State College

Faulty fire truck pinches Centre Region COG budget

Centre Region Council of Governments’ Sutphen aerial apparatus fire truck has been removed from service at the request of the manufacturer. The ladders on similar trucks have failed, resulting in multiple injuries to firefighters and the public, September 22, 2014.
Centre Region Council of Governments’ Sutphen aerial apparatus fire truck has been removed from service at the request of the manufacturer. The ladders on similar trucks have failed, resulting in multiple injuries to firefighters and the public, September 22, 2014. CDT photo

A faulty fire truck has forced the Centre Region to purchase a replacement, leaving the future of the apparatus unclear.

The truck in question is a 100-foot aerial ladder truck by Sutphen, a family-owned, Ohio-based company specializing in fire and rescue vehicles.

According to information Council of Governments Fire Director Steve Bair delivered to the General Forum on Monday, the truck was purchased in 2007 for $880,000 after retiring a 1987 model by the same company. The truck was expected to be in service until 2033.

Problems began soon, in 2008, with a steering gear box recall, Bair said. Equipment failure sidelined the truck twice in 2011, and the first reports of aerial failures began in 2012. Aerial recalls began in 2013, but Sutphen claimed the issue was still maintenance-related.

On June 26, three firefighters in Erie were injured using an aerial truck. According to news reports, lowering cables had snapped, causing the ladder to collapse. On July 22, a “stop use” order was issued by Sutphen on all aerial-use trucks after a second ladder failure that injured three more firefighters in Hall County, Ga.

There are about 286 Sutphen aerial trucks in use across the country, Bair said.

Since the order was issued, the truck has sat at the College Township Municipal Building, COG Executive Director Jim Steff said.

According to Steff, there are still two more ladder trucks in use in the county, both with 75-foot ladders. The concern, he said, is that their ladder truck roster has gone from three to two. If there were a mechanical failure in one of the other trucks, it would put the county in a bind if two trucks were needed at a single fire or if two separate fires broke out needing trucks at each fire.

The last information issued by Sutphen, Bair said, indicated there may be a fix for the aerial problem, but there was still no way to provide a schedule. They also reminded him it could take four to five days to repair each truck, of which there are more than 280.

As a way to bridge the gap between today and whenever the Sutphen may be fixed, he said, a 1991 aerial truck by Pierce was purchased from a fire department in Alameda, Calif., for $51,000. The truck is being driven by a two-man crew that departed Alameda on Monday. It’s expected to arrive in State College on Friday.

Due to the emergency nature of the purchase, Bair said he was given clearance by the Finance Committee to make the purchase. Funding for the truck was provided by the 2014 fire protection capital budget.

According to Bair, once the Sutphen situation is resolved, the plan is to invite Sutphen to participate in the project at the full value of the temporary truck; sell the truck, possibly for as much as 3/8 to half of the investment; or sell the unit for scrap for about $9,000.

The Sutphen could fail after this recall, Bair said, the fix may not work or Sutphen may refuse to reimburse the county for the cost. In any case, he’s expecting some sort of legal battle.

“A $51,000 dent in our 25-year plan isn’t horrible,” he said, comparing a best-case scenario. “We most likely will put off a 2016 plan to purchase a new engine. That will probably put us back on track.

“In a worst-case scenario, we’re left with a $1 million problem. The unit we’re stuck with will be worth next to nothing.”

  Comments