By Joe Beck
Volunteer firefighters from Front Royal made a painful decision Thursday to part ways with an aging truck after two years of repairs fell short of what many considered acceptable reliability.
The show of hands vote to sell the truck to an undetermined buyer wasn't close, but the debate preceding it was emotional and sometimes anguished. Along the way, some members of the company linked the truck's impending demise to a malaise that has seen financial health and volunteer membership plummet over the last decade.
Those in favor of liquidating the truck said they were tired of pouring money into repairs that were doing little good. They argued that the truck has seen little or no activity in the last two years, and its future availability remains doubtful.
Chief Larry Oliver said he had given up restoring the truck, which went into service in 1988.
"It's really not worthwhile putting anything more into it," he said. "The cost of maintenance is putting us into the ground."
Deputy Chief Derek Mabie said the company has spent $30,000 on repairs, "and it's still not running."
"It's nickel and diming us to death," he said.
Others defended the truck as ready to resume its role as a firefighting workhorse after two years of rebuilding the engine and transmission.
"We don't owe a penny on that truck," said Philip Charles. "We should give it a try and see if it's going to stay in service."
Charles presented figures that he said showed the company spent more money maintaining its remaining truck than the one slated for elimination. The truck under repairs cost $54,658 from Dec. 1, 2007 until now while the other truck cost $63,363 during the same period, he said.
Charles dismissed those who said the truck needed another $3,000 in new lighting before it would be suitable for duty on nighttime roads.
Mabie said the truck "couldn't pull its load" when it was used on one fire call.
"The transmission has been completely rebuilt, and we're still having trouble with it," he said.
Oliver said selling the truck holds little hope of a financial boost for the cash-strapped company. He estimated the selling price at $8,000 to $15,000 in a market for used fire trucks that he described as "saturated."
Gloomy assessments of the company's current and future well being hung over the truck debate. Earlier in the evening, the firefighters voted to apply for a grant to help pay for a new ambulance, despite warnings from treasurer Mike Ellinger that it might prove unaffordable even with the grant.
Oliver said it was time for the company to begin seeking more money from outside sources, "especially county government."
"We have gotten to where we have to rely on other people, unlike 10 or 15 years ago," he said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org