Chapter Eleven: A new truck
I met a beardless Ken Tuthill for the first time at a town council caucus. He was one of those intensely quiet men, who when forced to speak, reveal a level of passion that is hard to argue with. He had clearly become one of the leaders in the movement to upgrade the aging fire fleet -- in a war of words that would wage over the next months until the council gave in.
He was apparently one of those most disturbed by my mocking tone when the department first presented plans for the new fire truck, and glanced over at me more than once when he turned to the council later to say the department had forgotten to add a few details to the original truck and the price would be slightly higher than originially anticipated. He also brought news that the town would have to act quickly in order to get the truck at the price first proposed.
The mayor, Anthony Just, who had voted against the original proposal -- and would resist the police department later when it sought to update its fleet -- bristolled over the fire department's pressuring the council, although others on the council better understood the constantly changing variables of the business community.
Just wanted to purchase a cheaper model truck, but Fire Chief Mangin, no longer humored by the mayor's opposition, claimed fire codes prohibited the town from purchasing the lesser expensive vehicles.
Secaucus was no longer a town of pig farms, and though the town still had its share of meadow fires -- it also faced fires that could gut 25 story residental buildings, which the lesser expensive units could not reach. The Snorkel -- a huge, yellow-painted vehicle with an bucket-like attachment that could be raised to allow firefighters to use hoses at significant heights, did not reach high enough to battle such blazes, nor was it trustworthy enough at 30 years old. Repair bills alone on the Snorkel made it uneconomical, already exceeding $100,000 with more expected as the age increased.
A week later, Tuthill called me up and asked if I would come down to the Seventh Street fire house so he could better explain the situation to me. I agreed, although I had to meet him at his flower shop on Centre Avenue.
I remember harried he looked, rushing through the last details of some special order -- whehter furneral or wedding, he was never clear. Like nearly all the fire fighters in Secaucus, Tuthill had to work for a living. Most of the men in the department were employed by the town's Department of Public Works, making it easy for them to respond to fire calls. Business people like Tuthill had both the advantage of living and working in town so as to be available, but the disadvantage of being forced to drop what they were doing to accomodate what was an entirely volunteer fire effort.
As one of the key people on the purchasing committee, Tuthill didn't merely have to respond to fires, but also meet with other fire officials to work out spects for the new fire engine, travel to other towns to look at various vehicles in operations, and travel again to the factory or business office of the fire truck manufacturer to talk over what Secaucus needed in particular. In this case, Tuthill also had to sell the idea of such an expensive vehicle to a skeptical council and an equally skeptical public -- faced with rising taxes. Thus, he had to take time to sell the idea to me.