MEXICO — Rumford and Mexico selectmen took a baby step toward regionalization Thursday night, unanimously agreeing by straw poll to share in the purchase of a 2008 dual-purpose ladder truck.

That followed a bigger eventual step toward combining fire departments in both towns by housing the ladder truck in Rumford, which is in the process of downsizing its fleet for increased efficiency.

Neither town has a reliable ladder truck, which prompted the joint meeting. Rumford’s 22-year-old truck has been out of service for a while, because it needs $65,000 in repairs; Mexico has an aging 1978 ladder that recently returned to service following repairs.

Rather than dump more money into both trucks that may last a year or two, Rumford Chief Bob Chase and Mexico Chief Gary Wentzell told both boards it makes better fiscal sense to buy a 4-year-old truck with a 20-year life expectancy.

Chase led off, saying that he and Wentzell agree in concept that the greater Rumford/Mexico area could be adequately served by a single reliable apparatus located in Rumford, with the costs shared by all benefiting communities.

He said Andover’s ladder truck isn’t certified currently and needs repairs, while Mexico’s ladder is certified but likely to not be serviceable within the next few years.

That leaves Dixfield’s recently repaired ladder truck to serve all three towns, but the fire station isn’t manned, which increases response times.

“This sinks or swims based on Rumford and Mexico working together,” Chase said of the proposal to share in the purchase based on a formula to be worked out.

One 80-20 percent proposal is for Rumford, which has the greater need, to pay the larger share of $440,000 for a $550,000 truck. Mexico would pay $110,000.

Both towns have money in reserve accounts to draw from, reducing the amount to be raised by taxation, officials said.

When talk shifted to repairing the aging ladders, Wentzell shared Mexico’s experience of dumping several thousand dollars into their ladder to the point where it’s now threatening his reserve account.

“I would not recommend taking a 34-year-old truck and putting $100,000 into it and think you’re going to get 15 years out of it,” Wentzell said.

Chase added more perspective.

“I have an engine due in 2013 for replacement and another one due in 2014, and then the ladder, had it survived, was due four to five years thereafter, so we were looking at a million dollars in trucks potential for purchase in the next five to seven years,” Chase said.

He said he could combine engine and ladder trucks in one called a quint, a dual-purpose truck.

Wentzell said that if both towns shared in the purchase of such a truck, they could get rid of two or more trucks.

“Instead of having to replace two engines or pumpers, he may only have to replace one, so if you factor that into what it’s going to cost us to replace our ladder and what it’s going to cost Bob for that truck, it’s really kind of a no-brainer,” Wentzell said.

“And still, the towns would have what’s needed.”

Selectmen agreed.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” Mexico Selectman Reggie Arsenault said. “To me, it would be foolish to put more money into two trucks.”

“We live in a town that has many multistory buildings close to each other and it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Rumford Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do for the safety of our residents. Sometimes something trumps taxes, and the safety of our constituents trumps taxes.”

“I’m not a firefighter and I don’t play one on TV, so I rely on our experts to inform us on the best way to go,” Rumford Selectman Jeff Sterling said of Chase and Wentzell.

“I really have believed when we talk about budgets, the last thing a person on a third-floor deck is thinking when the fire’s below and burning their building down, is not that they’re paying too much in taxes, but that, ‘I want that firetruck there now and get me out of here.’”

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