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Watertown fire chief gets wish to apply for pickup truck

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Fire Chief Dale C. Herman just managed to extinguish City Council opposition to applying for a state Homeland Security grant for a large pickup truck to pull a trailer with rescue equipment.

By a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Watertown City Council gave the fire chief authorization to apply for the $69,905 grant to purchase the four-person pickup. The truck would be used to pull the Technical Rescue 1 trailer with 16,000 pounds of equipment used for space containment, trench, structural collapse and rope rescues occurring both in and out of the city.

Two weeks ago, council members Jeffrey M. Smith, Joseph M. Butler Jr. and Roxanne M. Burns questioned the need for the new truck, since it also would be used to haul the equipment for other fire departments in Jefferson County. They also opposed the grant because the trailer has been used only four times in recent years.

During the debate Tuesday, Chief Herman and Mr. Smith got into a heated exchange.

For the past six years, the fire department has been using a 2008 F-350 Ford pickup that Chief Herman said “cannot safely” move the trailer because it is designed to haul a maximum of only 12,000 pounds of equipment.

Mr. Smith wanted to know why it took so many years to go to the council to request the truck if the department was using an unsafe vehicle.

“Because every vehicle we brought to Council was denied,” Mr. Herman responded.

“That is not a true statement,” Mr. Smith said, adding that he has supported purchasing ladder, pump and rescue trucks, and requests for hoses and other kinds of equipment over the years.

But Chief Herman was referring to requests to purchase a vehicle that would be used for snowplowing that council members denied during the budget process in recent years.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said she did not understand all the fuss about applying for free state grant money. Besides, she said, the city eventually would have to replace a vehicle anyway, so she would “rather not get it with city taxpayer money.”

But Ms. Burns disagreed.

“It’s disingenuous to say it’s free money. It’s not free money,” she said. “We all pay for it.”

In the end, Ms. Macaluso was joined by Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Mr. Butler in approving the grant application. Although the mayor and Mr. Butler supported this request, they also told the fire chief that the department no longer can expect to get equipment and vehicles it wants but only things it can afford.

The application is due tonight at midnight, so Chief Herman said afterward that he planned to submit it electronically.

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