UNITY — Unity Fire Department is raising money to replace a vital piece of its fire-fighting arsenal, its 1980 American LaFrance ladder  truck.

In an interview with The Republican Journal Nov. 12, Chief Blaine Parsons said the 41-year-old truck has served the department well, but the time has come to look at other options. 

On an emergency call July 4, 2019, the truck blew a radiator hose. With the engine located behind the cab, Parsons said no one saw that anything had happened until it was too late. “It cracked a jug,” he said, using mechanic’s slang for an engine cylinder. To make matters worse, they learned that replacing the engine would cost $25,000 to $30,000. 

Taking into account the age of the truck, which has started to show surface corrosion, it is not feasible to put the money into a 41-year-old truck, he said.

Unity Fire Department’s ladder truck with an “out of order” sign Nov. 12. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Unity bought the ladder truck through a private bid in 2009 from the Hamilton, Massachusetts, Fire Department. Parsons said the Fire Department paid $5,000 for the truck, primarily for the newly built Mount View Complex, which required there be a ladder truck to access all floors of the school. “It has seen a lot of fires, even before coming to Unity,” he said.

While a new truck would solve all of the department’s problems, they can range anywhere between $950,000 to $1.3 million, he noted. 

“If someone were to give us a million dollars, I’d buy a brand new truck,” he said. “That’s how much they are going for.” Recently, he was researching a couple of used trucks in the $25,000-to-$50,000 price range. “If I can raise more than $25,000, it will open more doors.

“When I started as fire chief, we had six trucks,” he said. “Currently we are down two trucks.” The town of Unity purchased a new pumper tanker this year. The department also has another pumper truck, a rescue truck and a forestry truck. With his goal of consolidating equipment, he hopes to put the rescue truck out to bid once the equipment from it is transferred to the new pumper tanker. 

Parsons has started a fundraising campaign to purchase a quint ladder truck that can pump water from a small tank located inside the vehicle and also reach high places with several aerial ladder options.

“There is definitely a need,” he said. There are only three ladder trucks in the county, which are owned by Unity, Liberty and Belfast.

“We cover ladder operations for Brooks up through Troy, and the whole northern half of Waldo County. Liberty covers the eastern third, and Belfast covers the rest,” he said. “We also cover a private college, five elementary schools and one middle/high school in our community.”

Just in Unity, he said, many buildings have a third floor, which is about 40 feet high. The existing ladder truck can only reach 35 feet. “That puts a damper on trying to rescue someone on a third story if they are trapped,” Parsons said. Also, 90% of the roofs they come across are steel, which are especially hard to stand on in winter.

So far, they have been lucky and have not faced a situation where they could not rescue someone trapped on a floor higher than their ladders could reach. But just last week, Parsons said, the ladder truck was called to a chimney fire in Burnham that they could not reach. Another truck had to be called. 

Also, at a church fire on Depot Street in December 2020, he said, the Unity Fire Department had to wait 20 to 25 minutes for Liberty Fire Department, which had a high enough ladder truck to reach the steeple.

Parsons noted the town does have a capital reserve account to purchase equipment, but with budgets as tight as they are, he does not not think it would be enough. To buy the new pumper truck, the town had to take out a 7-year loan at $35,000 a year, he said.

“We’re not the only fire department that is struggling between manpower and equipment,” he said. “At the end of the day, like other fire departments in the state, everybody is behind and I’m trying to get us ahead.”

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