Haverhill City Council to Try Novel Method of Forcing Purchase of Two Fire Trucks; Union Applauds Action

Engine 9 is housed at the Rocks Village fire station. (Courtesy photograph.)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

Haverhill’s mayor and city councilors have competing ideas for how to replace the city’s two oldest fire trucks, but the legislative body is hoping to use a novel procedure to get its way.

Six councilors tonight will begin the process of using an obscure state law to force the city into spending about $1 million on two new fire trucks. Meanwhile, Mayor James J. Fiorentini is asking members to approve his borrowing order for one truck and work with him on a second. Any new fire trucks would be added at the top of the fleet to force out two 33-year-old trucks in standby service. Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011 President Tim Carroll is pleased with the Council’s efforts.

“I applaud the Council—the six of those guys standing up to the mayor and telling him ‘no.’ They’re not going to take his budget without the truck in there,” he tells WHAV.

In a memorandum to the mayor, dated last Friday, Council President Melinda E. Barrett said two-thirds of the City Council believe the oldest Hahn fire trucks are dangerous. She wrote, “The Hahn’s open seating, even modified by a bar, is a mortal danger to those firefighters having to use them, according to NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards.”

Carroll explains the truck’s design means a firefighter’s death is likely in a head-on collision.

“We have been lucky over the years. We’ve never had a major accident with those trucks, but it’s only a matter of time, and the faster we get them out of here, the less likely that chance happens,” he explains.

In a statement, Fiorentini said he disagrees with using the state law, but any other comments would “throw gasoline on the fire.” He said he does not want “anyone to get locked into position.” The mayor did agree the city needs to buy fire trucks and he committed to replacing a rescue truck last year, a tanker truck next year and the next pumper in two years. He said he is willing to discuss adding another pumper truck, but “once we know what we can afford and when we can afford it.” He asked that the Council agree to borrow for one new truck and wait a few weeks until income numbers are known.

He added, “I am particularly concerned about the costs of sending our children back to school in the fall.  I am also concerned because we do not yet know what impact this fiscal crisis will have on state aid to our city.”

A state law allows a city council to add money “for any purpose not included in the annual budget, which is deemed necessary by the council…” Besides Barrett, supporting the measure are Council Vice President Colin F. LePage and Councilors John A. Michitson, Timothy J. Jordan, Michael S. McGonagle and William J. Macek. Typically, under Haverhill’s charter, councilors may only cut spending from the mayor’s budget. Should the Council support the plan, it will have to take a second vote in seven days and secure consent from at least two-thirds of the members.

Fiorentini also wrote Friday, urging councilors to support his plan to borrow money to buy one new fire truck while he works with Fire Chief William F. Laliberty on a possible solution. Carroll believes that compromise is to buy a refurbished truck. While there might be a $100,000 savings, he says, a used truck would be seven or eight years old and only useful as a backup.

Haverhill is currently operating on a temporary 1/12 budget after councilors refused to approve Fiorentini’s original budget because the mayor would not commit to replacing both fire trucks.

Haverhill city councilors are also expected to review systems to ensure the city collects money owed to it. LePage told WHAV last week that “The Heights” 10-story Merrimack Street building under construction by developer Salvatore N. Lupoli, owed more than $225,333 to the city for two annual mortgage payments. Fiorentini, who is also expected to address the matter, said Lupoli agreed to pay the oldest amount right away.

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