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ARLINGTON — The Arlington Select Board approved the purchase of a firetruck after yet another discussion that became testy between the board and Fire Chief Mike King.

The 5-0 decision almost didn’t happen, as the board got bogged down in a discussion about the bids not comparing equal trucks.

Jamie Paustian, former fire chief, was in the audience, and he warned the board members that the submitted bids were so different that it was difficult to truly decide which truck was the best option.

Paustian said he had been part of buying five fire trucks in 30 years for the department.

“It should be the same bid across the board,” Paustian said. “That’s the only way you’re going to get comparable bids.”

Board member Matthew Bykowski — serving as acting chairman of the board for a second meeting, as Chairman Dan Harvey continues to recover from the effects of a stroke — agreed with Paustian, adding that salespeople from different companies were dictating to the town what kind of fire truck they needed.

“Jamie’s got a good point,” Bykowski said. “We are not comparing apples to apples here. I’m a little disappointed in the way the bids came back. I think the [request for proposals] became a little too generalized.”

The RFP process was only the most recent iteration of the quest to add a fire truck to the barn of the Arlington Fire Department.

In April, King said he wasn’t sure the truck purchase would ever happen, because it had already been a multiyear process without any end in sight.

That was when the Select Board launched this latest effort. That was derailed when the most recent bids came in with size problems related to the town’s covered bridge. Firefighters have to ensure their truck can fit through the town’s covered bridge, or they have to take an 8-minute trip around.

This most recent set of bids, however, delivered trucks that would be acceptable to the Fire Department, but they weren’t close enough to each other to make board members comfortable making the differentiation among them.

Paustian told board members there were things he liked about each truck but things he didn’t like.

“I’m not a fan of either truck, but I’m also not opposed to either truck,” Paustian said. “There are things missing from both of these that need to be put into the bid. We’ve got to get some of that stuff spelled out.”

With that advice, the board members realized they might not have enough information to make a good decision, but they had told the firefighters that they were going to be choosing one of the two bids at the meeting, and if they changed their minds, they risked upsetting firefighters who have already felt they were being strung along and not given respect for the efforts.

Plus, another delay would likely drive the price up and delay the delivery by a significant time.

Town Administrator Nick Zaiac told the board that the pricing increase would not be small and the delay potentially long.

“It could push these truck out another two years,” Zaiac said. “By not awarding this, it would introduce not a trivial increase. And it would draw the ire of the firefighters.”

And Zaiac said that a delay of two, three or four months would not see an improvement in the supply chain.

Board member Cynthia Browning said she was uncomfortable choosing to go back out to bid without consulting the firefighters.

“At last meeting, we said we were going to choose one of these bids,” Browning said. “I don’t think it’s fair for [King] not to have a chance to weigh in.”

After calling King to get him on a call with the board, they shared their concerns.

The discussion became about balancing the need to get a truck order in for a vehicle that’s probably not going to be delivered for a year, versus getting the right truck for the money.

Bykowski pointed out that once a request for proposal is agreed to, the order can’t be changed.

He suggested hiring someone with expertise in fire apparatus to make sure the town was getting the firetruck it needed versus what a salesperson was trying to sell them.

“Maybe we hire someone to help us,” Bykowski said. “At the end of the day, we’re making a $450-thousand-dollar purchase that’s going to be a 15-year asset for us. Even if the price goes up, it may be worth rebidding these and consulting with someone who is an expert to make sure we get what we need. If we have to spend a little bit of money to make sure we’re going to get the right thing, then I think that’s what we need to do.”

King said he had been part of buying multiple fire trucks and knew the process.

And, he pointed out that it would cost thousands of dollars to hire an engineer to spec out a truck.

The discussion quickly devolved as Bykowski interrupted King at one point, and was chastised by Browning.

“Let him talk,” Browning said.

King was clearly unhappy, saying he’d rather not have the discussion on the phone “if I’m going to keep being interrupted.”

King pointed out some of the costs of another delay, noting that the cost of one part of the firetruck would be going up 40 percent in November, and other parts ordered now wouldn’t be available until next summer.

“If we keep going all these different routes, this $450,000 fire truck is going to cost us closer to $500,000,” King said. “If we can’t rely on these guys who are experts … this has been stretched so long. This $350,000 truck a year and a half ago is now $450,000.”

King’s frustration began to bubble up as he explained the Fire Department has been buying fire trucks for years without issue.

“I don’t know how we’ve done this so successfully in the past, I really don’t,” King said. “If you and the Select Board wants to hire an engineer to buy a truck for us, then the choice is yours. We in the Fire Department will back off and let you design a truck.”

But other board members said they wanted to get the Fire Department a new truck and were concerned about the financial implications of another delay and, after hashing things out, decided they could accept one of the two bids.

They were reassured that some of the fine-tuning of the trucks would happen during the build.

Browning made a motion to accept the bid for the E1.

“I don’t want best to be the enemy of good,” Browning said, before making the motion for the E1 fire truck with a Freightliner chassis for $423,556.

Board Chairman Harvey said there was no perfect solution, but also that, “I don’t think they can wait any longer. But we need to learn from it.”

Bykowski said he could support the motion, but reiterated that the town needed to use professional help in the future and get comparable bids.

The measure passed.


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