Chapter Fourteen: So where is the town's new fire truck?


            Rumors spread about the most expensive piece of equipment in Secaucus history, a campaign of whispers that -- in a small town like Secaucus -- could hardly get ignored. People kept saying something had happened to the truck, and pointed to the fact that over the previous few weeks the old Snorkel remained a fixture in a firehouse where the new truck should have been, its yellow and gold even more obviously wrong than the red and black firefighters had painted the new fire truck.

            Then Councilman Dennis Elwell -- kept out of the loop of communication because of his status as a political minority -- heard the reports, too.

            Elwell, who acted the role of watchdog on the council for years, had done much to question the cost of the machine, and voted for the new truck only after he had been well-satisfied about the necessity on each and every items.

``There were all kinds of rumors floating around about what had happened to the truck. Although the fire department had a wetdown a couple of months ago, people hadn't seen the new truck. In fact, the old truck it was supposed to replace was still in the fire house. People started asking where the new truck was.''

            One rumor reported the engine having serious enough problems to return to the manufacturer. Another rumor said the engine had blown up, while still other rumors suggested the fire engine was getting an $8,000 gold letter job.

            At first, he said, he didn't believe the tales, most of them so outlandish they might better have suited the yearly UFO convention held at the local Hilton, farfetched reports of breakdowns or misuse to which he -- at first -- attributed no credance. Yet day after day, these tales persisted, and when he drove by the fire house and could not find the truck his vote had helped purchased, he started asking questions.

            "I heard the truck had gone in for massive repairs," he said. "So I called up [Town Administrator] Phil [Kieffer] and asked him to talk to the chief about the situation," Elwell said. ``I wanted to get a written report sent to the council.''

            Firefighters from the 7th Street fire house later confessed the truck had serious problems: a bent push rod, something that could have resulted from a sized engine.

            Yet as the story unfolded, it revealed a not-so-humorous comedy of errors leading to the disabled vehicle.

            The fire company initially sent the vehicle back to Detroit Diesel, the manufacturer of the enginer, to repair a piston for the arm stablizer -- which supposedly leaded fluid. The arm stablizer helps keeps the platform from wobbling when the unit is fully extended.

            This repaired, firefighters noted scratches in the paint when the truck was returned.

            During the drive back from upstate New York to the engine's factory, the engine -- suffering a hole in the radiator -- apparently overheated.


            The cause of the hole was contested, though Elwell and Councilman Sal Manente both said they were less concerned with how it happened than with the way the matter was handled. Apparently the driver -- one of the firefighters -- took no notice of the rising temperature and by the time the vehicle arrived at its destination, the engine had seized.

            The issue later took on a political tinge as council members clashed over what to do about the cost of repair. While all voted to pay the bill, some members like Elwell, wanted further warrentees that the engine would not fail during a future fire.

            ``My point is that we bought a brand new truck and we should have gotten a new engine to replace the old one,'' Elwell said. ``And if we had to settle for a remanufactured engine, we should have gotten an increase in the warranty.''

Both Elwell and his alley, Sal Manente feared that if the fire engine should shut down during a fire, lives could be lost.

``The manufacturer couldn't guarantee it wouldn't shut down,'' Elwell said.

            Mayor Anthony Just, however, said the Democrats on the council voted to accept the rebuilt engine because the track record of the company was good, and that this kind of repair is why the company gives a five year warranty in the first place.

            ``They fixed the problem,'' he said. ``That's the reason they gave a warranty, in case something like this should happen.@ 

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