NEWBURYPORT — Fire Chief Stephen Cutter said last night that the city is down to one in-service fire engine and that a failure to buy a new engine now would force officials into a $1.5 million, three-truck purchase in about five years.

Responding to the situation, two City Council committees voted unanimously to recommend to the full council that the city spend up to $500,000 for a new fire engine.

"It seems pretty clear to me we need a new truck," said Councilor Donna Holaday, the chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee. "We would like to get the best truck we can for the best price."

That sets up the council to take the final step at Monday's meeting to approve the bond order to borrow the money. Both Holaday and Councilor Steve Hutcheson, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said they anticipate a vote will take place on Monday.

But, even if the council votes to approve the spending, once Cutter signs a contract for an engine, it will take 240 to 270 days for the truck to show up.

During a 45-minute speech that included several questions, Cutter painted a dark picture about the situation with engines in the city. The meeting was officially for the Budget and Finance and Public Safety committees, but 10 city councilors attended the meeting, as did Mayor John Moak.

Cutter said the city owns three engines — two from 1993 and one from 2003 — a 1996 ladder truck and a forestry truck — which is a large Ford pickup.

The three engines make the everyday runs, or about 1,500 to 1,600 runs per year per truck.

But two of the engines are out of service, and the city is borrowing a 1990 truck from Salisbury. If Salisbury needs its truck, Newburyport would be forced to either borrow from another nearby department or shut down one of the city's two stations.

Cutter said depending on if a part comes in today, the 2003 truck — or engine No. 1 — should be available tonight.

"The No. 1 goal is to get a truck that is going to last," he said.

The chief said the two 1993 trucks will not last much longer if they continue on as frontline trucks.

"With the number of runs we do, they won't last," he said. "Things are going to fall apart at the same time. The trucks are getting old."

The wear and tear comes from the extreme weight of fire engines — at least 3 tons of water plus the weight of many other pieces of equipment — that weigh down the truck at all times. But Cutter said the Newburyport department provides regular upkeep for the vehicles to ensure longevity.

"They are heavy trucks," Cutter said. "We do more maintenance on our trucks than any other departments."

He said with the new truck, the department could put Engine No. 1 and the new truck on the front line and put the two 1993 trucks — engines Nos. 4 and 5 — in reserve.

Ideally, Cutter said, the city would buy a new truck every five years, while putting 10-year-old trucks in reserve service and putting 20-year trucks out of service. He said he's advocated with the city leadership for years to do this to avoid buying multiple trucks in one year.

Councilor Tom Jones said during his research of fire engines he discovered that in Somerville, for example, the chief runs trucks on the front lines for three years and pulls the engines out of service at seven years.

Tom O'Brien, the Ward 6 councilor, said five years ago when the council talked about buying a truck, the cost was about $350,000 and the price has skyrocketed.

He said the time to buy is now.

"Look what's happened since then," he said. "Let's not wait any longer."

Cutter said if the council does not approve the bond, it would make for a larger purchase in half a decade.

"If we don't do anything, I'd say in five years out you're looking at a three-truck purchase," he said, adding that it would cost about $1.5 million.

Furthermore, Cutter said in another five years, when the two 1993 trucks turn about 20 years old, the city will need to replace those, unless the city spends $35,000 to $75,000 to rehabilitate one of those trucks.

Beyond that, he said the city will need to buy a new ladder truck in another nine years. Ladder trucks tend to sell for closer to a million dollars than a half a million.

Cutter said he's worked out the specifics for the trucks. During his discussion with the councilors he said he is looking into every part from tire size and light styles to compartment door style and screw types to save money and ensure the engine lasts 20 to 25 years.

"The bottom line is you're going to get what you pay for," the chief said.

Jones said it is necessary to buy the engine, adding that the place to cut corners is not for pieces of equipment essential to public safety.

He said the two committees spent 45 minutes talking about the fire engine last night when police and fire spend more than $500,000 in overtime every year, "and we don't even talk about it."

"And we are talking about a piece of equipment that will save lives for the next 20 years," he said.

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