Chester Fire Department wins $450,000 grant to replace old tanker truck

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Fire Department Captain Steve Vertefeuille explains the working of Chester’s aging tanker. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The Town of Chester will be awarded a grant worth more than $450,000 toward the purchase of a new tanker for the Fire Department. The grant comes through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and is the largest ever awarded to a Vermont municipality, according to a list on FEMA’s website. The Vermont Fire Academy received a $500,000 grant in the past.

“This is a very competitive grant and frankly I was shocked that we were funded,” said Town Manager Julie Hance, explaining that thousands of departments across the country apply. Hance wrote the successful grant application.

Every year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers the Assistance to Firefighters Grant and Chester has applied several times to secure funding to replace its 1985 Mack tanker, which has a number of issues that make it difficult to use.

In explaining the grant program to the Select Board in January 2021, Assistant Fire Chief Ben Whalen described some of the problems with the old tanker, including a 9-speed split manual transmission that most firefighters can’t drive, “touchy” brakes and a 4,000-gallon tank that a welder told the department could fall off the truck.

A Proctorsville tanker dumps water into a portable water tank to be pumped to the Potash Brook fire. Telegraph file photo

Whalen said there are a number of repairs and upgrades — like adding seat belts — that would cost more than the truck is worth, but it is being kept in the fleet because it increases the town’s Insurance Services Office rating to have a 4,000-gallon water truck. And the good ISO results in better rates for homeowners’ insurance.

As early as November 2016, Fire Chief Matt Wilson noted that he tried to avoid taking the town’s tanker on as many runs, saying that it was not in great shape and he was trying to conserve it.

Tankers are important in rural firefighting, where there are no fire hydrants and other sources of water – like rivers or ponds – are often difficult to access and inconsistent in volume. At large fires like the Potash Brook fire of January 2019, several fire companies brought tankers and ferried water from a hydrant near the armory building on Route 11 West and dumped it into a portable water tank.

Tankers line up along Grafton Street to fill their tanks at a hydrant in nine below zero weather in 2015. Telegraph photos.

But sometimes tankers come in handy even in fires in the village, where public water is available. This happened in the blaze that destroyed a home on Elm Street in 2015. Water Department Superintendent Jeff Holden told The Telegraph that the 8-inch main in that area was not sufficient for the water flow needed to fight the fire, so mutual aid tankers filled up at a hydrant on Grafton Street and delivered their cargo to a tank near Benny’s Garage on Elm.

This past Saturday, Wilson said that the grant funds have to be expended within two years. He said that in recent years, the cost of fire equipment has gone up and the build times have increased but the department is working to get bids for a basic tanker from fire truck builders who will meet that two-year deadline.

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  1. Leigh Dakin says:

    Many THANKS, Julie

  2. Phil Perlah says:

    Congrats Julie. Great news.