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Friday, August 31, 2007

Huge Red Firetruck A Big Yellow Lemon

If there was a "lemon law" that covered firetrucks, the city of Muskegon might have an excellent claim with its 7-year-old, 100-foot ladder truck -- a piece of equipment known as Unit L-44 or, in less formal terms, a big fat headache.

"We've had issues with this truck since it was new," says Mark Kincaid, the city's director of public safety for fire services.

Things started going downhill shortly after the $600,000 aerial truck arrived here in 2000, according to Kincaid.

"The day it was delivered it blew a hydraulic line and went back to the factory for six months," Kincaid said. "I hate to use the 'L' word, but we've had issues from bumper to bumper with this truck, and with almost every system."

The truck's biggest failure involves its 100-foot ladder and bucket assembly. According to Kincaid, the sheave pins and pulleys that extend and retract the ladder have never worked properly. Otherwise, it has been used to fight fires and other emergencies from Station No. 4 at Laketon Avenue and Lakeshore Drive.

The truck was purchased mainly for fighting large commercial and industrial fires, as well as those on the upper stories of high-rise apartment buildings.

The city has 75-foot ladder capability with its Engine 24, Kincaid said, but has had to rely on mutual aid from Muskegon Heights or Norton Shores if it needed to go higher in fighting a fire.

Nearly two years ago, city officials began talks with the manufacturer to see about getting the balky ladder fixed.

Complicating matters was the fact that both General Safety, the manufacturer of the truck body, and Aerial Innovations, which built the ladder apparatus, have since been bought out by other companies.

But now, after much wrangling, the city has reached an agreement with Rosenbauer America LLC, of Wyoming, Minn., which has since absorbed General Safety as one of its divisions.

By agreement, Rosenbauer will work with RK Aerials of Fremont, Neb., to evaluate and possibly repair the ladder apparatus and have it certified as meeting National Fire Protection Association standards.

In exchange for being released of any blame for the faulty ladder assembly, Rosenbauer has agreed to absorb the cost of repairs as long as the job does not exceed $25,000. Kincaid said a recent inspection done here by representatives of the two companies indicates the cost should be "well under" that amount.

Muskegon's cost will be paying an estimated $5,100 to a transportation company to get the truck to and from the proper repair facilities, a round trip of about 1,700 miles.

The city's troubles with L-44 started well before Kincaid arrived. The truck was ordered by his predecessor, then-Fire Chief Patrick Simpson, who resigned in late 2003.

A few months after taking over the department, Kincaid told city commissioners the city needed to buy better-quality fire vehicles with stronger warranties.

Among his specific recommendations was to buy from a single-source manufacturer, in which the same company builds the chassis, body and aerial equipment, all covered by a single warranty.

Kincaid said that after the truck is repaired and certified, he and other city officials would decide whether to keep the truck a few more years or sell it before its value depreciates further. The city has sold a fire pumper in the past on eBay, city equipment supervisor Brett Kraley said.

Robert C. Burns, Muskegon Chronicle

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