The New Kensington Fire Department hopes to return its aerial ladder truck to service by the end of the week, Fire Chief Ed Saliba Jr said Wednesday.
After that, the job will be to figure out how the city will pay for the $1.5 million slated to replace the 24-year-old vehicle.
“We certainly understand the importance of this,” Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “We help in any way we can.”
The two cylinders that help extend the four sections of the 105-foot ladder failed while the truck was being used to fight a March 6 fire on Fourth Avenue. The fire started in a duplex before spreading to a neighboring house and a commercial building; Angel A. Gray, 49, died in the fire.
The state police fire marshal could not be reached Wednesday for an update on the fire investigation.
The ladder’s extension cylinders failed near the end of the fight, Saliba said. No firefighters were injured.
“When the jacks failed, the ladder started retracting on its own,” Saliba said. “Guys kind of felt it. They took their time to get out of it. »
The cylinders were removed from the truck and sent to be rebuilt. Saliba said they are waiting for more parts before they can reinstall the cylinders.
Saliba said the 1998 Spartan/Smeal aerial ladder truck is tested annually and last passed a test in October. The failed cylinders had not been rebuilt before. Her main lift cylinders had to be rebuilt after the December fire at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Arnold.
The only aerial scale in the department, the truck is housed at station No. 1 in the city center. Saliba said it responds to almost every fire call in the city and has continued to be used despite its inoperative ladder.
In addition to its ladder, the truck carries a large amount of gear and equipment, including hand ladders, forcible entry tools, saws, and ventilation fans.
“It’s very important,” Saliba said of the air truck. “It’s the highest on our side of the river.”
Saliba said the truck was used to rescue flood victims.
“It’s a very versatile device,” he said. “It is very important for us to have him to protect not only the citizens of New Kensington, but also the surrounding communities to which we provide mutual aid.”
Saliba said it was time to replace the aerial ladder. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association recommends that aerial trucks be replaced after 20 years.
“The truck looks great, but it’s 24 years old. We maintain it every year, which every year becomes more expensive,” he said.
“Thanks to the quality of maintenance of our device, we are able to extend the longevity of its lifespan,” he said. But, “It’s getting to the point where it’s needed now.”
Saliba recently told city officials a new truck could cost $1.5 million, more than three times the 1998 price of $434,000. Saliba said it was the last major vehicle bought by the city for the department.
Saliba said he plans to discuss with city council and other officials how to replace the truck.
“We should get together and write a set of specs on what would be best for us,” Saliba said.
Guzzo said city officials plan to work with firefighters to make that happen, but it’s not something the city can handle on its own.
“We are working diligently with the fire department to secure funding through FEMA at the federal level and through various grants at the state level,” Guzzo said. “We have an incredible volunteer fire department and the safety of our firefighters and citizens is of paramount importance. That’s why we work hard to get financing for a new truck or to fix that truck.
Saliba said a used truck is not a realistic option.
“It’s hard to know what you’re getting when you’re talking about an aerial device,” he said. “If you don’t know where it came from, you have no idea what you’re getting.”
Besides costing a lot more, buying a new aerial ladder truck can also take a lot longer. While the current truck was ordered in May 1997 and delivered in June 1998, Saliba said a new truck could take 18 to 30 months to arrive.
If an aerial ladder is needed before New Kensington returns to service, Saliba said New Kensington can request assistance from departments in Arnold, Tarentum, Upper Burrell, Springdale and Oakmont.