Council Makes Emergency Rehab Fire Truck Purchase

WINNSBORO (June 30, 2016) – Councilman Billy Smith (District 7), pushed for a last minute addition to the agenda during the Fairfield County Council meeting Monday night, to make way for County firefighters and other first responders to get a much needed rehab truck.

A “rehab” (rehabilitation) truck is used to resuscitate firefighters and other emergency response staff on-site at a fire by providing an air-conditioned space (or a heated space in winter) for rest, rehydration and treatment for smoke inhalation, which in turn prevents life-threatening conditions such as a heat stroke or a heart attack.

Immediately upon convening the regular June 27 meeting, Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) asked for a motion to amend the agenda in order to add an item “C” under new business, which would allow the County Council to consider whether to purchase the rehab vehicle. This motion passed, 5-1, with Council Vice-Chairman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) opposed.

Before the meeting, Smith had gathered information to create a timeline on the need for a rehab truck, which was shared with Council members. Smith stated that previously the County had a rehab truck but it was involved in an accident last fall and was no longer in use. The only replacement was a rescue squad truck that did not even have air conditioning.

The Council had been requested to fund a new rehab truck in the 2016-2017 budget, but that request never made it to Council because the County Administrator at that time (J. Milton Pope) decided that the need could be met with an existing transit vehicle.

However, according to Smith, none of the transit trucks owned by the County would have been appropriate due to various factors, such as the age and mileage on some of the vehicles and the fact that some had been purchased with state and federal funds which would not allow the vehicles to be re-purposed.

Smith said he didn’t find out about this situation until last Friday, and at that time contacted administrative staff to discuss options, which would have been to fund the truck in the next year’s budget or to purchase it under the current budget cycle, which ends June 30. Since there was money left over in the current budget that could be used for the rehab truck, Smith felt that was the better option.

Meanwhile, the county has had three fires in the past week, Smith said. In one fire, the firefighters were battling a blaze that reached up to 900 degrees, and had nowhere to cool off in the temperatures outside, which were 105 degrees according to the heat-index.

When the Council came to the “new business” section of the agenda, Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) made a motion to allow the County Administrator to move the funds needed to purchase the rehab vehicle into the appropriate budget line.

These funds will come from unspent money in two existing budget lines: $19,267.04 from the budget line item for “Firefighter Supplies and Equipment” and $13,032.96 from an insurance claim on the former rehab vehicle, for a total of $32,300.

This time Marcharia along with the rest of the Council voted to approve the purchase. Marcharia explained that his previous “no” vote on amending the agenda was based on his concern that this could set a precedent.

“I do understand the nature of this situation,” Marcharia said, “but I am concerned that when issues like this come up we get less than 24 hours’ notification about spending thousands and thousands of dollars in taxpayer money. But the proper procedure for this is to bring it to the finance committee like we always do.”

“I understand what Mr. Marcharia is saying and to a point certainly agree,” Smith said, “but this was the only opportunity to do this in the current budget. This is such a safety sensitive item.”

Reached after the meeting, Smith said the request was justified as an emergency purchase under the procurement code given the extreme conditions that the firefighters, who are mostly volunteers, often have to operate under and the serious safety hazards they face.

“The sooner we get these guys a rehab truck, the better,” Smith said.

He also said this would benefit all emergency responders in the County.

The County Purchasing Manual allows for emergency purchases, and states that an “emergency shall be deemed to exist when it creates a threat to public health, welfare, or safety, as may arise by reason of floods, epidemics, riots, equipment failures, fire loss, or any other reason as proclaimed by the County Administrator or his designee. The occurrence of emergency conditions must create an immediate and serious need for supplies, equipment, and services which cannot be met through normal procurement methods and the lack of which would seriously threaten … the health or safety of any person. … Purchases in excess of $25,000 must be approved by County Council.”