'AWOL' Fire Truck May Start Work This Month

Santa Cruz Fire got a new truck, spotlighting the still-missing Watsonville fire equipment.

The Santa Cruz Fire Department debuted a new aerial fire truck this week, much to the chagrin of one Watsonville city council member who's spent the past year trying to track down the ladder truck Watsonville purchased in April 2008 but has yet to put into service.

Council Member Emilio Martinez has called it the "Watsonville AWOL fire truck" and has been tracking the vehicle's slow progress toward the Pajaro Valley on his blog, the Watsonville Fishing Report.

Wednesday, he poked fun at the new Santa Cruz fire truck.

"Santa Cruz made a big mistake," Martinez said. "They could have sold Watsonville their used, unreliable, and polluting diesel engine truck, which is what we purchased for $225,000, and they probably could have made a profit."

Watsonville purchased the 1999 KME aerial ladder truck—a former city of Pasadena vehicle—from Fire Tucks Plus, a fire truck dealer in Rancho Cucamonga in April 2008 with a $225,000 federal grant.

In the years since, the deal has been the subject of much controversy, city council debate and even the scrutiny of the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury Report.

"...the Grand Jury’s investigation surrounding the purchase demonstrates a lack of transparency, completeness, and accuracy in the information provided to the City Council and the public," the report stated. "These procedural irregularities undermine public confidence in the City’s financial practices."

Read the Grand Jury report here.

The sale was dependant on Pasadena getting a truck from the city of Long Beach, according to a report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel in June. That delayed the transaction until December 2010. From there, the truck had to be refurbished and outfitted with the correct equipment.

The fire truck was unveiled in Watsonville briefly last summer with much fanfare—an appearance in the annual Fourth of July parade. The plan is to set it up exactly like the department's other ladder truck and have one stationed at each firehouse in the city.

But the new truck hasn't actually gone into service.

Necessary repairs to the truck's electrical system and the swivel beneath the fifth wheel turntable have sidelined the vehicle. Those problem are being handled, Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee wrote in a Jan. 27 memo to City Manager Carlos Palacios.

"The electrical issues now appear relatively simple: from the need to keep connection contacts clean, replacing a GFI and a tiller dead-man’s switch to upgrading the generator circuit," Bisbee wrote. "... The swivel was looked at during the furlough, and it contained extra wiring that can be utilized, negating the need to replace the $8,000 part for now. Getting the second opinion on this saved the City $6,200."

Bisbee reported the ladder truck should hit the streets of Watsonville later this month.

"The plan is still to place the truck in service sometime in February, if progress continues as expected," Bisbee wrote in his memo.

emilio martinez February 02, 2012 at 09:47 PM
A very well written and informational article Ms. Squires. Santa Cruz obtains a $657,000 grant for a new fire truck that replaces an 18 year old fire truck while Watsonville buys a 13 year old truck which after almost 4 years is still not in service. The sad part is that some elected officials were misled and one lied too about the process of the purchase of the fire truck, and the location of the fire truck. Emilio Martinez
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