Mike Wilbur

Failed Inspections Leave ND City Without Aerial Ladder

The failure of the state of North Dakota’s ladder truck has left Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther worried about the department’s ability to fight fires and make rescues from taller buildings in Jamestown and the North Dakota State Hospital.

The ladder truck is owned by the state of North Dakota under an agreement where the JFD provides fire protection to the State Hospital. Many of the buildings at the State Hospital are multi-story and would require a ladder truck in the event of a fire or rescue situation. That agreement was canceled by the state of North Dakota when the truck failed inspections after attempts to repair the ladder system. The truck is currently stored at the State Hospital and will likely be sold as surplus property, Reuther said.

The absence of the truck has created a big problem for the JFD.

“We have nothing to fill that need,” Reuther said. “The closest thing we have is a 30-foot ladder.”

That ladder would be transported to fires on one of the department’s existing trucks and leaned against the building to provide access for firefighting or rescue. The ladder is much shorter and more difficult to use safely than the 95-foot aerial ladder and platform mounted on the ladder truck, Reuther said.

Reuther said many of the larger apartment buildings in Jamestown along with the planned UJ Place and Eagle Flats buildings would require a ladder truck to deal with fires or rescues from the upper floors.

In addition, the ladder can be extended over a single-story home to apply water to the roof that couldn’t be reached from the ground or with other fire equipment.

“We have nothing even close to matching the ladder truck,” Reuther said. “Mutual aid (help from other fire departments) is so far out. I would guess they wouldn’t want to take it out of their own jurisdiction.”

The nearest fire department with a ladder truck is Valley City, he said.

“I don’t think anybody disputes the need (for a ladder truck),” said Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich, “but where is the money going to come from?”

The best cost estimate for a new ladder truck is about $1.3 million, Reuther said. Rental agreements can cost as much as $25,000 per month with a lease-to-own type of agreement estimated at $100,000 down and about $100,000 per year for the life of the lease.

Heinrich said those are not costs the city of Jamestown can cover. He hopes the state of North Dakota will furnish a ladder truck and continue the agreement for fire protection with the Jamestown Fire Department.

“We did have discussions that are incomplete with some of the legislators,” he said. “We’re waiting to see what their position will be. We need to know that before the city takes any steps. I’m confident the Legislature will recognize that they have a longtime commitment to the city of Jamestown.”

Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, said he introduced an amendment to a budget bill during the 2019 legislative session to fund at least part of the cost of replacing the ladder truck but it was defeated.

“There is a recognition (among the legislators) we need it,” he said. “Thirty-five years ago the state recognized the need. Now when it needs to be replaced, we’re not getting it done.”

Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, supports the state funding the replacement of the ladder truck but calls it a “hard sell” in the North Dakota Legislature.

“What we’re up against is all the cities that have state property where the state has not bought a fire truck,” he said.

The next regular session of the North Dakota Legislature convenes in January of 2021.

Reuther said the ladder truck is not the only need the department is facing. Over the next five years, two other fire trucks and numerous smaller pieces of equipment owned by the city of Jamestown are scheduled for replacement. Those needs total more than $1 million in projected equipment replacement costs between now and 2025.

The city of Jamestown has accumulated reserves within the fire department budget to cover replacement costs for equipment it owns. Utilizing those funds for the ladder truck would leave the city short of funds for future equipment replacement, Reuther said.

“With the expenses they are projecting in the next couple of years, we don’t have a million (dollars) to buy a ladder truck,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich said the city is working and negotiating with the state of North Dakota regarding the truck.

“This needs urgency,” Reuther said. “This is not something that can wait … we need something to continue to provide the service we’re expected to provide.”

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