Fire truck debate heats up

Iola City Council members decided to ask vendors to resubmit bids for a new fire truck, after an extensive discussion about which proposal would best suit the department's needs.

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July 27, 2021 - 9:47 AM

City Council members rejected a proposal to buy a Darley fire truck, and asked for bids to be resubmitted. Photo by DARLEY.COM

Iola is not ready to pull the trigger on buying its next fire truck.

City Council members held another extensive discussion on the matter Monday before voting down Fire Chief Chase Waggoner’s recommendation to purchase a truck from W.S. Darley & Co. out of Wisconsin for $629,000.

At issue, Council members said, was that the Darley bid did not meet specifications when it comes to the truck’s engine.

Actually, none of the bids met all of the specifications, Waggoner replied, leading Council members to ask the vendors to resubmit bids within the next 30 days with a clearer understanding of what specs should be given the highest priority.

The need for a new fire engine crystallized earlier this year when the Council learned about myriad problems with the Iola Fire Department’s newest truck, a 2010 Pierce.

The unit has been beset with a number of “phantom” problems to the point firefighters are leery of using it as a “first-out” pumper.

Thrive Allen County assisted the city in attaining a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant, which would pay for roughly half the cost of a new truck.

Once that grant was awarded, the city began seeking bids for a suitable unit.

The first wrench in the process occurred in June, when the Council learned of differing recommendations.

The bid favored by Waggoner was one endorsed by a committee of other city administrators, a Darley Vision at a cost of $629,000. However, a committee of other firefighters recommended the city go with a bid provided by Conrad Fire of Olathe, a Pierce Enforcer at a cost of $709,000.

Then, Council members tabled the decision, asking for more information on the matter, which led to Monday’s debate.

Councilman Gene Myrick kickstarted Monday’s talk by pressing Waggoner on the Darley bid.

“I want you to think real hard before you answer my question,” Myrick said. “All the info I’m getting is the Darley does not meet the specs here.”

Councilman Ron Ballard answered Myrick’s question before Waggoner had a chance to respond.

In talks with Darley’s sales representative, Ballard said the company acknowledged the Darley’s motor does not meet torque specifications, to which Waggoner agreed.

But there’s a catch, Waggoner quickly added: None of the submitted bids met all of the city’s specifications.

That led to some back and forth between Ballard and Waggoner about which specs should be given the highest priority, and which specifications should have been better classified as options. 

Waggoner opined that the city would not derive the extra benefit of an engine with slightly more torque, something he told the Darley group when discussing bids with the vendor.

“I know when I buy a vehicle, it’s kind of a big deal, when you’re talking about the engine,” Ballard said. “Why should we give a vendor never done business with (preferential treatment) when they had the same opportunity to bid under these specs.”

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