Thanks to the generosity of a fellow department, the Merrill Fire Department was able to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences, from an unfortunate twist of fate this past August.
“We were out at drill at NTC when Ladder Truck 63 experienced a mechanical breakdown with its hydraulic system,” Fire Chief Dave Savone explains. “We immediately contacted the city garage who determined the issue was out of their realm of expertise. At that point we determined we had to bring in Red Power Diesel, which is a heavy duty fire apparatus repair shop out of Appleton. When RPD got out here and diagnosed the issues, they determined they were unable to fix the problem in the field, and would have to bring the rig back to their shop in Appleton.”
As Savone further explains, the fate of Ladder 63 would soon meet yet another unfortunate twist.
“Unfortunately, while their mechanic was driving our ladder truck en route back to Appleton, the rig was involved in a motor vehicle accident and was eventually towed to their facility. Mechanical damages from the original breakdown were estimated at $20,000. Damages from the motor vehicle accident were estimated to be between $20-25,000.”
Thankfully, all damages were covered by insurance.
However, the loss of their only ladder truck left the department vulnerable, especially in the event of an incident where use of the ladder was a necessity.
Finding some type of replacement became a priority for Savone and the department, and an affordable replacement at that.
“A week later I was speaking with our insurance adjuster discussing options,” Savone adds. “I jokingly mentioned ‘if this was on my personal car insurance I would get a loaner!’ The adjuster took me seriously and after looking into our coverages, he determined our policy included such coverage.”
Savone and MFD staff immediately went to work seeking a rental replacement until Ladder 63 was service-ready.
The prices they discovered however were staggering.
“I networked with many fire chiefs in the state of Wisconsin and state of Illinois.” Savone continues.
“We were referred to several places including a fire apparatus facility in Alabama which quoted us a rate of $6,000 per month for rent and a $9,000 mobilization fee; which includes transfer of the truck back and forth. A second company out of South Carolina quoted us at $7,500 per month for rent and a $15,000 mobilization fee.”
As staggering as the prices may appear to the unknowing eye, Savone states the quotes were right around the average rates.
“Renting fire equipment is not cheap! The rates are comparable to the average person renting a car at a monthly rate, but on a larger scale.”
As an alternative, Savone considered the possibility of renting from a manufacturer rather than a rental company.
It was during the course of that investigation, Savone learned of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, and their rather unique circumstances.
“In an attempt to save money for the city, I began calling fire apparatus manufacturers to investigate rental, and while speaking with Custom Fire Apparatus, we were informed Green Bay Metro Fire was looking to sell a truck,” he said. “Of course I expressed our interest in learning more and he relayed our information to the department.
“I later spoke with Division Chief Brent Elliott of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department and explained our predicament. I advised him we have a ladder truck out of service for at least a few months and we wanted to continue to provide adequate fire protection to the citizens of Merrill, and surrounding areas.”
Four hours later, Division Chief Elliott called back with some music for the chief’s ears.
“He advised he had spoke to the fire chief and offered us a reserve, fully functional ladder truck for free,” Savone said. They are a larger city and happened to have a couple reserve trucks. They are in the process of deciding if they can operate with only one. Division Chief Elliott and Chief Litton felt this was a great way for them to pay it forward and be able to determine if they can indeed operate with only one reserve truck. It was literally a win-win situation for both departments.”
The department received the 40-ton, 40-foot-long 1994 Pierce ladder truck on Sept. 17. The loaner came equipped with only a ladder.
However, that ladder is capable of reaching a height of 100 feet, 15 feet longer than that of Ladder 63.
While attorneys from both cities worked out the details, MFD got to work outfitting the truck with the equipment from Ladder 63.
“The agreement we have is for us to use the truck for free. But if the truck were to become damaged while in our possession we would be responsible,” Savone explains. “It was placed on city insurance and if Green Bay were to have an immediate need, the truck would be returned within 48 hours.”
Once equipped and service-ready, the last step was for department staff to become acquainted with the loaner rig.
Four members of the MFD, including Savone, spent five hours with the GBMFD training division to learn proper maintenance and operation.
“I’m just ecstatic about this!” Savone adds with a broad grin. “When I was hired, city admininstrator Johnson charged me with several tasks, including efficient management and operations of the Merrill Fire Department both physically and financially. By engaging in this agreement, we are saving the city between $25,000 and $35,000.
“This all comes down to a matter of brother helping brother, neighbor helping neighbor and is what fire service is built on.” Savone explains. “This is the backbone of the industry I have served for 35 years. It’s all about helping each other in a time of need. If Green Bay or any other department were to ever need the assistance of Merrill Fire, we would be on the road to help in any way we can.”
Savone projects Ladder 63 to return to service sometime in the next few weeks.