The Forest Park Fire Department will upgrade half its fleet thanks to a grant from the federal government and action taken by the village council Monday.

Purchases of a new fire engine and a new ambulance were approved unanimously by the four elected officials present at Monday’s meeting. Commissioner Dan Novak was absent.

In addition, the council voted unanimously to purchase a front-end loader, a pickup truck with snowplow, and an asphalt roller with trailer for the Public Works Department for a total cost of $241,323.

The majority of the fire engine cost will be covered by the federal grant, and the village will borrow money to finance the remainder of that purchase and purchases of other vehicles and equipment.

The new fire engine will cost $450,000, with $428,572, or 95 percent, covered by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Program grant. The village will pay the remaining 5 percent, $21,428.00.
“This is great,” Commissioner Tom Mannix said. “It’s a really big deal.”

Mannix thanked fellow Commissioner Joseph Byrnes, current Fire Chief Bob McDermott, former Fire Chief Steve Glinke and Village Administrator Tim Gillian for their efforts in obtaining the grant funds.

The new engine will be an upgrade from the department’s 1993 vehicle, which McDermott said needs to be replaced, noting the life expectancy for a vehicle of that type is 20 years. He said the 1993 engine has been used primarily as a backup unit.

“It’s definitely time to replace the engine,” Gillian said, citing rising repair and maintenance costs.

To facilitate purchase of the engine, the village also entered into an inter-local for cooperative purchasing contract with the Houston-Galveston Area Council. Gillian explained the contract fulfills terms of the agreement for the grant, which he said village officials have been pursuing “for years.”

McDermott said officials are still working on specifications and manufacturers but hope to place the order for the new engine by the end of September. He said the village will purchase the engine from a company that produces all components rather than purchase the chassis from one company and the rest from another. The department would receive the engine in 8-10 months.

The new ambulance, which will cost $154,000, will replace a 2005 model, which will be traded in. Gillian and McDermott agreed the situation with their current ambulance mirrors that of the engine with the cost of maintenance and repairs increasing annually. McDermott noted the life expectancy of an ambulance is 5-6 years. Gillian said funding for a new ambulance has been budgeted in each of the previous four years, but funds were needed elsewhere.

McDermott said the village will purchase a demonstration model from Road Response of St. John, Indiana. Since the ambulance will not need to be built to order, he hopes to accept delivery in early October. 

The new vehicles join a 2003 truck and a 2007 engine in the department’s fleet.

Public Works Director John Doss explained that he had hoped to replace the pickup truck, front-end loader and roller in previous years but purchases were delayed by budgetary considerations.

“We try to schedule replacements, but the money just hasn’t been there,” he said.

The pickup truck, which will cost $80,023, replaces a 1997 vehicle; the front-end loader, which will cost $133,800, replaces a vehicle from the 1990s; and the roller, which will cost $27,500, replaces a piece of equipment that is broken down and not useable. Doss said he expects delivery of the pickup truck in February and the other vehicle and equipment in October. Gillian noted all purchases followed competitive bidding.

To help finance the purchases, the village council voted Monday to establish a 10-year $750,000 line of credit with Forest Park National Bank. Gillian explained the line of credit will be used to finance the initial equipment and vehicle purchases. After the final purchases are made, the village will refinance with loans, 10-year loans for what he called the “big-ticket items” and five-year loans for the lower-cost purchases.

With a line of credit, the village will not incur interest expenses until each purchase is made, unlike a loan process in which interest payments start immediately. With so many individual purchases being made at different times, the line of credit is more fiscally prudent, according to Gillian. He also said the village will explore financing options with the different vendors, then compare rates with those offered by Forest Park National Bank and choose the lowest rate for each purchase.

Gillian explained that the need to replace outdated vehicles and equipment finally outweighed the budgetary constraints the village has faced in previous years.

“The elected officials understand that it’s time to take out a loan,” he said. “There’s a need. We cannot pay cash and we got great financing.”

Mayor Anthony Calderone was pleased with the purchases.

“Tonight is an exceptional night in being able to purchase so much needed equipment so we can continue to deliver the very best possible service to the community,” he said.