Municipalities across the Lehigh Valley have been in a state of sticker shock as they begin pricing new fire vehicles.
The Easton Fire Department’s newest pumper truck cost about $500,000 when it was purchased in 2012.
The department is looking to add a similar pumper to its fleet. This time around it will cost an estimated $563,000, Easton Fire Chief John Bast said.
Local and national fire officials said evolving technology and safety standards have been driving up cost.
“It’s very, very expensive. You’re talking about a lot of steel and a lot of high tech equipment that goes into a fire truck today,” Forks Township Finance Director Jim Farley said.
Although NFPA standards are not federally mandated, most fire truck manufacturers adopt them and it’s unusual for a manufacturer not to build to the NFPA standards.
The standards were recently updated and will be available for public review until late 2016, when the committee that approves the standards reviews the public comments and decides whether to make any changes.
In addition to the technology, most trucks are customized based on the size of the communities they serve, the landscape and architecture there.
Forks officials said one of the cost drivers with the ladder truck they want to purchase is that it will need a ladder long enough to reach some of the warehouses that have started to pop up in the township’s industrial district.
Because of the custom features and new technology that comes on the new trucks, Bast estimates it will take approximately 340 days from the time Easton submits its specifications for the new pumper truck until the truck is delivered.
The trucks are highly customizable, allowing officials to choose details such as the type of seats used, the type of lights and even how the hoses will be stored.
As the price of fire engines rise, municipalities, which as a matter of fiscal practice try to avoid tax hikes, have struggled to find ways to pay for new equipment.
Forks Township, which has a volunteer fire department funded by taxpayer dollars, has between $300,000 to $400,000 set aside in its annual budget for capital improvements.
Last year, the township used some of that money to purchase a new police car and paid a portion of the cost for a $60,000 smaller vehicle for the fire department.
But, there’s not nearly enough money in the account to cover the cost of the large vehicles the department is currently considering, Farley said.
For that reason, fire officials are looking into the possibility of state grants.
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