Massachusetts Firefighters Push For New Ladder Truck

Updated: 03-23-2006 10:08:02 AM

Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

When Fire Chief Dennis M. Annear found out in August that a grant would cover most of the cost of a new ladder truck, he asked the town to give him time to see how much of the difference the firefighters could muster.

"The town had zero in its savings account" at the time, he said.

Since then the traditional raffles and dinners have been put together to help save toward the needed $32,500, and this month a big contribution came from the firefighters themselves.

Call Firefighter Harry Foster suggested that he and his fellow call firefighters might give up part of their paychecks to contribute toward the new truck, Chief Annear said.

At the beginning of the month, the call firefighters voted to donate a quarter of their annual pay, the chief said. This works out to $226.73 each.

"I thought it was super because it really does show the commitment," he said.

The vast majority of the 40 call firefighters in Orange will give up the pay, Chief Annear said.

"There's obviously some that need the money, depend on the money," and are unable to give up the pay, he said.

And at the same time, the call firefighters challenged their full-time colleagues to do something as well, the chief said.

The full-time firefighters agreed to donate the same amount, the equivalent of a quarter's pay for a call firefighter, he said.

The new ladder truck, scheduled to arrive in September, will cost $650,000. A federal homeland security grant for assistance to firefighters will pay for $617,500 of that bill, Chief Annear said.

So far, $16,000 has been raised to close the gap, he said.

The new truck will replace a 1964 ladder truck, which is the second piece of equipment called out for structure fire calls, he said.

The 1964 vehicle only carries two people; lacks seat belts, power steering and power brakes, and has an open cab, he said. Since there is no roof on the cab, there are windshield wipers on the inside and the outside.

And, the chief said, although the ladder is inspected regularly, severe limitations are imposed on the use of the equipment.

The new truck will carry six people and allow them to wear seat belts, and the vehicle will have a crash-resistant cab, he said. The ladder reaches 105 feet and can be extended at a 90 degree angle to the side without any instability of the truck or ladder, he said.

The new ladder truck will be sent on mutual aid calls to neighboring communities that lack ladder trucks, he said.

Gerald E. Wetherby, a retired captain who was with the call firefighters, is chairman of the fundraising committee. He said the truck will be a valuable asset to the area.

"It'll bring the pride of the men up," he said.

It is inspiring to see the call and full-time firefighters giving up their pay for the project, Mr. Wetherby said.

Chief Annear said the call firefighters get paid a "minuscule amount" - $1,000 a year - for what the town asks of them, including the requirement that they attend 60 percent of department-sponsored training.

The people working at Station 2 in Tully are on call whenever they are home, while those at the downtown station are on call a week at a time, he said.

Mr. Wetherby and his wife, Carol, are helping

sell raffle tickets for a three-burner gas grill with two propane tanks and for a queen-sized quilt donated by Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer. Raffle tickets for the grill cost $5 apiece and the quilt tickets cost $1 apiece.

The Pioneer Junior Women's Club is raising $40,000 to pay for space to house the new truck and other pieces of equipment, Mr. Wetherby said.

Along with selling the raffle tickets, Mr. Wetherby said, he has received some donations of money as well to help pay for the truck. People from all over, not just Orange, are buying raffle tickets, he said.

Mr. Wetherby reminisced about when Orange was trying to raise money in the 1970s so the department could get its first Jaws of Life extrication tool. He said he could not imagine raising the $10,000 that was needed.

After a fatal accident in the area, money came pouring in from Scout groups and others, he said. There was enough money to buy the equipment not only for Orange but also for Athol and to start a trust fund for a family member of the accident victims, he said.