LENOX — It took 60 residents all of 12 minutes to authorize the town to repair its Fire Department ladder truck, out of service because of a severely corroded steel frame.
The voice vote was unanimous at Friday night's special town meeting to transfer $350,000 from $650,000 in funds previously appropriated at annual town meetings to purchase a new engine for one of the department's pumper trucks. That purchase is being deferred for a year.
As Selectman David Roche explained prior to the vote, the 20-year-old ladder truck has a decade of useful life remaining. Junking it would have recovered only about $30,000, while purchase of a new vehicle would cost $800,000 to $1 million.
Resident Albert Harper asked why it's not more economical in the long run to buy a new truck. Roche responded that the current truck is in good condition except for the rusted frame. Over the next 10 years, he added, funds can be budgeted by voters toward the acquisition of a new ladder truck.
Fire Chief Daniel Clifford also pointed out that the configuration of the central fire station causes "quite a challenge" in order to accommodate a new or used truck, which would have to be customized to fit the tight space.
"It's in the best interests of the town to go this route," he said. More time will allow study of long-term solutions such as building an addition to the existing fire station or considering a more spacious new location for the firehouse. Preliminary discussion of a possible new public safety facility in a few years at a site to be determined is under way at Town Hall.
In response to a query from resident David Klausmeyer on why the town couldn't rely on shared services — specifically, mutual aid from nearby fire departments when a ladder truck is needed — Clifford said the closest are in Pittsfield, Dalton and Great Barrington.
The Pittsfield vehicle is "massive," he noted, with a 100-foot tower, and would face tough going on many of Lenox's roads.
It took "quite a while" for the truck in Great Barrington to reach Lenox, as demonstrated when it was needed for the Dec. 27 fire in Lenox Dale that severely damaged a two-family house, Clifford added. The response time was at least 25 minutes. "The need for a ladder truck in Lenox is there," he said.
Klausmeyer also asked how often a ladder truck is required on fire calls since the town has few three- and four-story buildings.
Clifford responded that ladder trucks respond to every call, since new lightweight roofs constructed on many houses can fail quickly during a fire, jeopardizing the safety of firefighters using a ground ladder to work on the roof.
The ladder truck offers a stable and safe platform, even for a two-story building, the fire chief said.
Roche also stressed that shared services among Lenox, Lee and Stockbridge, which have a legal document authorizing exploration of collaborations, are under active discussion.
"We're looking at all the possibilities for the future so we can come up with some economy of scale in these areas," he said. "This points out the need to continue those discussions."
Voters also unanimously approved the transfer of $175,000 from "free cash" to partially replenish the funds set aside for a new pumper truck until the next annual town meeting in May. The result is "no tax impact on town residents," Roche said.