Council OKs Purchase of Ambulance on 5-2 Vote

The majority of the Derry Town Council has approved the purchase of one new ambulance, to replace a 2006 model, from funds already in the Fire Department Capital Reserve Fund.

At the Jan. 19 Town Council meeting, Councilors voted 5-2 to approve appropriating $250,000 for the purchase after a second presentation from Fire Chief Michael Gagnon.

Gagnon had initially presented the request in the last Council meeting. Some Councilors objected to the presentation because it wasn’t on the agenda, though Interim Town Administrator Susan Hickey said she had intended it to be under her Administrator’s Report.

In a memo to the Council, Gagnon wrote that the purchase would replace a 2006 Ford E-350 ambulance, which has an estimated 8-year life cycle and is already two years over that life cycle’s end. The replacement has been in the Capital Improvement Plan for several years and the vehicle was originally scheduled to be replaced in FY 14.

The money was in the Fire Department Capital Reserve Fund last year, but the majority of the Council voted not to expend the money, and put the ambulance on hold. The reasoning at the time was that the Council had also voted to close a fire station, and with the Hampstead Road station closing June 30, four ambulances would not be needed. The station reopened after the Oct. 13 Special Election.

Gagnon wrote in his memo, “The design of the apparatus replacement schedule is to assure that the useful life of the vehicle is exhausted, while planning replacement before maintenance and associated out-of-service times become a detriment to our emergency response needs in the community.”

Should the ambulance not be purchased, repairs to the current vehicle are estimated at $6,200, Gagnon said.

The new ambulance would meet the National Fire Protection Association standards for ambulances and, among other things, have air conditioning and a center seat for paramedics, improving their safety as they tend to the injured and ill.

Council reaction

In the Council’s discussion, Councilor Richard Tripp noted that a new ambulance would be a great benefit to the community, and ensure the safety of front-line workers so they could better tend to their patients. He asked Gagnon, “How many firefighters are currently on disability or injured?”

“I am happy to say, ‘none,’” Gagnon replied.

“We’ve been pushing our luck,” Tripp said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

The town’s other three ambulances are newer models and have “center-seat capability,” Gagnon said. “This one does not.”

Councilor David Fischer observed, “We recently conducted a survey, and the majority of the respondents put safety issues first” (See related story page 3). Fischer noted that with the money already in the reserve fund, the purchase would not add to the tax burden.

“I will support this,” he said.

Councilor Mark Osborne pointed out the difference between the two figures, $6,200 for repairs versus $250,000 for a new vehicle, and said, “I have no further comment.”

Councilor Joshua Bourdon asked for confirmation about the effect on the tax rate, and Gagnon once again said it would not affect current taxes.

But Councilor Albert Dimmock questioned the necessity of a fourth ambulance, and observed that the money could be spent somewhere else.

“Why do we have to have a fourth ambulance?” Dimmock questioned Gagnon. “We went six months without one. That money set aside could be used for something else.”

“This money has been earmarked for several years,” Gagnon responded.

Dimmock countered, “Does the Town of Derry need four ambulances? Or do we need this to take care of other towns?”

He also questioned the amount Gagnon had estimated for repairs to air conditioning, at an estimated cost of $2,500, saying he could install several air conditioning units for that price.

“I can see us having ‘the best of everything,’ but only if it’s warranted,” Dimmock said.

“It doesn’t make sense to put this kind of money into an older vehicle,” Chairman Thomas Cardon said. “I understand Al’s concern, but this is specialized air conditioning for a specialized vehicle.”

Osborne and Dimmock were the dissenting votes in the 5-2 vote to purchase the ambulance.