City opts for earlier purchase of fire vehicles to avoid rising prices

Sunday, August 24, 2008 | 7:42 p.m. CDT; updated 10:56 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 25, 2008

Steven Sapp is a Columbia Fire Department battalion chief.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified his affiliation.

In an effort to combat rising resource prices, City Council members agreed last week to buy three fire vehicles in the next three years.

In the 2005 Public Safety Ballot the city had approved a plan to purchase the vehicles in 2009 and 2010 but is buying them now instead.


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By committing to the purchase now, the city has secured the 2008 prices for the vehicles. These prices are expected to rise dramatically in the next couple of years, City Manager Bill Watkins said during the council meeting.

The council committed to buying an aerial ladder vehicle, also known as a "quint," and a new pumper vehicle for the 2009 fiscal year. The city will buy an additional quint for 2010.

Vehicles generally have a 12-year lifespan at the Columbia Fire Department; They spend eight years in front-line service and four years as reserve vehicles.

Steven Sapp, Columbia Fire Department battalion chief, said a quint has five main components: a water tank, a pump, a complement of ground ladders, a hose load and an aerial ladder measuring up to 75 feet. A pumper is similar to a quint without the aerial ladder. All models have 500-gallon water tanks.

At the council meeting, Watkins said the interest the city would pay to buy the vehicles now would be far less than the anticipated change in price.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the rising cost of oil has also increased the price of steel, which is driving up prices for all kinds of products.

"With the economy the way it is, it's driving up the price of steel and related products at a greater rate than ever before," he said.

At the council meeting, Watkins said new requirements and regulations will also add to fire apparatus production costs. According to St. Romaine, frequent changes to the Environmental Protection Agency's emissions standards have frustrated companies making fire vehicle engines.

"There are three companies that make them: Detroit Diesel, Cummins and Caterpillar," St. Romaine said. "Both Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel have decided to get out of the business,"

City purchasers found the vehicles through BuyBoard, a cooperative purchasing program run by the Texas Association of School Boards. The group secures competitive bid contracts on products from tennis shoes to bulldozers and supplies them to school districts, universities and city and county governments, often in large quantities to secure lower prices.

"They bid out a multitude of things," Columbia purchasing agent Marilyn Starke said. "They already went through the process. We are taking advantage of that."

Starke said the city learned of BuyBoard at the beginning of the summer. The Water and Light Department recently purchased three hybrid vehicles from the cooperative, which will be delivered within the next two months.

Sapp said the Fire Department is planning to use the pumper at Fire Station No. 2. The quints will replace two vehicles slated for retirement in 2009 and 2010.

The rising price of steel has also affected all of the city's construction projects. In talks with engineers for the new Fire Station No. 9, expected to open in October 2009, cost estimates have been higher than what the city paid for similarly-designed stations, St. Romaine said.


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