Fire Department Almost Clear to Buy ARVs

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After months of delays, it's almost certain that Memphis Fire Services will be able to get the eight alternative response vehicles (ARVs) it first proposed buying in January.

Thomas Malone, a district field service representative for the International Fire Fighters Association Local 1784, reversed the union's position against the vehicles during a city council committee meeting Tuesday, citing a "spirit of cooperation."

"I think [this issue] has been beat up enough and extended enough," he said. "We have bigger fish to fry right now."

Some of those fish include budget contraints and a continuing controversy over city pension funding.

Now that the fire department and union have agreed to go ahead with the ARV purchase, the proposal will go before the full council for a single vote today.

"It appears it's going to pass," said councilman Jim Strickland, chair of the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee.

The ARVs, which respond to medical emergencies only, cost $62,500 apiece and could save the fire department anywhere from $4,000 to $17,000 a year in fuel, maintenance and other costs.

However, the vehicles can't transport victims to the hospital or fight fires, facts union members have clung to since the ARV proposal first came up on Jan. 4th. They would have preferred to buy full-fledged trucks that are more versatile in emergencies, but those same trucks can cost $500,000 or more.

Councilman Kemp Conrad, who sympathized with safety and other concerns, reminded everyone of the city's fiscal crisis and said ARVs ultimately are better than nothing.

"Let's not let perfect get in the way of good," he said. "I think this is a way we can keep our folks in the field doing what they're doing."

However, Strickland said he's still not convinced the ARVs represent a significant cost savings. He had requested an analysis of capital and operating savings from the fire department, but never got them.

"If things go well [with the ARVs], you'd want eight more?" he asked fire department director Alvin Benson.

"If funding is available," Benson answered.

If the ARV proposal passes today, the union's next step might be introducing a resolution to buy better apparatus.

"This can come back up at a later time when we're financially more sound," Malone said.

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