Chicago Ridge fire chief wants to add versatile quint pumper to save money in the long run

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets promised to improve efficiencies when he took control of the department in July and he’s wasted little time working toward that goal.


Sheets outlined a plan at Tuesday’s village board meeting designed to reduce by 50 percent the department’s vehicle maintenance budget by upgrading the fleet of trucks.


The department currently spends about $60,000 to maintain 11 vehicles, a figure that set off the alarm button for Sheets. He maintains that figure is too high considering that the Oak Lawn Fire Department has a $50,000 maintenance budget for 18 vehicles. Sheets knows that first-hand because he also serves as fire chief in Oak Lawn.


Sheets called for Chicago Ridge officials to purchase a quintuple combination pumper, or quint, an apparatus that serves the dual purpose of an engine and ladder truck.


The name refers to the five functions that a quint provides: pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders.


It’s almost like a baseball manager having a five-tool player in that it is versatile and serves many purposes.


“It combines several vehicles into one,” said Sheets, who added that the truck features that latest technology tools used in firefighting.


The vehicle does not come cheap. Sheets estimated that a demo unit would cost the village about $650,000. But state or federal grants could help offset the cost, he said.


“We’ve got a number of different ways to pay for it,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.


The village board did not approve a purchase, as some trustees expressed a desire to see the quint up close. Sheets, however, was authorized to negotiate a deal for the truck with the manufacturer.


The chief told the trustees that a 4 percent increase in the purchase price of a quint is expected soon. He added that demo models do not stay on the market for long because of the discounted price.


“We need to consolidate some of the apparatuses,” Sheets said. “It will make us more efficient. Vehicle maintenance costs can’t continue to escalate.”


Specifically, Sheets proposed removing from the fleet an aerial truck and two pumper trucks, one that is badly rusted and requires significant repair.

Sheets said he was offered $164,000 for the three trucks, but is holding out for more.


“I think we can do better,” he said.


Sheets recommendations to upgrade the department’s fleet are the latest step in his efforts to improve department efficiencies.


In September, he called for stiffer penalties for false alarms after learning that the firefighters responded to 86 such calls in 2013.


Sheets called for stiffer penalties and increasing fines 300 percent. He said that a village ordinance lacked the teeth to reduce false alarms. The ordinance required business owners to pay $25 for each false alarm beginning with the seventh call.


The fee is now $100 beginning with the second false alarm, Sheets said.


Sheets also recommended an increase in the ambulance rate after realizing that the village’s rate was one of the lowest in the region. The fee had not been increased in six years.