that appoints each of them to their candidacy for the positions that they now hold. If you are a moderate, you are out. Gone from the Republican Town Committee is the wonderful old guard that served the Town for the past decades. This is a new regime.

We all appreciate low taxes. But at the same time, we rely upon our municipal government for prudent balance on our behalf. When blind obsession with mill rate eclipses good judgment on public safety, sound school buildings, and myriad other basics of municipal service, it begins to compel us to look more closely, to try to understand how we got here.

Every two years, the Town votes in elections for Town offices, including the BET and First Selectman. Understandably, many voters have not have the time or interest to delve into municipal affairs. Over these years past, traditionally Republican-leaning Greenwich has voted along its customary loyalties. Each election a few more votes were cast for the six Republicans on the BET, than for the six Democrats. That made all the difference. With that few vote edge, the Republicans on the BET were accorded the tie breaking vote, and with the tie breaking vote they controlled absolutely everything.

Extreme austerity became the rigor. The condition of our public safety equipment is just a case in point.

Pay attention this year. There are things happening for you to consider when you go to the polls in November.