Tupper Lake fire chief: Trucks in disrepair

TUPPER LAKE – Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Chief Carl Steffan says the department’s annual maintenance check revealed two fire trucks are in serious need of repair. Officials are frustrated the fixes weren’t made long ago.

At Monday night’s village board meeting, Steffan listed a host of problems with trucks 165 and 166.

Trustee Rick Donah, who is also the fire and parks commissioner, said the fire department is already over its $10,000 truck repair upkeep budget by $1,436 but that it might be possible to move some money from the $15,000 miscellaneous upkeep line item to make the repairs.

Trustee Thomas Snyder took issue with the long list presented by Steffan.

“So we’re addressing old maintenance issues that should have been done, and we’re looking at higher maintenance costs because it wasn’t done before,” Snyder said. “I’m just trying to grasp why we’re so far out of the budget. You’re looking at two years that should’ve been done, and no one ever did it. Get it done with; we’ll find the money somewhere. This is ridiculous. It should’ve been done two years ago.”

Donah said the repairs stem from negligence.

“It’s a function of not having anybody take responsibility for it,” Donah said. “It’s not having a head driver, it’s not having someone in the fire department who takes the responsibility for the vehicles on a day-to-day basis. These are indicative of problems that have been brewing for years, so we need to move forward. We can’t debate the past.”

Steffan said ultimately it’s his responsibility.

“I was elected by this department to make sure this equipment is in shape and work with the village board to get it done. If it wasn’t done before, it falls on the chief.”

Fix-it list

On truck 165, Steffan said the brake valve in front of the radiator has broken off the mounting base, the oil pan is rotted and leaking, the muffler and tail pipe are leaking, and the water tank fill line is rotted and leaking water.

On truck 166, Steffan said the battery conditioner is broken, a gauge in the reel line is stuck at 25 pounds per square inch, foam is leaking from the foam supply line, the intake screen is missing from the rear direct tank fill, the pump will not drain because the tank well is leaking, and the rubber the water tank sits on to absorb shock is failing. The water tank is now resting on metal.

Steffan added there are also smaller items, like lights, that can be easily fixed. Although he doesn’t know the total cost of the repairs, he said the water tank fill line on truck 165 would cost $750 to replace.

“That is the original pipe,” Steffan said. “It’s painted yellow like the truck. They’d change it to a high-powered rubber hose line if we replaced it.”

Some of the items on the list will affect other components of the truck if not taken care of. Steffan said the shock-absorbing rubber under the water tank also protects it from rubbing against metal, which will eventually wear a hole through it.

Steffan added that he found some of the repairs listed in old paperwork, but they were never taken care of.

Tale of two chiefs

After the meeting, Snyder told the Enterprise the $10,000 truck repair upkeep budget hasn’t been used in years.

“Now everyone’s looking at it, wondering why the repairs cost so much,” Snyder said. “The whole crux of this story is, no one’s done repairs. That’s what I was getting at. This has been an ongoing problem for years. It’s really somebody not taking responsibility for the fire department. Carl’s the first to step forward and take that responsibility.”

This is Steffan’s first year as fire chief. His predecessor, Mark Picerno, was chief for four years. Picerno disagreed with some of the board members’ statements.

“That stuff was probably just found out when the last inspection was done,” Picerno said. “When we bring somebody up to fix the trucks, they come up, they do the inspection, and it gets fixed. If I wasn’t aware of things that needed to be fixed, how would I get them fixed? They threw me under the bus, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Picerno said he oversaw some of the repairs Steffan listed, like the exhaust on truck 165 and the battery conditioner on truck 166. He said the engine in truck 165 was also replaced while he was chief.

“They’re old trucks, and they’re starting to get wear and tear on them,” Picerno said. “Ten thousand dollars, with eight or nine vehicles in your fleet, is not a lot of money, especially when you have to pay your regular stuff every year, which includes your pump test, your oil changes and stuff like that the village does.”

Picerno said truck 166 is one of the fleet’s newer vehicles, and that the intake screen should not be missing off that truck.

“I was doing the best I could with what we had,” Picerno said. “If it’s felt that I didn’t do my job as chief, I take exception to that. I did what I did to keep my firefighters safe while I was the chief.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.