The Duluth Fire Department recently discovered that one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in its arsenal had to be pulled from service. Ladder 222 — a 1995 Pierce Arrow with a 100-foot reach — was in the maintenance garage for routine service, when some rub marks on the truck's drive shaft caught a mechanic's watchful eye.
"They realized there was some unrepairable frame damage, which caused it to really be unsafe," Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said. He said he feels relieved the compromised condition was discovered, enabling the truck to be pulled from service before a potentially dangerous failure in the field.
Typically, the Duluth Fire Department has three long-reach rigs in service — a tower truck and two ladder trucks — and it holds a third ladder truck in reserve for when one of the other units breaks down or is undergoing maintenance. "But we currently have no spares at all," Krizaj said.
As of Friday, with one of Duluth's other ladder trucks pulled for routine maintenance, Krizaj said the fire department was down to a single tower and ladder truck available for emergency response.
The Duluth City Council is expected to authorize the purchase of a 107-foot Pierce ladder truck for just over $1.287 million Monday night.
Jennifer Carlson, Duluth's finance director, said the city should be able to tap reserves in its debt service fund to cover the cost of the ladder truck.
"A few things have happened with the debt service fund," she said. "We have really benefited from low interest rates, and so we've been able to build up a reserve, because what tends to happen is we try to keep that debt service level, and once we could actually sell bonds, the payment is lower because we have interest savings. So, the debt payment that's rolling off is higher than the debt payment we're actually putting on."
Carlson said Duluth's growing tax base also has led to a growth in debt service fund reserves.
Krizaj said the lead lime for the rig is about 15-18 months, meaning that he expects to take delivery by spring 2023, at the earliest.
He explained that the truck will need to be customized for service in Duluth.
"Because of our hills, we have had issues in the past, where we've had to put different-sized fuel tanks on, for example, or we've had to essentially change the slope of the rear end of a vehicle, because otherwise it would drag through some of our intersections. Things like that need to be customized. And of course, there are different options for engine size and the transmission and the gearing of the rear end, which we focus on, due to our hills," Krizaj said.
He said local firefighting equipment must endure a lot of tough use.
"The city of Duluth is kind of hard on equipment, with the hills here, our winters and the salt," Krizaj said.
By paying for the ladder truck in advance, Duluth will be able to obtain nearly a $25,000 discount on its purchase price.
Assuming councilors authorize the purchase of a new rig, Krizaj said it will be placed in front-line service upon its arrival, and the department's oldest other working ladder truck, a 2013 model, will be used as a reserve unit.