By JOHN T. WARD
A recurring split within Red Bank’s all-Democratic council was on display again Wednesday night, when a majority approved the purchase of two new fire engines.As previously reported by redbankgreen, the volunteer fire department had requested the town buy two new Ferrara Group custom pumpers, at a combined price of about $1 million, to replace apparatus that are 28 and 26 years old.
Replacement of vehicles should occur after about 20 years, proponents of the deal say. Repair costs to the existing pumpers, housed at the Westside Hose Company on Leighton Avenue and the Independent Engine Company, are beyond “the point of no return,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna.
“We are spending an exorbitant amount of money” on repairs, he said. Specific sums were not cited.
The purchase appeared ready to sail through formal approval of a resolution after last week’s council workshop session. But that changed during Wednesday’s regular session, conducted via Zoom, after volunteer firefighter Tom Wieczerzak urged the council to table the buys as unnecessary.
“We genuinely do not need these fire trucks,” said Wieczerzak, of Oakland Street. “We have too many fire trucks,” and nearby towns are equipped to provide mutual aid when needed, he said.
“Do your homework” on the needs and allocation of equipment around town, he urged the governing body.
Soon, Councilman Michael Ballard and Councilman Ed Zipprich, who have recently found themselves on the short end of several 4-2 votes, again found themselves at odds with the rest of the governing body.
“I have to admit, I’m squeamish about this,” said Ballard, who moved to table the matter. He was seconded by Zipprich, who said he also had “some questions,” including the market value of the existing apparatus.
The Seagrave pumpers, one built in 1992 and the other in 1994, will be traded in or sold at auction, though their value is “negligible,” Menna said.
“They’re beyond their functional life,” said Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, who serves as police and fire commissioner. “We can’t just wait until they don’t work anymore.”
She had previously called it a “home run” that two pumpers were being purchased when the money allocated last year was for one truck.
But both Zipprich and Ballard questioned the spending in light of the borough’s difficulty in finding $500,000 to repair the Senior Citizen’s Center on Shrewsbury Avenue, which been closed for two years since it was damaged by a leak of its fire suppression system.
“We waited years to do this,” Ballard said of truck replacement. “I don’t think two weeks are going to make a difference.”
The vote to table the measure lost, 4-2. The vote to approve the purchase was 4-1, with Zipprich abstaining “because I don’t have complete information,” he said.
Zipprich and Ballard are up for re-election November 3. They are unopposed on the ballot.
The engines will be the first new apparatus for the fire department fleet since the Navesink Hook & Ladder Company’s ladder truck in 2014. Delivery is expected 250 after formal signing of paperwork.
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