Firefighters propose legal action
Firefighters propose legal action over faulty truck
01:00 AM EST on Friday, January 19, 2007
By John Hill
Journal Staff Writer
LINCOLN -- The Albion Fire District has called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to ask voters to authorize legal action against the manufacturer of an aerial truck the district chief says is so flawed it is unusable.
The truck, with an extendable ladder mounted on its back, has been plagued by corrosion problems in its hydraulic systems and it shakes so severely when it reaches 30 miles per hour that Chief Richard G. Petrin said he has ordered it off the road.
"I'm worried about a catastrophic failure when I have a man on that aerial," Petrin said.
The vehicle was purchased for $476,000 in 2001 and delivered in May 2002. It has been sent back to American LaFrance Corp. dealerships multiple times for months at a stretch for repainting and repair of rust at points in the hydraulic systems. The truck was out of service for repair from February to August last year, Petrin said. When it came back with the same shuddering problem, he said he decided to take the truck off the road and press for a new vehicle.
Petrin, who once worked in the American LaFrance sales department, has a DVD of a ride in the truck. Taken from the back of the cab, the truck goes south on Old River Road near the high school, and as it reaches what Petrin said is 30 to 35 mph, the front cab begins to shake to the point where a clipboard on the dashboard is bouncing several inches in the air and other equipment can be heard rattling. A view from the outside on Route 146 shows the truck flexing up and down as it is driven.
Petrin had the truck examined by Jack Laine of AJL Associates, a fire apparatus consultant. Laine said the frame rails near the cab had been narrowed to make room for the engine, possibly making the front more flexible and explaining the front-end bounce. Stress on the frame at that point, or the rusting of the hydraulic systems could lead to a failure "possibly causing serious injury or worse to some firefighter using this aerial device. This may seem a very dire prediction, but this is a real life-threatening situation if not addressed soon."
A firefighter in the department, Daniel Richard, who was chief engineer when the truck was delivered in 2002, said the shuddering was a problem from the truck's first day. He said he wrote up a deficiency report on it for that reason soon after it was delivered. The situation developed to where firefighters often threatened to refuse to drive the truck, he said.
Richard said he understood the chassis was covered under a one-year warranty and said that as far as he knew, a claim wasn't filed during that period.
"Why wasn't something done on the first year of the chassis warranty?" he asked.
Petrin could not be reached for comment on whether a warranty claim was made.
American LaFrance declined to comment on the specifics of Petrin's complaints about the truck, but said the number and length of time it has taken the vehicle back for work is evidence that the company is not ignoring the district.
"We were profoundly disappointed and concerned to hear the comments recently made by the chief of the Albion Fire District with respect to the fire district's 2002 aerial ladder truck," said Karen Haun, American LaFrance's marketing manager.
The company "has worked to address and to provide solutions for any and all concerns raised by. … Albion concerning its 2002 truck. American LaFrance has communicated continuously with the city and fire district throughout this process, including as recently as December 2006.
"American LaFrance prides itself on customer satisfaction, as evidenced by its ongoing efforts to address the city's issues with the 2002 truck," she said in a prepared statement. "American LaFrance would very much like to resolve this matter for all parties in a satisfactory way and to continue what has been an ongoing dialogue with the city and fire district."