Without Fire Dept. ladder truck, other towns fill need

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METHUEN — The Fire Department has been operating without its lone ladder truck since April 20, when it was involved in an accident at the North Station on Howe Street.

“A gentleman from Laschi Garden Center on Route 97 came in and asked for directions,” Fire Chief Cliff Gallant said. “He was driving a dump truck and when he left the station he thought he could make it under the bucket of the ladder truck and he couldn’t make it. He drove into the bucket of the truck.”

The ladder truck finally left the city on Aug. 13 for repairs, and it’s not known when it will return.

The chief explained why it has taken almost four months to reach this point.

“First we had to call the local manufacturer of the truck, which is in Walpole,” Gallant said, “and they sent up an appraiser to look at it and they finally determined the scope of the work was beyond what they could handle.

“So, then we had to contact the factory, which is out in Wisconsin, and the factory sent a representative out to this area and all of this is taking weeks to get done.”

Even though getting the truck repaired has taken months, there is a bright side — the city won’t be paying for the repairs.

“There’s no cost, no payments from Methuen’s pocketbook,” Gallant explained. “It’s all coming from the insurance company of the Laschi Brothers.”

Once the representative determined the ladder truck could be repaired at the factory, the next obstacle was transporting it from Methuen to Wisconsin.

“They have to get a special truck to haul it out there because that truck is almost 12 feet tall,” Gallant said. “They don’t want to drive it all the way out there in that condition. For one thing they don’t want the bucket loosening up with too much driving. They had to get a Lowboy trailer and then they had to get special permits to transport that truck because of the weight — the gross weight of that truck is 72,000 pounds.”

And beyond this, the extent of the damage remains to be determined.

“They don’t know until they take out that top section and put it in what they call a welding jig,” Gallant explained. “They’ll drop it in and they’ll find out if they can repair it, or if it’s damaged that bad that they need to replace it. It’s probably going to be a few more months anyway.”

Once the bucket and ladder are either fixed or replaced, it will go through several tests to ensure it is working properly.

Since the ladder truck is the only one the city has, Gallant reached out to other departments. “Right after the accident happened I contacted the chief from Salem, N.H., and the chief from Lawrence,” Gallant said. “They are more than willing to send a ladder to us as soon as we call.”

Gallant said he has had to call Lawrence three times since the ladder truck was damaged, but they never had to actually use the truck because the fires were extinguished before Lawrence arrived.

Gallant added having a good working rapport with neighboring communities is imperative.

“When you get a major fire, anything beyond one or two alarms, you have to call what we call mutual aid,” he said. “For example the Malden Mills fire in 1995 we had 53 communities come into the city to lend aid.”

The Fire Department currently has four working engine trucks, one rescue vehicle, two ambulances and two backup engines.