Flatwoods City Council approves motion to explore new fire truck, accepts bid to fix THM levels in water tank rehab project
By Kevin Colley
Scioto Voice Writer
In its meeting Tuesday evening, the Flatwoods City Council approved two important motions – one to start the procedures to obtain specs to purchase a new fire truck for the City of Flatwoods and its fire department and the other to accept a $283,023 bid from Utility Service Company for the Barker Lane Tank Rehab Project, as done by the city in its monthly council meeting.
According to Flatwoods Fire Chief Brent Dean, the city currently has two 2009 model fire engines that are on the back end of their life expectancy, as both models are set to expire in 2029. The City of Flatwoods also has a ladder truck, which was delivered to the department in 2019 and won’t expire until the year 2044.
For a city that is the size of Flatwoods, the city should have three engines, according to both Dean and Flatwoods Mayor Ron Fields – which is leading the charge for Flatwoods to purchase another engine.
Costs, according to Dean, are also crucial in the matter.
In 2018, the City of Flatwoods signed an approved contract by the board that was $846,852 for the ladder truck that eventually came in 2019. However, rapid increases in pricing have made purchasing that same truck approximately $1.4 million dollars in today’s day and age, according to Dean.
“In 2020, it went up 22 percent, so that resulted in a $186,000 increase, which raised the price of the truck to $1,033,154. Then, it took another 10 percent increase, which was $103,000, so today’s cost for that ladder truck would be $1,136,469,” Dean said. “It was an increase of $289,000 in two years. That’s what we’re talking about. Two years. That’s just increases since 2020,” Dean said. “I didn’t include 2019 or 2018. 2018’s increase was eight percent and 2019’s increase was 11 percent. We’re looking at another 20 percent, so you’re looking at about $1,400,000 for a truck that was $846,852 two years ago.”
Additionally, Dean’s and Fields’ urgency on purchasing a new truck is enhanced, in large part, due to the delivery time it will take for the new ladder truck to come in. Dean said that the city’s newest fire truck purchase would take between two to two-and-a-half years to come in, meaning that the city wouldn’t get its new engine until possibly 2025, but no sooner than the mid-to-late portion of the 2024 calendar year.
“The main reason why I want to start this process early is because of the increase in fire trucks over the last two-and-a-half years,” Dean said. “If you look at the figures that I give you, the average delivery time on a new truck is between two to two-and-a-half years, so as much as 30 months. That’s what we’re going to sign a contract for, when we go to do this.”
However, the City of Flatwoods is aided by the fact that it has surged ahead on its payments for the ladder truck. Of the eight annual payments on the ladder truck, Dean reported that the city had paid off six of those already.
“The annual payments are $69,700,” Dean said. “I would like to be able to get this truck off prior to the delivery of another one. I don’t see a problem with that seeing as how we’ve paid six payments in two years. I wouldn’t think that would be an issue.”
The importance of keeping the annual payments at that rate, according to Dean, is critical – as it would allow the fire department to continue to afford paying forward and saving money on the back end by getting ahead on the payments themselves.
Dean has said that the City of Flatwoods saves money by paying a chassis payment when the trucks first come in, then a materials cost. This, in turn, saves additional dollars on the annual payments later on and therefore saves the city money – and its citizens potential tax dollars, as well.
“My main concern is with how fast the costs are going up on these trucks, and the delivery time on these trucks, is the fact that I’d love to be able to keep our annual payments around $69,000,” Dean said. “The fire department can swing that. It doesn’t cause us a major issue. However, if they continue to go up, that’s going to cause us some problems.”
Overall, Fields has pressed Dean to settle on a new engine within six months, but Dean felt uncertain about meeting that standard, saying that he and his staff would need to have the time to make appointments and change orders to see the trucks themselves.
“I’d love to sit here and tell you that I would be able to get it sooner, but I can’t promise you that,” Dean said. “Normally, with the ladder truck, it took us almost nine months from the time we got permission to do it.”
Regardless, Dean said that council’s ability to give the fire department the go-ahead to begin the process could save the city several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“If we can get this out to bid and lock in on a price, we could save the city substantial amounts of money – several hundred thousand dollars in just price increases alone, rather than putting it off for another two years to see where the prices are going to be,” Dean said. “I can promise you – they’re not going to come down. Prices are getting outrageous.”
With the two fire engines that were built in 2009 that are set to expire in seven years, Dean said that the hopeful plan was to keep the engine that was in the best shape of the two and begin the order of a new engine following the completed payments of the current one that the city will be exploring now. Exploring the purchase of two at the same time, Dean said, wouldn’t be possible unless a council member “won the lottery and donated a portion of the winnings back to the city.”
“We’re going to have to buy one a little early and keep one a little longer,” Dean said of the 2009 engines. “We’re just going to keep the best one of the two. We ran our 199th call today, and we’re averaging right at 400 a year. You’ve got nine more years with how many times that truck is going to go on the road.”
On a scale of a ISO Fire Rating from one to 10, with 10 being the worst and one being the best, Flatwoods has a Class 3 ISO Fire Rating, according to Dean. Keeping the ISO rating at a respectable to strong level, Dean said, is important, especially in order to attract and keep commercial businesses in the area.
“Hypothetically speaking, if we went from a 4 to a 3, it might save us $100, $125 a year, maybe, on our insurance,” Dean said. “That’s good savings, but not substantial. However, if you go out to Pennington’s and pay for commercial insurance, it’s probably going to save them between $10,000 to $12,000 a year. That’s where the big money comes in. Now, if we had the money and the amount of equipment to where we could step up (the ISO rating) a little bit farther, then that’s where it starts getting into homeowners. Right now, where we’re at, it’s more of a help to commercial businesses.”
Buying the new truck, Dean said, will help the City of Flatwoods meet the necessary fire flow. At this point, Dean said that the city’s fire flow was 1,500 gallons a minute less than it should be.
For the Barker Lane Tank Rehab project, which sits just off of Indian Run Road about two minutes from the center of the city, the board also unanimously approved Utility Service’s work on the project after hearing Paul Amburgey, a lead representative for E.L. Robinson Engineering in Ashland, speak on the matter.
The City of Flatwoods, who gets its water from Ashland, is currently under a green order due to high levels of trihalomethane in the tank, and if the city doesn’t get into compliance, could face fines from the Environmental Protection Agency. The aeration system in the tank on Indian Run has been knocked down by 50 percent to get the city into compliance with the EPA. It was mentioned that Ashland is “definitely” under a green order.
Getting the trihalomethane, or THM, for short, under control is a major concern, as elevated levels of THM have been associated with negative health effects such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes, according to the National Library of Medicine website.
According to Amburgey, it will take six months to get the necessary equipment in for the repairs to the tank, with an aerator going into the bottom of the tank, a mixer with blades on the top of it, and an exhaust fan on the roof of the tank.
City of Flatwoods Public Works supervisor Richard Blevins said that Flatwoods’ problem is, in part, hard to control because of where Flatwoods is getting the water from.
“The Division of Water is coming down on them (Ashland) pretty hard,” Blevins said. “They’ve made some changes and some improvements, but still, at times, it comes up at a high level to us from Ashland. Like anything else, we can’t control what other people do. We can only try to mitigate it from our boundaries.”
When Flatwoods City Councilmember Louie Gabbard asked if the EPA would cool the heat on the city for the problems regarding the THM via the agreed-upon bid, Eric Patton, who is a Water/Wastewater and GIS Planner for the Kentucky FIVCO Area Development District, said that the city wouldn’t face that order due to having a bid in the works to get the issue at hand resolved.
“This will save you from a green order,” Patton said. “You won’t come under a green order as long as you have a plan in place to fix it. I have worked with the Kentucky Division of Water several times to make sure that didn’t happen.”
For the time being, Fields said that city officials would have to monitor the THM in the tank and keep it in compliance.
The project, according to Amburgey, would be completely funded by state and federal dollars.
In additional city business, the City of Flatwoods approved the first reading raises for firefighters from $20 to $23 per call and fire captains from $23 to $26 per call while setting Deputy Chief and Battalion Chief pay at $29 per call. The latter two positions also featured changes in titles from Assistant Chief and Captain, respectively.
A motion was also made to unanimously approve the bid for Blacktop Industries for $135 per ton laid on City of Flatwoods streets, with another motion passed unanimously for police units to be put up as surplus and for sale on the government website, which included a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria and two 2016 Dodge Chargers.