Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Price of Safety

Amherst Joint Capital Planning Committee with Public Safety Chiefs

The Joint Capital Planning Committee, comprised of two members each from Select Board, School and Finance Committees and Library Trustees, heard presentations this morning from APD Chief Livingstone and AFD Chief Nelson regarding capital items required in the next fiscal year, totally $798,000.

Since police cruisers and ambulances are on the go 24/7, it's no surprise that new ones are required annually--and that they are more expensive than regular vehicles. But that did not stop Carol Gray from questioning the purchase of four police patrol cars and nitpicking in favor of hybrids.

The Chief responded with just the facts: two of the four cruisers have over 100,000 miles and the other two (both of which had transmission failures) will have over 100,000 if they do not die before July 1.

And hybrids may save money on gas but cost significantly more upfront and do not have the heavy duty mechanics--or roll cage--required for the severe beating these front line machines endure.

Computers, cameras, emergency lights, and radar would combine to overwhelm the electrical capacity of a typical hybrid.

An entirely new radio system at a cost of $125,000 is required because a new Federal Law goes into effect 1/1/13 with strict "narrow band" requirements that our current system--purchased in 1978--will not meet.

The Fire Department had the lions share of total requests ($523,000), significant portions due to the age and deterioration of our downtown Central Fire Station top to bottom: A new roof (the current one had a tree growing out of it) at $103,000 and new floor at $63,000. The station was originally built in 1930 when fire apparatus was a lot smaller and lighter, so newer heavier machines take their toll on the floor--especially where it's not solid slab.

A new ambulance costs $205,000 but will last ten years (200,000 miles) and that appropriation comes out of the ambulance fund--money generated by insurance payments from patients. On a typical day, the department can staff three ambulances, four if they are expecting a heavy call volume, such as Superbowl weekend.

Firefighters also rely on two critical, relatively tiny, but expensive items. Thermal imaging cameras (three at $6,000 each) to "see" through smoke and debris, and 24 radios ($1,000 each) for 2-way communication. Assistant Chief Stromgren would like to get to a point where every firefighter who enters a building can carry a thermal imaging camera.

The Joint Capital Planning Committee currently has $1 million more in requests than funds available. Considering how both public safety departments are understaffed, let's hope the JCPC at least recommends (to Town Meeting) giving them the necessary tools to perform their vital duties.
Potholes inside the main station
Cracks from stress of heavy vehicles

The underside of the cracked floors shows moisture leak damage
The eyes of life. Portable thermal imaging cameras. $6,000 each
Assistant Chief Stromgren in the flesh (background), thermal image (foreground)

Protective gear: $2, 500 per person

Pants and boots ready for a quick response


Anonymous said...

$100K for a roof??????? how big is the building and why was a tree allowed to grow in it?????

LarryK4 said...

Actually there are four roof sections total, and some of them are slate. Town Hall was a lot more than that a few years back.

The tree probably took root because a seed made its way through a hole in the roof.

Ed said...

No, the tree more likely started growing in a pile of leaf mulch that wasn't removed from said slate roof for 2/3/5/10 years, and then as the tree started getting bigger, it pushed its roots down through the roof thus making a hole in it.

This is why if you have a flat roof, from time to time you go up and clean all the junk off it -- or if you have a pitched roof, you clean out your gutters and whatnot.

I have just one word: mismanagement.

SOMEONE is responsible for not cleaning that garbage off the roof at least once a year. No, magic tree seeds don't go down through holes like the Jap bomb down the smokestack of the Arizona. It had time to grow because someone wasn't taking care of the building...

So too with parking trucks on what looks like a flexcore floor about to collapse. Flexcore is now BANNED for a reason and the first time I saw a crack (or at least the first time I calculated the axle weight of a modern fire truck), I would have found a couple hundred dollars out of *somewhere* and laid down at least one and probably two layers of 3/4" plywood (second layer at 90 degrees to first) so as to support (via spreading) the load. And I would have given some thought to some pilings downstairs to shore up the load a bit as well.

It would kinda s*ck to have a truck come falling down on top of you when you were down there for something, wouldn't it? Is there no one in the fire department who has ever had to pull a vehicle off of someone?

And as to roofs, I wouldn't mind being up on the roof of the fire station. You couldn't pay me enough to be up on the roof of the town hall. Yes both are roofs, in the sense that a police car and a fire truck are both motor vehicles, but one is a whole lot bigger than the other....

And how much more would it really have cost to have built a combined police/fire station 20 years ago??? Wasn't that building originally used for something else anyway with the Fire Department acquiring it when (memory is) the livery stable went the way of the horse-drawn wagon...

Don't they know what a fire truck actually weighs? It has got to be on the door panel and registration, you would think. Didn't anyone go stumbling over to the building inspection folk and inquire if the floor was designed for such weights?

For that matter, doesn't someone do an annual inspection on all town owned buildings just so they have an idea of conditions? Someone SHOULD -- even if it is just a quick external walk-around....

Someone was mismanaging things -- but this is Amherst where no one is ever responsible for anything, kinda like Planet UMass....

Ed said...

0ne other thing -- and it is cheaper to have it now than deal with the lawsuits later -- the narrowband radio is digital, are they including the ability to have a copy of it so that if anything ever happens, they can go back the next day and pull out what actually was said on the air?

With the analog radios, grandmothers with scanners kept the cops honest. Now that people can't listen in, there is a need to be able to produce (pursuant to policy and law) what actually was said...

LarryK4 said...

The flat part of the roof (in the rear of the building) are 35 year old asphalt shingles, so they could not have been overly shoddy with upkeep.

Anonymous said...

Yet another fictional rambling by Ed.

Anonymous said...

Narrowband radios do not have to be digital. In all likelihood scanners will work as they do now, except that the volume will have to be turned up.

Even if the digital technology is chosen, Radio Shack sells digital scanners.

Anonymous said...

Either I should go back to bed or Ed is making a bit of sense: Regular maintenance is needed on all Town buildings.

As for Carol Gray, she wasn't in the picture, but at least now we ALL know why a hybrid is a bad idea for public safety vehicles. (I wouldn't have asked the question, but now I know.)

Anonymous said...

they do regular maintenance, but with the money allowed its just been putting bandaids on the bigger problems. the powers that be know a new station has been needed for a long time.

Anonymous said...

A few things. The central fire station was not acquired, nor was it a livery stable. It was purpose built in 1930, eighty two years ago. The apparatus floor was not designed for the vehicles that it is now tasked with supporting. Flexcore flooring may be banned now, but it was not when the station was built. I'm not a structural engineer, but I’m not really sure how 2 layers of 3/4" plywood will help the situation or prevent the floor from further deteriorating. I will concede that perhaps placing some shoring beneath the floor would have helped, however it would have made the basement difficult if not impossible to use. The issues with the apparatus floor have been ongoing for quite some time. They predate my eight year tenure by many years. Successive fire chiefs have attempted to address the problem but have not been able to secure funding. With regard to the roof. The tree is just one example of its problems. The roof is in need of replacement, tree or no tree. I'm have no idea when the town last appropriated funds to do roof work at the fire station, nor does anyone else I’ve talked to. These are just two of a long list of problems with the central fire station. As much as I like the place, it needs to be replaced. Now on to radios. Portable radios and a vital piece of SAFETY equipment for both police officers and firefighters. Ed, are you seriously saying that we should not have the most modern and reliable radios available because folks might have to go out and buy new scanners? Really? If that is the case, please rest assured that as posted elsewhere in this thread, Uniden, Radio Shack, and many other manufacturers make scanners that will receive even the latest APCO P25 digital narrow band radios. Lastly, ambulances. We have 5 ambulances and as Larry correctly reported we generally staff 3 of them (minimum staffing of 7 firefighters on duty. 2 firefighters per ambulance with one left over). Of these 5 ambulances, the oldest is a 2003 model, and 4 of the 5 have over 100,000 miles. Only the most recently purchased ambulance, which was delivered this past November has less. Truly, the department needs to be on a 5 year replacement plan for these trucks. This would mean purchasing a new ambulance every year, This may seem unnecessary until you consider the fact that the ambulance that was purchased in 2009 has been over 100,000 miles for more than six months. This is a very busy fire department. The vehicles are subject to lots of wear and tear in a very short period of time. In order for us to continue to provide the highest possible level of service, we need to have the tools to do so.

Jeff Parr
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local-1764

Ed said...

The flat part of the roof (in the rear of the building) are 35 year old asphalt shingles, so they could not have been overly shoddy with upkeep

You do not put asphalt shingles on a flat roof. I forget the minimum pitch for shingles, but even roofs with a slight pitch aren't supposed to have shingles on them. For some very good reasons that the manufacturers are quite clear on.

But beyond that, what part of letting a damn tree grow on the roof is part of good maintenance?

Call me all the names you wish, but someone wasn't doing his/her/its job. And you all get to pay for it. I am so glad to be soon escaping this cesspool...

Ed said...

The central fire station was not acquired, nor was it a livery stable.

My bad on the livery stable, that is the theater, but Florence Savings had a calendar a few years back with the AFD a few buildings closer to town and something else in that building. Or they were wrong.

I'm not a structural engineer, but I’m not really sure how 2 layers of 3/4" plywood

Think ice rescue. Why do you crawl across the ice, spreading your arms and legs as much as possible, pushing the floatation basket out to the side as well? Why not just stand up and walk out there?

The principle is to spread your weight out as much as possible so that any one portion of the surface (ice or floor) isn't bearing as much of it.

This is how a 110 lb woman can do an awful lot of damage to a floor with stiletto heels -- yes she weighs less than half of what we do, but all of her 110 lbs is coming down on that little quarter inch of heel.

The same thing is true when you step on a nail. All of your weight is concentrated in a very small area so the nail goes right into your foot (or not if the boot protects you which is why turnout gear is so expensive and so very necessary).

I will concede that perhaps placing some shoring beneath the floor would have helped, however it would have made the basement difficult if not impossible to use.

First, if it is a safety issue, you loose the basement -- you would say the same thing to a homeowner whose garage roof was collapsing from snow damage -- it is a safety issue.

But pilings/pillars -- upright posts that you can walk around; that, if done right, wouldn't have taken that much space or function from the space.

I know firefighters aren't engineers, you are paid to know other stuff. But the town HAS engineers and building inspectors and a whole bunch of people who are licensed and paid to know this stuff.

The really heavy trucks started showing up in the 1970s when they also went to diesel engines (and we haven't mentioned the issue of diesel exhaust, indoor air quality and firefighter health -- and we should).

Flexcore is circa 1950s, my gut feeling is that there was an original wooden floor that was replaced for an earlier generation of "post-war" fire trucks that were considerably heavier than the ones of the 1930s.

But we have had the second generation of really heavy trucks for 40-50 years now, there have been how many expensive town managers and other assorted professionals responsible for town buildings, and some random college student is the first person to ask if this floor is safe to hold this load?


The union should be demanding this, management should be demanding this, every decent human being should be demanding this because we don't want a truck going through that floor and we definitely don't want it landing on someone...

Is the floor safe????? Larry, forget about hot water in school bathrooms, this is potentially quite serious. Not only are tons and tons of weight concentrated on a few square inches, but it is far worse when they exert the torque to start moving. If they were to roll on a working fire and instead wind up in the cellar, that would be, well, not good...

Ed said...

Two other things --

First, you need radios that work, I am just suggesting that having the traffic routinely written/overwritten to a hard drive would be damn valuable if you ever needed to document who said what and when.

Prove that you *didn't* say something on the radio. This protects the union guys as well.

Second, why are you buying such big ambulances? Yes, I explained to my sister-in-law that the ambulance used for a 4-year-old is incredibly oversized because it is the same one used for adults, but that is the standard ambulance built on the same frame as the 9 passenger school bus -- Ford 350 or something like that.

Amherst is buying ambulances that look like they are on dump truck frames -- I remember an incident years back when you couldn't get the ambulance down the bikepath because it was just to big to fit -- and what is the rationale?

Would not a smaller ambulance be (a) cheaper, (b) cheaper to maintain and (c) burn less fuel? And when I say "smaller" I mean the same size that everyone else's are -- the commercial ones, the other towns and such.

And one third thought about hybrid police crusisers -- she may have a point but not the one she realizes. They only have a standard auto battery in them -- why? Wouldn't it make sense to have at least a second battery and/or a truck-sized one? Or to at least inquire as to the possibility of this?

If they didn't have to leave the engine running to keep the blue lights on, they would be saving gas. If the motorcycle can run blue lights without its engine on (and I am told it can) then why not look into doing this with a cruiser too?

Ed said...

As much as I like the place, it needs to be replaced.

And is it in the right place as well?

Unless you can override/control the traffic lights on both ends of the common -- or unless people are willing to use common sense and run red lights to get out of your way, which you will find UM students increasing less willing to do -- you are going to have an incredibly hard time getting a fire truck to South Amherst on a Friday afternoon.

IS this a problem? Or not? And if it is, ought it not also be on the table of considerations?

I am asking for actual management and leadership in this town. I realize that I am asking for a lot...

Ed said...

One other thing -- if that *is* Flexcore, and I am not saying it is, people need to know what Flexcore is and is not.

It is not a solid concrete plank, nor is it pre-stressed. There are three hollow tubes inside, each big enough to run a softball through.

Everything I have seen and been told is that the mineral icicles are a really bad sign. I really do not like the picture taken from the basement. Notwithstanding that, my distant memory is that the City of Springfield had a building code in the 1950s that had a per-inch load limit for (new) Flexcore and I am wondering if even the trucks exceed even that.

And I am only assuming that is Flexcore, it may not be...

I am not an engineer, I have never been in there -- but I suggest that someone who is an engineer needs to be looking at that floor and soon!