WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A purchase aimed at saving taxpayers a bundle of money isn’t panning out in Warwick, as a used ladder truck bought in the spring is out of service nearly seven months later.
In May, Mayor Joseph Solomon hailed the decision to buy Westerly’s 1994 Simon Duplex LTI ladder truck as a way to “save taxpayer dollars,” citing the $25,750 price and low mileage — 18,811 — despite 25 years of service.
But a failed engine and now an electrical issue have kept the vehicle off the road for all but a month since the city bought it.
At the time of the transaction, Solomon cited “fiscal constraints” faced by large and small communities as a reason to buy the 25-year old truck.
The Westerly Fire District would qualify as a small community, serving part of the town’s 22,509 population.
But Fire Chief John Mackay said the district was able to replace the truck sold to Warwick with a new $900,000 apparatus.
Warwick, the state’s third-largest city, passed a $323 million budget in May.
But it wasn’t easy, as council members and officials have lamented the tax-and-spending plan includes a structural deficit.
“It’s important to explore a variety of options as we balance the needs of our city with the realities of our budget,” Solomon said in a news release about buying the used ladder.
Solomon referred all comments about the current status of the ladder truck, known officially as Ladder 1, to Fire Chief Peter McMichael.
A new ladder truck would cost up to $1 million, according to Solomon and McMichael.
Solomon, who’s been a licensed car dealer since the early ’90s, said at the time of the purchase the condition of the truck, “will ensure it remains in the department’s fleet of vehicles for years to come.”
According to the city, the truck passed an inspection before the deal closed and Mackay said his department gave the truck to Warwick to test it out for about a week.
But McMichael confirms the engine failed about a month after the sale, prompting Warwick to have city mechanics replace the motor with the one from the old Ladder 1, a 1998 model that went out of service with “structural rot” more than a year ago.
McMichael did not know how many miles were on the 1998 engine, and Target 12 has requested that information from the city as well.
Even though the engine was replaced, McMichael said the truck never made it back into service due to an electrical issue that has since been outsourced to a private-sector mechanic.
The city has two other ladders but needs three, according to McMichael, who acknowledged at times his department has used apparatus loaned from other departments to efficiently cover calls.
Ladder 1 is stationed at the department’s headquarters near city hall, covering the Apponaug area in Warwick center, along with the Cowesett and Potowomut neighborhoods.
With one truck still down, McMichael said Ladder 1 company firefighters have been responding in what he calls a “utility truck,” with one of the city’s working ladders responding to emergencies with them when necessary.
“It’s pretty important to have three ladder trucks, especially in Warwick,” McMichael said.
He pointed out acreage covered by T.F. Green right in the middle of the 35-square mile city can have an impact on emergency runs.
“Anyone who drives through Warwick knows how getting around the airport at rush hour can take some time,” McMichael said, adding that’s what makes it important to have three strategically stationed ladders.
A city spokesperson said she is looking into questions from Target 12 about the cost of electrical repairs for the new Ladder 1 or how many hours it took for city mechanics to transplant the engine.
McMichael emphasizes the cost will fall far short of the price of a new ladder.
“When you buy used, there’s always a risk,” McMichael said.
Considering the cost of a new apparatus, McMichael said he “would make that purchase again.”