The Duluth City Council will be asked Monday night to approve the purchase of two fire trucks at a total anticipated cost of nearly $2 million.
Most of that request - $1.375 million - would go to buy a 100-foot-tall aerial fire tower truck, a piece of equipment knocked out of commission by a July 2 electrical fire.
Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards said the 20-year-old truck was about to go into the shop for maintenance when a short-circuit in its electrical system ignited the fire.
"The evening it started on fire, the crew was going to be taking it out of service right at that time. In fact, it was in transit from one station to another station to get a reserve truck when it started on fire," he said.
The four firefighters aboard safely exited the vehicle and began working to extinguish the fire. They finally put out the fire with help from another unit.
The cost to repair the tower is expected to be at least $75,000, and Edwards said the bill could easily be much larger.
"That 75-grand was an estimate just to get Tower No. 1 to start and run. Then, we'd be looking at possibly other electrical damage, because it's a multiplex system, and if you have an electrical fire there could be a lot of damage to other systems," he said.
The tower unit was slated for replacement in 2019, but the Duluth City Council will be asked to approve plans Monday to push up that schedule.
Wayne Parson, Duluth's chief financial officer, said that by placing the order now, the city can avoid a scheduled 10 percent increase in the price of the rig that the maker, Pierce Manufacturing, attributes to tariffs and the anticipated costs to purchase steel and aluminum.
Parson said the city won't need to pay for the tower until it takes delivery of the unit, and about a year of lead time will be required.
In the meantime, Edwards said the department will need to rely on three other ladder trucks to reach similar heights as the tower, but none of those units is equipped with an aerial platform that can accommodate multiple firefighters.
"It is a concern, and it possibly could hinder some of the operations that we do," he said. "But our firefighters are very resourceful and very knowledgeable. So I don't look at it as a threat to public safety, but it's not as efficient of a tool as a ladder tower for some operations."
The other piece of requested firefighting equipment - a new $600,000 pumper truck - already is baked into the city's 2018 budget, said David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer.
To cover the cost of the aerial tower, however, city administration will seek council authorization to draw from reserve funds.
If the council signs off on the plan allowing the expenditure Monday, Parson said the city still would retain about $13 million in reserves. That equates to about 15 percent of Duluth's overall general fund, so Parson said the remaining reserves would keep the city well above the 5 to 10 percent cushion prescribed by policy.