New firetruck finally approved
WOODBRIDGE - The town will soon have a new rescue truck for its fire department. The plans, which have been in the works for nearly 15 months, were nearly derailed when members of the Board of Finance raised questions of bidding irregularities at its Dec 19 meeting. After reviewing the bid process with the fire department, however, the Board of Selectmen was satisfied with the bid procedures and approved the purchase at a special meeting on Jan 24.
The current rescue truck, which responds to every emergency call, is on its last legs. Last year, the floor boards had to be replaced, and in January 2007, the vehicle was out of service because one of its doors fell off. The rescue truck is an essential piece of equipment; it carries vital tools and supplies, such as the "jaws of life" and air supply for the firefighters.
George Giering and Matt Giglietti, two members of the BOF, raised concerns about the bid prepared by the fire department, after Bob Sorensen, a fire commissioner, complained to them. These individuals said that the bid specs were a "word for word match" with the specifications of a particular truck, a truck made by E-One. Giglietti referred to the similarities as "plagiarism," while Giering said, "It (the bid) looks like it was written exactly to buy that truck."
Chris Dickerson, a member of the BOS and Republican candidate for first selectman, called the bid specs "a Xerox copy," and said the specs were so specific that he believed no other vendor but E-One could bid on the truck.
In response to these allegations, Bill Burt, a fire commissioner, and Jim Kaoud, a firefighter, carefully reviewed how the rescue truck specifications were constructed. To begin with, a truck commission, which was composed of individuals with different areas of expertise, was formed. This commission defined the purpose of the vehicle and drew up a list of needs to meet that purpose. The committee then met with different vendors to exchange information. The vendors compiled the data to generate a model of the vehicle.
Once the proposed models were received from the vendors, the truck committee chose to use the E-One software as a template to generate the specs. The truck committee reviewed the information paragraph by paragraph and modified it where needed. The final specifications were drawn from that. Burt said, "We came up with what we thought was a good spec - a generic spec."
Tony Genovese, the town financial officer, said the same procedure was used to buy a firetruck in 2002. Burt commented that his business was dealing with bids and that using existing templates for bids was common. He said, "We don't always generate a unique spec. It's legal and ethical."
Burt added that the bid request received four responses; a fifth was 10 minutes late for the deadline. Kaoud mentioned that other vendors had responded to the bid, saying, "Anyone could have bid on it because Marion Body Works (a firetruck vendor) did."
Sandra Stein, a BOS member, pointed out that the bid request allowed vendors to ask for clarification, exceptions or extra time, yet none did. Nor did any vendor complain. Stein said, "That opportunity was there. No one availed themselves of that."
Stein also said, "The truck committee had the right to put together what they felt was reflective of what they needed. They're the experts; we're not."
Jim Sabshin, a BOS member and the liaison to the fire commission, said, "I'm a little concerned about the information that has been provided to the BOF. The BOF has a liaison to the fire commission. He or she should have raised these issues earlier."
Ed Sheehy, the first selectman, said, "I think the integrity of the bidding procedure has been maintained … I think we have to move on and honor the request."
In a vote of 4 to 2, with the two Republican members voting against the purchase, the BOS approved the rescue truck purchase. In addition, after conferring with the town attorney, the BOS determined that a special town meeting was not necessary. Any future funds to be used toward the rescue truck will be included in the town budget, so town residents will have a chance to vote on the expenditure at the regular town meeting in the spring.
Sean Rowland was clearly relieved. He said, "The rescue truck is in dire need. We need the truck before someone gets hurt or we (firefighters) get hurt."
Andrew Esposito, the fire chief, said, "I'm glad we've gotten it through. I see the truck fulfilling the needs of the town of Woodbridge for the next 20 to 25 years."
Dickerson said, "I am 100 percent in favor of buying a new rescue truck, but I don't approve of the bid procedure. In the future, we'll work hard to improve the bid procedure."