In 2015, firefighters stood by and watched a massive claw lift and scrap the department’s lone ladder truck.
That year, Johnston bought the fire department a new truck, heralded as “a state-of-the-art 2014 Rosenbauer.” The new truck replaced the ladder truck the department had purchased in 1991.
The new truck, however, was plagued with mechanical issues.
“They usually last longer than that,” explained Johnston Fire Chief Peter J. Lamb. “This truck has been problematic. We’ve spent a lot on maintenance. Our ladder truck has been out of service a great deal of the time.”
Difficulties with the department’s ladder truck had the potential of meddling with public safety.
“We went to a lot of fires without our aerial truck,” Lamb said.
When a ladder truck was in need, other municipalities often had to help cover.
Lamb took over as chief long after the Rosenbauer truck was purchased.
“Well, that funeral is over,” then-Johnston Fire Chief Timothy McLaughlin said in October 2015, standing at Sims Metals Recycling Center off Shun Pike, while watching the 1991 truck join the scrap heap. “It’s out with the old, in with the new.”
McLaughlin and Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena led a delegation of about two-dozen Johnston firefighters to watch three huge machines crush the department’s 1991 ladder truck.
“That old truck more than served its function for us,” McLaughlin said, according to a 2015 Johnston Sun Rise story.
“In its place, we now have a state-of-the-art 2014 Rosenbauer ladder truck that is equipped with everything from a remote control unit that can be operated from as far as 500 feet away, to a special 1,000-gallon holding tank.”
The celebration didn’t last long, however. Problem after problem led to numerous maintenance trips and the truck often sits idle inside the Johnston Fire Department Headquarters on Atwood Avenue.
“It’s in service now, but we went almost four and a half months without it,” Firefighter Scott Thacker said Tuesday as he climbed inside the young ladder truck’s cab. “The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) says a ladder truck should last 20 years. When it works, it’s a great truck.”
Unfortunately, the truck rarely works as expected, according to Johnston fire officials.
In 2015, former-Chief McLaughlin said the soon-to-be replaced ladder truck measures 109 feet long and came “equipped with the latest instruments in fire fighting.”
“Our guys are ecstatic to have the new ladder truck in our fleet,” McLaughlin said at the time. “It’s good for the citizens of town and has been a big morale booster since it was delivered a month ago.”
That year, Johnston also purchased a 2014 Spartan ERV factory-built custom pumper. The town’s new ladder truck, approved for purchase last week by Johnston Town Council, will cost about $1.1 million, and will also be built by Spartan Fire and Emergency Apparatus.
The old ladder truck was valued at $750,000, and will be placed on reserve once the new truck is built and driven from Nebraska to Rhode Island.
As for the scrapped 1991 ladder truck, in 2015 Polisena said: “It was bittersweet watching it crushed as if it were a piece of cardboard. After all, I rode that truck during my days as a firefighter.”
The new truck will take about a year to build and ship.
“They drive it here,” Lamb said of the new truck. “We want them to put the first 1,500-2,000 miles on it.”
The town will use funds set aside in a reserve account specially created to purchase fire apparatus, Lamb explained.
Lamb gave Town Council his word that he will do everything possible to cap the new truck’s cost at $1.1 million.
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