Fire truck crisis looms

Last week’s accident involving a fire truck at Owen Roberts International Airport could not have come at a worse time for the Cayman Islands Fire Service.

The agency was already facing difficulties keeping its vehicles in good repair after the effects of Hurricane Ivan.

Chief Fire Officer Kirkland Nixon said the water tank broke on the fire truck involved in the accident, making it no longer functional as fire fighting vehicle.

Repairing the damaged truck is not a simple procedure.

‘Normally, when something like this happens, you send it back to the manufacturer for repairs,’ Mr. Nixon said.

However, the manufacturer is in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, so it would cost a significant amount of money just to send the truck off for repairs. Because the truck was one of the older vehicles, it will probably not be cost effective to send it back.

Losing the truck will be a blow to the Fire Service, which was already experiencing difficulties keeping its vehicles running after the many rescue operations during Hurricane Ivan.

‘All of the trucks were subjected to salt water. The ones that went out are worse off than those that stayed in,’ Mr. Nixon said, noting that both the West Bay and George Town Fire Stations both had extensive storm surge flooding inside the buildings.

Mr. Nixon said the normal lifespan of a fire truck is about 12 years, but it is estimated that many of the service’s trucks have had their lifespan lessened by 75 per cent to 80 per cent from the effects of being exposed to saltwater.

‘They’ve had a tremendous amount of damage,’ Mr. Nixon said. ‘We’re having trouble with the starters, and everything electrical. Some of the newer trucks had computers, and I don’t need to tell you what that means when they are exposed to saltwater. It’s been a maintenance nightmare.’

Mr. Nixon said 10 or 11 fire trucks are showing signs of trouble.

‘We’ve been told that the long-term effect on the trucks will be catastrophic,’ he said. ‘We’re in the process of dealing with the insurance company now.’

The Fire Service has also lost some of its emergency rescue vehicles.

‘Our big rescue truck hasn’t worked since the hurricane,’ said Mr. Nixon. ‘It’s just sitting up at Vampt Motors.’

There are some new vehicles on the way.

‘After the hurricane, the government let us put two trucks on order right away,’ Mr. Nixon said.

However, fire trucks are made to order, so the lead time is significant. ‘It takes at least six to eight months,’ Mr. Nixon said.

Once insurance settlements are reached, many replacements will come from a company called E-One in Ocala, Florida.

‘They know our circumstances, so they’re working with us trying to expedite things. We’ve been a client of theirs for years,’ Mr. Nixon said.

However, should the saltwater corrosion shut down trucks faster than they can be replaced, the Fire Service could find itself in a difficult situation, especially as it pertains to the airport.

‘International airport standards require that we have three of our main trucks on line at any given time,’ Mr. Nixon said.

Until last week’s accident, the Service had those three trucks at the George Town Fire Station, plus a back-up. Now there is no back up.

‘If one breaks down now, we’re in trouble,’ said Mr. Nixon.

For the short term if that happened, Mr. Nixon said a notice could be sent out to carriers advising them of reduced fire fighting capacity at the airport.

Over the long term, however, a truck from another station would have to be borrowed until a replacement truck arrived, thus lessening the number of trucks available for fire fighting in the other districts.