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Windham seeking grant for new fire vehicle

WINDHAM — Fire officials are hoping for the best as they await word on a $850,000 federal grant that would allow them to purchase a much-needed ladder and pumper truck.

After getting the Board of Selectmen’s unanimous support Monday night, Fire Chief Thomas McPherson submitted the grant application this week.

“This opportunity came at the perfect time,” he said.

Built in 1980, Windham’s current ladder truck has certainly seen better days.

Once used by the Merrimack Fire Department, the vehicle was donated to the Windham Fire Department in 2002 in response to growing public safety concerns in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It’s served us very well, but we’re putting more and more money into it,” McPherson said of the aging fire truck. “The truth is, our needs have evolved since that time.”

In early August, the town of Windham formed a committee to closely examine the needs of the growing fire department, where they learned of the impending grant opportunity.

If approved, the grant would fund 95 percent of the cost of the new vehicle. The town of Windham would be responsible for the remaining $40,000.

McPherson said the combination aerial and pump truck boasts features that aren’t found in the department’s existing fleet.

“Right now, our ladder truck has no water tank and no water way,” he said, noting that the new vehicle would be outfitted with a 500-gallon water tank, a water pump, fire hoses and an “ample supply of ground ladders.”

“This would give us the ability to arrive on a fire scene and immediately start to tackle the fire while doing any needed rescues,” McPherson said.

He added that the town’s changing demographics have led to some challenges while using the current ladder truck in recent years.

“We don’t see many six-foot chimneys or 2,400-square-foot homes anymore,” the fire chief said. “So this new piece of equipment is very, very appropriate for what we normally do.”

The truck purchase request would be null and void should the fire department fail to obtain grant funding. The town expects word on its grant status sometime in December.

Assistant Fire Chief Ed Morgan, who oversees the department’s vehicle maintenance, said the current ladder truck “is becoming a huge expense.”

“Though we don’t use it all the time, it needs to be ready to go at all times,” Morgan said.

Right now, the truck’s ladder is rusted and corroded, and just last week the jump seat collapsed. About a month ago, the steering wheel snapped off the truck.

With no pre-piped waterway on board, firefighters are also forced to carry a heavy hose up the ladder.

“For a piece of emergency equipment, this is a huge safety concern,” Morgan said. “It’s a concern for our staff’s safety as well as citizens’ safety.”

Fire officials said they’ve spent about $25,000 on repairs to the ladder truck in recent years.

“We know the town can’t really afford a $900,000 piece of apparatus, but I do think we’re in a good position now to receive this grant,” he added.

Selectmen said they’re hoping for the best.

“I hope you get the grant,” Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia told the fire chief. “But if you don’t, it sounds like quite a predicament.”

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