At October’s City Council meeting Douglas Fire Chief Mario Novoa spoke about the need, in which he explained why the Fire Department needs it and where and when it is going to be used.
At the regular meeting in January, Shook said the Council would need to decide if the item would be presented for formal request for proposal in order to obtain a formal financing package. He also said, in order to test the market, a financial package had been presented to approximately 30 financial institutions in an effort to gather estimates. Replies reflected a low two to three percent interest rate and the cost for the aerial truck would range between $1-1.2 million which would be financed over a seven to eight year period.
Council Member Rudy Quiñonez seemed in favor of the need of the proposed fire truck for the safety of the firefighters and the protection of city buildings, but added it was not the right time for the purchase due to the upcoming change of mayor and council and also due to a possible change in city manager. He went on to say the new officials would be in a better position to make decisions and once the economy improves, the fire truck could be purchased. He added that the City of Douglas was continuing to expend revenue it did not have; it could not afford to be in debt, and available funding should be spent for vital projects for the community such as street improvements.
Council Member Margaret Morales inquired if the expenditure would be in the 2012/2013 budget. Shook said that it would be in the following year. She then requested the timeframe for the financing bid process and the timeframe for the purchasing of the aerial fire truck.
Shook estimated it would be in April or May for a final package and for delivery it would be in the last quarter of the current fiscal year.
Mayor Dr. Mike Gomez stated the council should not make decisions that would bind the future council and further expressed concern regarding the prior use of $600,000 from a $1.6 million in reserves in order to balance the current budget. He further stated the cost of the fire truck would be $1 million and expressed concern regarding the economy and suggested building the reserves. Gomez suggested allowing the new Council to make the decision.
Luis Pedroza, Acting Finance Director, explained the informal process followed in acquiring quotes from financing and leasing firms. He said the range would be from $152,000 - $185,000 annually for the eight-year financing option, which would have a first payment due in September 2012.
The item was approved by a 4-3 vote, opposed by Mayor Gomez and Council Members Morales and Quiñonez.
Now, Chief Novoa feels there is a need to inform the public about the purchase of the aerial ladder fire truck.
Novoa said he has been requesting this type of apparatus for the last eight years as part of the Fire Department’s annual budget, but due to lack of funds, these requests have been denied every year.
“Additionally in an effort to acquire this type of apparatus, we have applied for and have been denied, no less than three Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG),” Novoa said. “The Department has, however, been able to acquire other equipment through the FEMA AFG Grant programs that include personal protective equipment, hazardous materials response equipment, training equipment, training for state certification, and some other operational emergency incident equipment.”
The Douglas Fire Department currently has three fire pumper engines, which includes a 1982 Van Pelt, a 1992 KME and a 2001 E-One. According to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) the 1982 truck does not qualify as a safe fire truck due to its outdated open cabin design. Besides, the City of Douglas saw the need to buy the 2001 E-One model after the two trucks broke down that year and the DFD had no choice but to borrow a fire truck from the Sierra Vista’s Fire Department in order to protect Douglas while the other two trucks were being repaired.
Novoa pointed out that the City of Douglas has made many improvements throughout the years and yet, no new fire suppression equipment has been purchased to assist in the proper mitigation of major fires in these newly developed areas around Douglas. These improvements include Big Box Stores on West 5th Street, Wal-Mart (has on average 110 employees within a 24 hour period and serves approximately 4,000 customers per day, 250 at any time), La Perilla apartments (99) units, the Gadsden Hotel (130 rooms has 15 rooms occupied at all times and families who reside there also), the Call Center (600 employees), the new Government Center (300 employees/customers at any given time), The New Best Western (68 room and is frequently full), and both prison complexes.
According to Novoa Douglas has several buildings that would benefit from this purchase. He said, that in a case of a fire is not only vertical reach, which is possible with the current equipment the Fire Department has but also the horizontal reach will be needed in case of a fire at other areas different from multi-store buildings like the Gadsden, the new Government Center, the Call Center, Wal-Mart, Takata Factory; every school or health care clinic in the city. He explained that nowadays a fire situation should be addressed in both ways, defensibly and offensively, meaning by defensibly fighting the fire from the outside and offensively is actually going inside the fire.
“An aerial apparatus is not just going to be used for a Gadsden Hotel fire. It will also be used to protect the employees, residents, and shoppers at many other facilities,” he said. “The G Avenue buildings which do not have sprinkler systems due to being “grandfathered in”, are not in compliance with present fire codes. The original Church buildings, all other city apartment buildings, health care facilities which include skilled nursing care facilities; La Solana and Cyprus Inn; all our public, private and charter schools, multiple story commercial and large private family dwellings, as well as manufacturing, and retail stores are more safely served by aerial apparatus.”
Novoa said the Fire Department will not be able to adequately and offensively fight fires with the current equipment in the near future as Douglas continues to grow with multi-story buildings and the Downtown Revitalization Project.
As an example, the chief mentioned the loss of the three houses on 7th St back in June 2006. If the Fire Department would it had an aerial ladder truck at that time they would have easily been able to limit the spread of the fire, he said.
The risk for a firefighter getting injured in any fire situation has increased over the years because the buildings have actually got lot older and they do not comply with current fire regulations and codes.
Novoa expressed that new buildings in town are built under the new codes and regulations, however, it is important to realize that buildings next to the new ones do not.
“Fires in the downtown area are not a slim proposition; there have been three in the last three years,” the Chief said. “We are sworn to protect lives, buildings, and properties in the City of Douglas. We have to have a vision for the future not only right now; why not treasure what we have now? Why not treasure what we have as economic thrives in this town? For me, this is not a job, it is a career, it is a passion. I can go down in history and let you know about the fires I have personally been involved in that we actually would have had a major difference if we had a ladder truck. One thing all fires have in common: We have lost them all, from Neway Laundry, G Avenue fire, 7th Street Fire, the 13th Street fire, those are the ones that I have been involved in; we lost them all.”
Shook spoke about the downtown fire in August, 2011. He said that what he witnessed was the fear that one whole block of stores could go up in a fire.
“We are talking about property damage, economic loss to the owners and the city because of the sales tax money they provide each year,” Shook said. “As I watched that night the only way to fight that fire was defensively and the only way to do it defensively was to be placed on roofs that are 80 or more years old.”
Shook pointed out that the aerial ladder truck is a critical and essential piece of equipment that the community really needs to look at based on need and from ability to pay.
“From my perspective as a City Manager, I have got to look at all the issues here, such as safety,” he said. “We are getting ready to do Downtown Revitalization; we spent $5 million on the Government Center and we need to be prepared to secure these types of investments in town.”
Pedroza stated there is a misconception that with the purchase of the aerial truck the City would incur in debt. He said that the proposal to buy the truck is to finance the $1 million, as it was presented in the January’s meeting. The terms that are being offered to finance an apparatus around the million dollars in the market is 7 to 8 years at a 2-2.5 percent, which is the most favorable term that he has ever seen at this point.
“Basically the misconception is that the $1 million is coming out or our reserve, which is not true,” Pedroza said. “The City would be paying approximately $150,000 -$163,000 a year to finance this apparatus. According to our debt schedule and debt capacity it is very manageable to do such payment on a yearly basis.”
Pedroza mentioned that in the two years prior, the City’s reserve had approximately $1.2 million, but in the previous year it had been increased to $1.5 million, and in the current year it was close to $1.9 million.
“From a financial perspective we feel comfortable in financing an apparatus like this and still feel financially secure going forward,” he said. “I do not perceive anything that could compromise our security that we have right now.”
The money to finance the aerial apparatus would be taken from the Special Projects Fund, which can only be used for capital improvements and capital debt payments and not from the General Fund, which is designated to public works and other expenses for the City.
An ordinance passed by Council in 1992 and made permanent two years ago said that there is a 5/10 of one cent of the sales tax that is dedicated to this fund.
About the Aerial Ladder Truck
The aerial ladder fire truck the Douglas Fire Department is considering would have a 100 foot reach ladder, which would address the need of fighting a fire from above by placing the two-man platform ladder on top of the fire and attack it directly with a two hoses compartment available at the platform and several sprinklers located underneath the platform to prevent the smoke going up to the firefighters and allow having a better view of the fire’s location.
A new aerial apparatus will be used not only for a reach in height, but also during fire suppression incidents to be able to reach the center of a large building from above, i.e. Wal-Mart, other commercial buildings, and can be used for countless rescue situations.
The new aerial apparatus would also suppress the fire with less water, as fire streams can be directed from above. An example of this would be the August 4, 2011 G Ave Fire. According to Chief Novoa over one million gallons of water were used to suppress this particular fire because “we were unable to have the proper water reach into certain areas in the affected building,” Novoa said. “We actually taxed our entire City of Douglas Water System, which has been a regular occurrence with many of our major fire incidents due to the low water aquifer levels right before monsoon season.”
Some people have asked Chief Novoa where the Fire Department will store this ladder truck.
“Our fire station on 10th street was renovated in 1998 and a bay large enough to accommodate a ladder truck was included in the plans,” he said. “Since we need a 100 foot long ladder in the truck we still have a few feet left on each side available at the bay. It is high and long enough to store the truck.”