Belmont and San Carlos split on value of local ladder truck 

Belmont is about to be the owner of a new $1.2 million, 100-foot ladder truck, but a consultant’s study from neighboring San Carlos has raised questions about whether the city needs the firefighting vehicle.

The truck and about $500,000 in loan debt are going to Belmont as part of the break-up of the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, which is scheduled to dissolve in October amid a dispute between the cities about how to divide its costs.

As part of a plan to divvy up the department’s assets, Belmont will get the new truck, which was bought last year with the help of a $750,000 federal grant, as well as a second 100-footer, a 1998 model. The new truck is expected to be delivered in about a month.

While Belmont is embracing the truck, the vehicle has been controversial in San Carlos because it lacks water-pumping capability.

Some San Carlos residents questioned the stationing of the truck at the downtown San Carlos station after a January 2010 house fire in which a woman died. The truck was the first on the scene, but firefighters couldn’t start dousing the fire until an engine arrived.

An October report from consultant TriData analyzing San Carlos’ fire service found that departments in San Mateo and Redwood City have ladder trucks that could respond to San Carlos or Belmont within the recommended eight-minute window.

TriData, which estimated that the aerial ladder is used 10 to 15 times per year in San Carlos, recommended the city instead use a quint — a vehicle with both a ladder and water storage.

“A dedicated tractor-drawn aerial ladder is not the best vehicle choice for San Carlos,” the TriData report concluded.

But while San Carlos and Belmont have similar geography and generally few tall buildings, Belmont officials say the truck is a valuable tool.

City Councilman Warren Lieberman said the truck was crucial during a fire last month on Carlmont Drive in which a pregnant woman lept from a second-story balcony to escape the flames.

The truck, which responded from Belmont Fire Station 14 two miles away, rescued seven people from balconies more than 28 feet in the air, Battalion Chief Tommy Mota said.

Lieberman said the truck might not have arrived in time if it was coming from San Mateo or Redwood City.

“I’m not prepared to choose any kind of fire service that doesn’t provide for a truck arriving at any type of fire incident within Belmont sufficiently fast,” Lieberman said.

The truck also allows firefighters to ventilate roofs of burning buildings, keeping the building from collapsing on firefighters below, Mota said.

“If you’ve got a delayed truck, firefighters can get killed,” Mota said.

Putting out the fire

Belmont will receive a new 100-foot ladder firefighting truck in the break-up of its joint fire services department with San Carlos.

$150,000: Estimated value of 1998 KME 100-foot ladder truck
$74,000: Approximate debt for 1998 truck assumed by Belmont
$1.2 million: Purchase price of new Seagrave 100-foot ladder truck
$500,000: Approximate debt Belmont assumes for Seagrave truck
$750,000: Amount of federal grant subsidizing Seagrave truck
36: Average annual fires in San Carlos from 2006 to 2009
10 to 15: Approximate times the aerial ladder was used annually in San Carlos from 2006 to 2009

Sources: Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, TriData

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Shaun Bishop

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