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Salem council approves purchase of fire gear, but unsure how to pay for it

GTNS photo by David Hotle

Steve Nichting, chief of Salem Fire & Rescue, shows one of the SCBA tanks used by the department during a special meeting Thursday evening. The tanks will expire in July and already many of the safety features on the 15-year-old pieces do not work.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Steve Nichting, chief of Salem Fire & Rescue, shows one of the SCBA tanks used by the department during a special meeting Thursday evening. The tanks will expire in July and already many of the safety features on the 15-year-old pieces do not work.

SALEM — The Salem City Council approved spending over $58,000 to purchase new breathing apparatuses for Salem Fire & Rescue, despite one council member believing the purchase violates the law and several council members admitting they don’t know where the money for the purchase will come from.

During a special meeting to discuss the purchase of 17 new self-contained breathing appuratuses (SCBAs) Thursday, April 4, counselor Mary Hoyer argued the city doesn’t have any options for paying for the equipment out of pocket. She said there are negative fund balances in both the general fund and the fire department fund. She also argued that to purchase anything over $50,000, the city is required by law to put the purchase out for bid. Discussion was made on getting a loan to pay for the purchase, but no decision was made.

“It is literally impossible, as anyone who has been in business knows, to spend more money than you are taking in,” Hoyer said. “It just doesn’t work.”

The total cost of the equipment is $58,900 from Sandry Fire Supply. The department can purchase the gear along with the City of Davenport, which will provide a cost savings of about $4,000. Salem had until Monday, April 8, at noon to decide whether or not to enter the agreement.

Hoyer argued there were many options other than buying things brand-new, such as finding refurbished gear the department could use. She also commented that she supports the fire department, but the city simply does not have enough money to afford the expense.

The council members also discussed cost sharing with the fire department. Steve Nichting, chief of Salem Fire & Rescue and president of the Fire Association, said he did not know where the fire department would get the money to pay for their portion. The council also voted down a motion 2-2, with Mayor Dan Peterson breaking the tie, to partially pay for the gear and have the fire department make up the difference.

Steve Nichting, chief of Salem Fire & Rescue and president of the Fire Association, said he did not know where the fire department would get the money to pay for their portion. Both Peterson and council member Chuck Kramer commented they wanted to see the city either make the entire purchase or not at all. Paterson commented on the legality of the purchase, and said the city should make the purchase now and figure out the rest later.

Kramer said the department would not have to pay for the breathing gear for about three months.

“We have three months to figure out where the money is going to come from,” he said.

The earliest the city can vote on getting a loan is April 21, as public notice has to be given 10 days ahead of discussion and a public hearing needs to be held. According to an information sheet Hoyer distributed, the general fund is $24,433 in the red and the fire department fund is $30,294 in the red.

Nichting went over the current breathing gear with the council, saying that Salem’s gear is over 15 years old and many of the safety features don’t work anymore. The breathing equipment will expire in July and the department will not be able to use them any more.

Council member Chris Feenan, also a member of the fire department, championed the department’s request during the meeting.

“It is not these guys asking for something for themselves, it is mandated by state law and we have to have them,” she said. “We need to stop fighting with each other and come together to find a way to make this work.”

Nichting said the association had little money it could add.

The gear is used when firefighters operate in a smoke-filled environment, including entering burning houses.

The next Salem City Council meeting is Tuesday, May 7, at 5:30 p.m.