The Allentown Fire Department lacked a single functioning ladder truck the past weekend after its third-string aerial vehicle on Friday joined its primary and first backup trucks in the repair shop.
It left the city of 121,000 residents dependent on Bethlehem crews for assistance.
The city expects to regain the services of one ladder truck Monday night and a second one Tuesday, city Fire Chief Jim Wehr said in a statement Monday.
The 9-year-old primary ladder truck and 10-year-old reserve ladder truck have been out of service for about two weeks, according to Jeremy Warmkessel, president of the local fire union.
Allentown’s been here before — it had no ladder trucks for a five-day period two years ago, helping ignite an outcry over the Pawlowski administration’s perceived neglect of the department.
The former mayor is still to blame for today’s issues, Warmkessel said Monday. While interim Mayor Ray O’Connell is “working diligently” to improve the department’s fleet, Warmkessel said, there’s still a long way to go.
Just last month, the department held a “push-in” ceremony for three new engines, or pumpers. And later this month, the department expects to receive a specialized truck that will carry all the equipment needed to handle hazardous materials calls.
O’Connell and Wehr weren’t immediately available to comment beyond an emailed statement Monday. But in the statement, Wehr characterized having all three trucks down at the same time as “an extremely rare occurrence.”
“The city maintains mutual aid agreements with other departments for them to assist Allentown and for Allentown to assist them during similar circumstances,” he added.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many mutual aid requests Allentown made to Bethlehem over the weekend. But the department reported on Facebook that a Bethlehem ladder assisted Saturday at a house fire at 2003 E. Cedar St.
Ladder trucks enable fire crews to execute rescues and battle blazes on upper floors and in roofs more efficiently and safely than using ground ladders.
The generally accepted standard for fire equipment replacement comes from the National Fire Protection Association, which calls for firetrucks to remain in primary use for no more than 10 years. After that, firetrucks typically have an additional 10-year life in a reserve fleet, where they can be subbed in as trucks go down, according to the association.
Those standards vary based on how frequently vehicles are used, Warmkessel said.
Allentown has roughly 12,000 calls a year. By comparison, Bethlehem responded to roughly 5,500 last year, according to its 2019 budget.
A Morning Call analysis in June 2017 found that of the seven engines (also known as pumpers) and one ladder truck (sometimes called an aerial) in Allentown’s primary fleet, five were more than 10 years old. Four engines have been replaced since then.
The more expensive ladder trucks cost about $1 million. Warmkessel hopes the city will budget for a new one “in the near future.”
“They’re trying to remedy the problem,” he said. “Sometimes you can do that with better maintenance, and other times it’s going to be a purchase of a new vehicle.”