Controversy Long Over, Flagler Beach Finally Gets Its $568,000 “Quint” Fire Truck
FlaglerLive | January 28, 2016
The controversial quint, that a multi-purpose, half-million-dollar fire truck that inflamed many a confrontation among Flagler Beach city commissioners and embroiled the city’s fire department in a nearly year-long battle to win its purchase, finally arrived in Flagler Beach Saturday and may be in service in late February or early March.
The final price of $568,000 was about $40,000 less than the city had budgeted when it voted 4-1 for the purchase 15 months ago. It is the only truck of its kind in Flagler County.
Custom-built by Rosenbauer in North Dakota, the 37-foot-long quint combines the capabilities of a pumper truck with a ladder truck, having a 78-foot ladder that Flagler Beach Captain Bobby Pace says will improve firefighting abilities on the 70 three-story beachside structures and the city’s condominiums. The truck also has a capacity of 450 gallons of water and is smaller than the typical fire truck, affording it more maneuverability, especially on Flagler Beach’s streets. It is a single-axle truck, which will save on tire replacement. Its frame was built to withstand oxidation on the beach side.
“We won’t be talking about this truck for replacement for another 15, 20 years, even on the beach,” Pace said today. He never boasted of his accomplishment, though it was Pace who’d led the way for the truck. He spoke of the acquisition along more technical lines, referring to the truck’s capabilities and how it will make the job safer and more efficient for his firefighters. But he allowed some pride in the acquisition after all.
“It was time for the department to take a step into the 21st century,” Pace said. “We needed to progress, we needed to move forward with this rig, so yeah, I’m proud of that but I’m happy that the guys are going to have quality equipment to work from.” The truck still needs preparation before it goes into service. Lt. David Kennedy has been assigned the job of configuring its various departments.
Eventually, the truck will be the primary firefighting engine for the city, with Engine 11, a pumper truck, used as back-up, or for longer trips to the west side of the county in mutual-aid situations, when other departments can use additional help.
“In the meantime there’s an invite out to elected officials to do some-ride along with some of those folks, and before we put it into service we’re planning to do a ribbon cutting at the fire department with cake and punch for residents to come and see it,” Pace said. That will be for next month or early in March.
Pace said the acquisition of the truck was only part of the department’s progress. The other part is putting a financing plan in place to ensure the replacement of other equipment, including a new pumper truck.
The financing of the quint was central to the controversies that accompanied its purchase. The city paid for it partly with a fund that had been collecting $50,000 a year for fire department replacements, but mostly with money from the city’s infrastructure fund—money to be used for what it says: infrastructure repairs and construction. Then-City Manager Bruce Campbell, who supported the firetruck’s acquisition, said the use of that fund was legal.
City Commissioner Marshall Shupe is among the three commissioners who have already paid the truck a visit. No surprise for Shupe: he is closely identified with the fire department, having spent a lifetime as a volunteer fireman (including at that department) and several years as chief or assistant chief of a volunteer fire department in central New York State.
“I stopped down to see it the other day after it came back from Fire East,” Shupe said, referring to a trade show where the quint was exhibited in Daytona Beach. “I like it, I think the guys did a nice job. Bobby asked me if I’d help and give a bit of information to the guys when they start hanging the equipment in it to try to figure what’s going to be most effective and efficient.”
Shupe pointed out the numerous safety features of the truck, some of them less obvious than others, such as the well-pronounced forward bumper: it juts out to prevent smaller people from being in proximity of the truck and not be seen by the driver. The truck also has a rear video camera with a 5-by-7 screen for the driver, who will always know what activity is taking place in back of the engine. Shupe said the company also threw in a thermal imaging camera, handy to locate the source of fires in walls, for example, or even to help finding individuals lost in the woods.
Shupe remembered the controversies. “It was one of those things where some people don’t agree with it but others do,” he said. “Things change. Of course everybody’s opinion is based on their experience or what they think is right.”
As the proposal for a quint was making its way through commission discussion, lines were drawn early and stuck: Commissioner Kim Carney and Mayor Linda Provencher were opposed. The rest of the commission favored the truck. One other voice, unelected at the time, was especially opposed: that of Rick Belhumeur, who led a petition drive against the acquisition, wrote against it and got into serious confrontations with Commissioner Steve Settle over the issue. The experience added to Belhumeur’s intent to run for the city commission. He was elected, without a single vote being cast, last week when Settle did not file for re-election, and Belhumeur and Commissioner Jane Mealy were the only two candidates who’d qualified for the two open seats. Mealy was re-elected.
Belhumeur was unbowed today when speaking of the quint, now as a commissioner-elect.
“Don’t get me started. You know I’m not a fan of this truck,” Belhumeur said. “I don’t believe a fire truck that carries half as much water is an improvement or think enough of it to call it an investment.” Asked about future capital spending, he said: “That’s going to be a challenge. This purchase is not really a capital expenditure because it is masked by having been bought mostly with infrastructure dollars. I don’t believe that future purchases of fire equipment should be made solely with infrastructure dollars because it hides the true cost of the fire department and it makes the funds unavailable for other city needs in the future.”
For now, he said of the quint, “We’re stuck with it. I just think it was a waste of money. They could have bought a truck for $300,000 less that would have been a better first-responder truck.”
Even if Belhumeur had been on the commission instead of Settle when the panel took its vote, it’s unlikely that the decision would have gone differently, since the final vote to appropriate the money was 4-1, with only a simple majority needed for approval. But the battle over the truck may also have played a key role in the dynamics that resulted in last week’s unexpected election outcome. In a roundabout way, Belhumeur may well owe his odd election to the commission to the quint.