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What repairing Muskegon Heights' aging fire fleet is costing taxpayers

A single, necessary repair is estimated to cost upward of $25 thousand.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — A heated debate happened during Monday's Muskegon Heights City Council meeting over funding for the fire department.

The council voted down a request to purchase a new truck and several additional pieces of rescue equipment, including:

  • A new set of mechanical sheers used to extricate victims from vehicles
  • A lifesaving CPR compression device
  • A new 'mini-pumper' crew-cab vehicle

The debate, which saw only City Manager Troy Bell and Mayor Pro Tempore Ronald Jenkins come out in support of the measure, came in spite of the fact that the money was included in the city’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

The request, per the city manager's office, which supported the proposal, would simply have moved some of the funding to other line items in an effort to upgrade the department’s aging fleet.

Fire Chief Chris Dean was still brand new to the force in the late 90s when its oldest model earned its place in the garage.

“Last year alone, we spent approximately $100,000 in repair and maintenance costs,” Dean relayed. “This year, if we do not replace the trucks, we're projected to spend even more than that amount.”

The remainder of the fleet isn’t getting any younger, either.

The department’s ladder truck has also seen more than two decades of wear and tear.

“The age of the trucks in the high volume of calls that we have in this small community creates a lot of wear and tear,” Dean said. “To add to that, we have some very rough sections of road.”

Yet, even its newest vehicle was down for repairs this week.

Estimates show the fix to pull the decade-old truck back into the rotation—with a new gear box—will cost approximately $25 thousand.

The Fire Safe Council says trucks are expected to last around 20 years, meaning the two older engines aged out several years earlier.

Dean acknowledged the department’s aging equipment, and, in turn, its forced reliance upon mutual aid, had impacted response times.

“In the last year and a half, we've had an instance where almost every truck in the fleet was out of service due to maintenance,” Dean explained.

This is a fleet that’s still expected to run like clockwork with about a call every hour — a response is not optional.   

“We're running emergencies every day here that are life and death,” Dean said. “We need these big red trucks to be operational, functional, so that we can get to the fires and the medical emergencies to care for people.”

An investment in public safety would not only enable emergency workers to better care for residents, but drive future economic growth, Bell relayed via phone Tuesday.

The measure appeared to have been tabled for the time being.

13 ON YOUR SIDE reached out to several of the council members who signaled their opposition during Monday’s meeting but had not heard back at the time of publication.

RELATED: Funding for new firetruck denied at Muskegon Heights City Council meeting


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