By Stefanie Chiguluri
The Lexington Fire Department has purchased a $1.7 million ladder truck and hopes the community will help pay for it.
The ladder truck is the costliest piece of equipment the city owns, said City Manager Jim Halasz.
The replacement of its current 24-year-old ladder truck was delayed because city officials were unsure of how Lexington’s finances would fare after the pandemic, according to City Councilmember David Sigler.
“As it turned out Lexington weathered COVID pretty well,” Sigler said.
When the city council first discussed a new truck, the cost was expected to be around $1.2 million. But rising interest rates and inflation have boosted the purchase price.
The city budget had a $1.5 million surplus at the end of fiscal 2021. The city council in December unanimously approved using $800,000 for the new truck.
Dickerson said that initial funding allowed the department to look at replacement trucks and seek public contributions.
After celebrating the fire department’s 225th anniversary in May, Fire Chief Ty Dickerson sent a letter to the community on Facebook seeking donations towards the new ladder truck.
“While we love helping others and plan to continue to do so for the next 225 years and beyond, we are now seeking your support,” he wrote.
The fire department has currently raised just over $2000 through community donations according to Dickerson.
VMI and Washington and Lee University also each contributed $35,000 toward funding emergency equipment, Sigler said.
The current ladder truck has about 37,000 miles on it, but it has faced multiple repairs and is not equipped with up-to-date technology. Repairs often take weeks.
Other cities face the same expenses in firefighting. The Charlottesville Fire Department, for instance, paid $1.2 million for its tower ladder truck in 2011, said Deputy Chief Mike Rogers. The department expects to spend $2.4 million in 2032 to replace it.
“If you had a job, and you had to drive to work every day, and that job fed you, your family and kept a roof over your head, how comfortable would you feel about the reliability of a 24-year-old car?” Dickerson said.
The new truck, which should arrive in January, will have a longer ladder that will reach over the tops of any buildings in Lexington and Rockbridge County. It also has a better turning radius and better safety features.
The new technology is a significant factor when the fire department receives its Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating. ISO is a rating agency that ranks the effectiveness of fire departments.
A lower rating means the department is considered more prepared to fight fires. That translates into lower insurance costs for homeowners. Lexington’s department is one of only 30 in Virginia to earn a class three rating.