WASHINGTON, April 24 – Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told St. Johnsbury Fire Department Chief Troy Ruggles that his four-year quest to replace the department’s 36-year-old ladder truck is complete.
Leahy, Sanders and Welch announced that a $475,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will help the department replace its 1976 tower truck that was out of service last year on December 23rd when St. Johnsbury’s downtown was hit by a devastating fire. News of the grant came the same day that St. Johnsbury anticipated taking delivery of the new fire truck.
Ruggles said the department’s existing tower truck, a 36-year-old aerial unit the department acquired in 1998, has been plagued by mechanical issues and recently failed a certification test, forcing him sometimes to take the vehicle out of service, including on December 23. Though Ruggles said he did not believe the tower truck would have made a major difference in the outcome of the fire, especially because ladder trucks from Lyndonville, Vt., and Littleton, N.H., eventually arrived on scene, the lack of a ladder truck put firefighters’ lives in danger. Several firefighters were forced to jump to safety from an upper story window – something a ladder truck could have prevented.
Ruggles said: “This is the news we have been waiting to hear for several years. I am extremely pleased with this award for our department and the town. We have put a lot of effort in to this grant. Captain Brad Reed has been instrumental over the last few years in working on this grant and he deserves a lot of credit for that. I also want to thank Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch for their support. I have burdened them all with a bunch of phone calls over the last few months. In addition I want to thank our local select board and the citizens for approving the replacement of this tower truck. This will give our firefighters the equipment they need as well as make the job so much safer."
Last fall, when Ruggles submitted the grant application, Leahy, Sanders and Welch had written to the director of the FEMA AFG program to express their support of the application. But in early January, after learning from Chief Ruggles that the St. Johnsbury Fire Department had to fight a fire in a multiple-story downtown building without their tower truck, Leahy, Sanders and Welch renewed and underscored their support for the grant application by making personal phone calls to FEMA's leadership.
In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: “The first firefighters who showed up on Railroad Street to fight this fire did so without a crucial tool in downtown firefighting – a ladder truck. When the chief told us that the grant we were waiting to hear about could have prevented this life-threatening situation, the three of us knew that that this was an increasingly urgent situation. We want to personally thank Captain Reed for his efforts preparing the grant and the hardworking public servants at FEMA who recognized the need.”
Ruggles said his department has applied for help from FEMA to replace the tower truck for the past four years, but if they had been denied this grant, residents would have had to shoulder the burden of a new tower truck and the interest on the bond through property taxes.
The FEMA AFG program was created in 2001 to meet the firefighting and emergency response needs of fire departments and emergency medical service organizations. The nationally competitive program funds firefighting apparatus, protective gear, training and other resources.
FEMA Acting Regional Administrator Paul F. Ford said: “St. Johnsbury Fire Chief Troy Ruggles and Captain Brad Reed should be complimented on the quality of their application. Out of 4000 applications submitted to the Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program in 2012 for firefighting vehicles, approximately only 100, including St. Johnsbury, scored high enough in the very competitive grant scoring process to receive this important award.”
Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been a leading advocate in Congress for the program, supporting $337 million in funding for federal Fiscal Year 2013. Leahy, Sanders and Welch are advocating for full funding for the program for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.
St. Johnsbury Town Manager John Hall said: “This is great news. The truck and the grant announcement arrive in St Johnsbury the same day. Though the select board and the voters were ready to support the purchase of this vital piece of firefighting equipment without this support if necessary, this grant lessens the burden on our residents. I want to thank our federal delegation for their support."
St. Johnsbury Select Board Chair Kevin Oddy said: "I want to express the sincere gratitude of the citizens of St. Johnsbury and the select board for all the hard work that so many have put into obtaining this grant. It has allowed the town to replace a vital piece of equipment without having to place an undue burden on the taxpayers of our town. The tireless efforts of Chief Ruggles, Captain Reed and U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch, as well as the FEMA officials involved, is greatly appreciated. This will give our firefighters the tools they need as well as make the job so much safer."