ONTARIO – Last year, the Ontario Fire and Rescue Department’s ladder truck proved to be an essential when firefighters responded to major fires.
The ladder truck allows firefighters to get above each blaze, knock down flames and stop a fire from expanding.
Yet a recent inspection determined Ladder Truck 109 was failing and unsafe to use, requiring the truck be parked and off limits for future fire calls.
That is creating a gap in emergency services that local officials are scrambling to bridge even as they acknowledge there is no money now to do much about the problem.
“We really can’t be without a ladder truck,” said Clint Benson, Ontario Fire and Rescue chief.
The 1987 Seagrave ladder truck failed a routine inspection Feb. 1. The inspection found the truck had electrical system failures, leaking seals and loose extension cables.
The electrical problems impact how the ladder itself is rotated. The seals extend and retract the ladder.
“The ladder is not safe for use by firefighting personnel for training or rescue operations,” Benson wrote in a Feb. 4 memo to the Ontario City Council.
The ladder was last inspected was 2020.
Benson briefed the city council on Tuesday, Feb. 14, on the condition of the truck and offered five solutions to the council in his memo.
Benson wrote that the city can refurbish the truck, buy a used ladder truck in good condition, lease a new ladder truck, buy a new one or buy a custom-built truck.
Benson recommended the council consider buying a used ladder truck in good condition – a 2010 model or newer – for between $600,000 and $750,000.
An overhaul of Ladder Truck 109 is not the best option, Benson wrote, because of its age and the challenge to find parts.
In his memo, Benson wrote he was still waiting on cost estimates for leasing a truck.
A new ladder truck will cost $1.6 million and would take two to eight months to get, the memo said.
A custom-built ladder truck, Benson estimated, will cost $1.75 million and could take up to three years to get.
Dan Cummings, Ontario city manager, said in an interview last week that finding a replacement for the truck is a challenge.
“Even if we had the money, we wouldn’t get it very fast,” said Cummings.
Meanwhile the loss of the ladder truck creates new problems for the fire department. While fire agencies in Weiser and Vale have ladder trucks, their response time to a fire in Ontario could be lengthy.
“They have a 30-minute response time,” said Cummings.
Cummings said during the time without a key firefighting weapon like a ladder truck could potentially mean a “fire can jump from one roof to the next.”
That response time gap is worrisome, said Benson.
“If we have someone trapped it’s not a good deal,” said Benson.
The Ontario ladder truck was key to suppressing fires at the Bargain Center and Guerrero’s Market last year.
Cummings said with the construction of a five-story, 115-room Marriott Hotel – on Southeast Fifth Avenue and Tiffany Street in east Ontario – also adds urgency to get a functioning ladder truck.
“If something happens right now, we are relying on a long response time from a different agency and that is pretty scary,” said Benson.
The council didn’t act on Benson’s recommendations but Councilor Ken Hart said the city needs to “to get it figured out” and the council needs options for financing a replacement.
Cummings said he will most likely take the matter to the city’s budget committee when it begins to meet in March.
Meanwhile, Cummings said he is working to compile budget numbers and prices for a used truck.
“Right now, we don’t have the money,” he said. “But this is critical in my mind.”
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.