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Chesterfield Fire Department scambles to replace engine lost in I-91 fire

- After the fire department lost one of its engines in an unexplained fire last Wednesday on Interstate 91, Chief David Hewes is scrambling to make sure the town has adequate fire protection and speed up the process of getting a new fire engine.

“The truck is totaled,” Hewes told members of the select board Monday night.

“We still have no idea what caused the fire, but a forensics team is coming in to find out how and why this fire started,” Hewes said.

Hewes said that several area fire departments offered to loan similar vehicles to Chesterfield. Eventually, he was able to obtain an out-of-service tanker from the Cummington fire department. He also secured additional mutual aid coverage from surrounding fire departments if needed.

Hewes and other firefighters spent the weekend working on the borrowed tanker, checking it out and adding equipment that might need.

“It’s definitely better than nothing, but you have to remember that this vehicle was decommissioned for a reason,” Hewes said.

Hewes said replacing the vehicle will likely cost the town roughly $450,000 and could take up to a year.

“Its not like going down to your Chevrolet dealer. These trucks have to all be custom built,” he said.

To save time, Hewes suggested that the town go through the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts (FCAM)

“FCAM has already pre-bid vehicles, like the way that the state bids for police cars,” Hewes said. I can just select the truck that I need and I don’t have to go through the bidding process. That cuts about 100 days off the process,” he said.

FCAM will also gives priority service to departments that have lost a vehicle due to an accident.

According to Hewes, renting an engine would cost the town $5,000 a month, an option that was quickly taken off the table.

Engine 2 was the fire departments main pumper/tanker that the town bought in 2007 for $300,000. The engine contained a compressed air foam system that extends water output up to 7 times over.

The vehicle was being driven to New England Fire Equipment and Apparatus Corp., in North Haven Conn. for a repair to a “primer” that helps to draw water into the truck. Just 15 minutes away from its destination, a fire broke out on the vehicle.

“There was no water on the truck and much of the equipment had been removed as the truck was going to be in the shop for about a week,” Hewes said. “But even if they had water it would not have mattered as the fire was in the pump panel and they would not have been able to start the water.”

Hewes described the fire as “hot and intense,” unable to be knocked down at all by three portable fire extinguishers used by the crew that was transporting the vehicle.

Fire fighter George Wade, a licensed professional truck driver was at the wheel.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the truck was being driven properly,” Hewes said. “George thought that he had blown a tire. Then he looked in the rear view mirror and saw smoke and flames.”

The cause of the fire and the total amount of damage remains a mystery.

“At this point I don’t even know how much equipment was damaged because I can’t get near it before the forensics team is done with it,”

The town is waiting to hear from its insurance company regarding a claim for the engine and the remaining equipment.

“Thank you for getting on top of this chief. We will help you out in every way we can and you can rest assured of that,” Select Board Chairman Robert Recos said.

He said the board should meet with capital planning and finance committees and ultimately will need to convene a special Town Meeting to replace this truck.

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