The Des Plaines city council tonight will consider spending about $400,000 to buy a used aerial ladder truck from Lake Zurich to replace an aging ladder truck well past its useful life.
The city's public safety committee this week agreed to recommend the purchase to the city council.
The fire department currently has two ladder trucks in service to cover the east and west sides of town, split by railroad tracks. They city's 32 at-grade railroad crossings with frequent train traffic make it difficult to respond quickly across town with just one ladder truck, officials say.
The city wants to retire 23-year-old Truck 83, which operates out of the Thacker Street fire station on the west side. The vehicle's major systems are failing, its frame is corroding and its manufacturer is no longer in business, making it difficult to get replacement parts and making repairs more costly, Fire Chief Alan Wax said.
The value of the truck is appraised at $10,000 and it's unlikely any department would purchase it in its current condition, Wax added.
The city has allocated $1.4 million out of its equipment replacement fund in its 2013 budget to purchase a new ladder truck, which would be expected to last 18 years.
In coming months, city officials will be discussing whether the department needs two ladder trucks to be in service at all times. A study commissioned by the city council on that question is pending.
Even if only one ladder truck were operating, Wax said, a reserve truck is needed in case the first breaks down.
Lake Zurich's truck is 12 years old, but has clocked only 66,000 miles because it was rarely used and is in excellent condition, Wax said.
"It's an unusual find," he added. "Lake Zurich has decided to change its operations. They do not have that many fires. They decided they don't need it."
Lake Zurich's truck also has a bigger water tank that can hold 400 gallons, its transmission has been replaced in the last two years, and it is the same make and model as Des Plaines' newer truck, purchased in 2006, making it easier to conduct repairs and get parts, officials said.
Committee Chairman Mark Walsten said buying a used truck is a good option even if the city decides to take one truck out of service.
"We're still going to have an extra truck for backup," he said. "It looks to me like we're going to be saving $1 million. It would not be very financially sound for us to pass this up. This is a deal that doesn't come by very often."
Alderman Dick Sayad pointed out there will be additional maintenance costs on a used vehicle. "Maybe it's worth it to get the new one and in the long term we come out ahead," he said.
Walsten noted that the city has an equipment replacement fund that can be used for maintenance issues that may pop up. The fund has about $2.8 million in reserve.
Alderman Jim Brookman, a retired firefighter, favored the purchase but said he would like to see a mechanic's evaluation of Lake Zurich's truck before any deal is finalized. He suggested the city try to save money on repainting the truck by using stickers for fire department logos.
"I do feel strongly that we should have a second truck even if it's as a reserve," he said.