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HILLSVILLE — Getting a new engine for the Hillsville Fire Department was something of an emergency in itself, based on the Jan. 12 discussion initiated by Carroll's emergency services coordinator.
Joe Roma asked the county board of supervisors to take emergency steps to resolve the mechanical problems with two fire department trucks. This need was further aggravated by a broken-down pump on the department's ladder truck.
The emergency services coordinator asked for help from the supervisors help in buying a new engine and repairing a second, to ensure that citizens have fire protection.
The fire department recently had two pumpers go down. "Engine 114 was out in Dugspur and the pump failed and it cannot be repaired," Roma explained. "It's 21 years old. So we've basically scratched that truck out."
Engine 110, a 10-year-old truck, has a fairly serious pump leak, and the generator went out, which shut down the whole truck.
"They brought a company in to somehow work around the generator for a while to get the pumps back," Roma said.
That truck will have to be taken out of service for a few weeks for repairs, which will cost around $20,000.
As Hillsville has lost an engine and another one's down, Roma requested the supervisors' permission to seek a combination pumper-tanker under emergency procurement. He estimated the cost for the truck, a new demonstrator model, at around $205,000.
Emergency officials considered looking at a way to replace the ladder truck and an engine at the same time, but the price of a ladder truck is too high, Roma said.
At the same time that Roma approached the supervisors, fire department representatives were requesting help from Hillsville Town Council to fix the pump on the ladder truck.
The ladder truck got a significant amount of repairs when it was purchased, he said. And the engine that's out of service right now was old when it was bought. "We bought somebody's problems," he said.
Fire engines have a life of 20 years, Roma explained. After that, the truck will lose its certifications, which hurts a locality's insurance ratings.
If the county spends $20,000 to repair the truck with generator problems, how long will it last? Supervisor Wes Hurst asked.
As it's a 10-year-old truck, it will be another 10 years before it loses its certification, Roma answered.
Will a demonstrator model have a full warranty and will it be good for 20 years? Hurst followed up.
Yes, Roma said. It's a 2008 truck that's been shown around.
A brand new truck would cost around $300,000, by way of comparison.
Supervisors' Chairman David Hutchins said he knows the money isn't in the budget. "But I also know we cannot sit here and leave the county exposed.”
So what's the recommendation and how will the county pay for it, the chairman asked.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe said the county's finance management director Pam Smith has been studying the options to pay for a new engine, plus repairs to the other truck.
Both would be handled through the Industrial Development Authority with 10 years to pay the debt, he said.
That money will be "taken out of the hide," proverbially speaking, Hutchins said. "I believe I can speak for the other five [supervisors]... there will be no levy increase in taxes this year."
Carroll will try to pay down debt to free up money for the fire department needs, Larrowe said.
Smith explained that she estimated the $240,000 for the new engine and the repairs with a 5 percent interest rate would mean the county could repay $31,081 of the loan a year for 10 years.
Hutchins expected a need for "painful reductions" in the budget to make everything work.
Near the end of the meeting, Hurst made the motion to proceed with buying a new pumper-tanker truck in emergency procurement and to authorize the repairs on the other.
The motion was approved unanimously after a second by Supervisor Manus McMillian.
After the meeting, Hillsville Fire Department Chief Mike Musser said the plan calls for getting rid of two trucks and replacing them with the one new one.
Getting rid of a tanker truck based at the substation at Twin County Airport at the same time will downsize the fire department's vehicle fleet, but, he added, the one new truck will match the capabilities of the two it's replacing.
The pumper that broke down is a 1987 model, Musser noted. They could spend thousands of dollars to repair it, but the engine would still be old and outdated.
He didn't believe that would be a wise investment.
The ladder truck is still a necessary piece of equipment, because the department needs it to provide adequate protection for multistory buildings like the motels near Interstate 77, Musser said. The fire department is seeking assistance from the town to repair the ladder truck.
Fire department officials understand, with the economy the way it is, it would be too difficult to replace the ladder truck, he said.
"We want to be able to maintain that level of service to our citizens and the businesses we protect," he said.
Fire protection carries a hefty price tag, and the Hillsville Fire Department is practicing good money management in carrying it out, Musser said. "We're expected to perform a service to the community and we have to have the tools to do it."
The need has been shown by the 21 calls the Hillsville Fire Department has responded to in the first 20 days of the year. The number of calls seemed to spike with the onset of cold weather, during which firefighter assistance was needed with flue fires, brush fires and wrecks, as well as malfunctioning sprinkler systems and alarms.
"We've started off on a pretty busy pace," Musser said.
Firefighters appreciate the support they get from Carroll County and Hillsville in providing those services, he added.