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Fire service lines up $1.3m ladder truck

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Extended arm: two Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service firefighters are shown in the bucket of the Bronto Skylift fire truck changing the rope on the flagpole at Sessions House in 2009. A decade after its purchase, the appliance has been plagued with problems, prompting the BFRS to seek to buy a new truck with a ladder that can reach the higher levels of buildings (File photograph)

A deal has been signed for the purchase of a ladder truck to replace the fire service’s 21-year-old Bronto.

The ageing vehicle was plagued with electrical issues that left it out of action during the Front Street blaze in 2016.

Firefighters were told last July that negotiations for the truck were nearing an end, which came more than a year after earlier assurances it was on its way.

Now, they will wait at least another 12 months for the vehicle’s manufacture.

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Security said on Friday: “There has been progress in this area. The contract was signed today.”

He had said earlier in June: “Once the contract is signed, manufacturing of the truck, which is expected to take over a year, will commence and we anticipate receiving the vehicle in the 2020-21 fiscal year.”

Allan Wilkinson, the president of the Fire Service Association, said last week: “We finally made some headway.

“We’ve been kept abreast by our management team because they knew it was a real bone of contention — particularly the availability of it for the Front Street fire, which was a real issue.

“Us and our management were on the same page; it was more or less trying to secure the finances with regards to Government giving us the nod for us to be able to pay for it.”

The Government said the cost of the vehicle was estimated to be $1.3 million.

It was thought the manufacturer, British-based Angloco, would receive a percentage of the money as a deposit before work started to make the truck to Bermuda’s specifications, which are determined by factors like the size of the island’s roads.

Mr Wilkinson said: “If they build a particular model on the assembly line, they would have to make all sorts of adjustments to build something special for us.

“They are aware because they did build the one we have.”

The ailing Bronto gets its name from the Bronto Skylift aerial ladder platform, which can extend to 110ft, allowing teams to spray water from greater heights and access taller buildings.

The Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service bought the existing vehicle in 1998, but it was notably absent after a problem with its electrical circuitry when a major blaze hit Front Street in July 2016.

It took 16 vehicles and more than 30 personnel to battle the smoke and flames that erupted at around 4.30am and destroyed a number of buildings.

At the time, sources told The Royal Gazette that the ladder truck had been out of service and that a host of other mechanical problems had grown into a longstanding source of frustration for firefighters. The BFRS later reported that nearly $50,000 was spent on repairs in the preceding financial year

Jeff Baron, who was national security minister under the former One Bermuda Alliance administration, said in March 2017 that talks with a supplier in Europe were complete and it was hoped a new hydraulic ladder platform vehicle would be on island “as soon as possible”, upon approval of the 2017-18 budget.

The Progressive Labour Party took the helm of government four months later and Mr Caines told the House of Assembly last July that negotiations to secure a replacement truck were nearing an end. A spokeswoman later added the appliance would be bought by the close of 2018-19.

Mr Wilkinson explained last week that the Bronto underwent more repairs [within the past year], but it has recently been operational and although the truck had not been required for emergencies since then, it was used for training and to provide assistance to other organisations such as the Corporation of Hamilton.

Firefighters tackling the blaze on Front Street in 2016 (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Members from works and engineering with the help of a ladder truck from the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service survey the condition of the Canadian Hotel after a fire broke out in the derelict building (File photograph)
Members from works and engineering with the help of a ladder truck from the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service survey the condition of the Canadian Hotel after a fire broke out in the derelict building (File photograph)