HOOKSETT — When the town asked Southern New Hampshire University to pay $400,000 for a used ladder truck, the school countered with an offer of a $200,000 matching grant if Hooksett obtained the remaining $200,000 from other local businesses, according to a SNHU official.
But the town declined the offer, and will now ask voters to raise the money needed to address the issue of prematurely worn-out emergency vehicles at this year’s town meeting.
The town’s only ladder truck has been out of commission for the last six months because of what fire officials describe as “severe corrosion of the frame and aerial torquebox.” Ladder 1 has been off the road for over half the year due to failed inspections conducted by the state, Underwriters Laboratories and the town’s insurance carrier.
While the truck is 15 years old, the average lifespan of a typical ladder truck is reported to be 20 years, fire officials said. Fire Chief James Burkush said road salt and brine are to blame for Ladder 1’s premature breakdown.
“The corrosion gets in between the frames, it’s called rust jacking, and it causes deformities in the frame itself causing it to warp and bend and the cross members to crack,” said Burkush.
Burkush said spending money to fix the aging vehicle would be cost prohibitive. With a new ladder truck costing approximately $1 million and the department having only $180,000 on hand to address the problem, town officials are investigating a variety of fixes.
At the top of the list is an article on this year’s warrant that would appropriate $250,000 at a tax rate impact of 13 cents, which would go into the fire apparatus capital reserve fund in order to purchase a used ladder truck for $400,000.
“The idea with that used truck is to purchase it and keep it for about five years and then replace it when that fund has sufficient money without a huge hit on the taxes. That’s what the ideal situation would be,” said Burkush.
Southern New Hampshire University was approached because the tallest buildings in Hooksett are on its campus, and the ladder truck would most likely be used responding to an incident at one of those buildings.
It was Hooksett’s 2003 purchase of Ladder 1 that allowed for the construction of taller buildings on the SNHU campus. After Hooksett purchased its ladder truck, an ordinance requiring building eves to be no higher than 35 feet was lifted.
“The town of Hooksett asked SNHU to purchase a new ladder truck for $400,000,” confirmed SNHU assistant VP of communications Lauren Keane. “SNHU offered a $200,000 matching grant in which the town of Hooksett would seek the remaining $200,000 from other area businesses. Hooksett declined that offer.”
A representative from the town’s code enforcement office could not be reached for comment, but town officials are unclear on whether or not the lack of a functional ladder truck will have any impact on the construction of new tall buildings in town.
It’s also unclear whether the town is legally bound to purchase a replacement ladder truck in order to service the tall buildings that are already in Hooksett, but interim Town Administrator Donald Winterton says he believes the town has, at the very least, a moral obligation to do so.
“I don’t know if it’s a legal obligation, but I think we would have a hard time approving anyone new over 35 feet without one,” said Winterton. “That might restrict our future zoning if somebody wants to build ... whose eves are higher than 35 feet, we might be in a sticky area.