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A firefighter climbs to the top of a building to break through the roof. 

Fire truck, paid for partially with OU money, recalled before fire

The fire ladder Ohio University helped pay for wasn’t used in the Union Street fire, but probably wouldn’t have helped extinguishing efforts.

I was in Chicago when flames roared across five uptown buildings this Sunday. I spent the day checking in every now and then with the news, and I noticed a Post photo of a fire ladder on Union Street that had “Nelsonville” on its side.

I thought: What about the ladder truck the city of Athens had Ohio University help pay for?

The truck has been out of service since June and in repair for about a month, officials said, following a recall by its Columbus-based manufacturer.

Then I thought: Could the firefighters’ great work have been aided by the $1 million ladder the city purchased in 2011?

The answer I got this week: yes and no.

Fire Chief Bob Rymer said the outcome of the fire “probably” would not have been different if Athens’ ladder truck had been onhand. However, he noted that “it would’ve been the first on the scene” if it were in service, therefore rescue efforts would have been completed sooner.

The city asked OU to contribute to the truck’s cost after agreeing to purchase it in 2011. That September, OU pledged $250,000 to $50,000 per year for five years toward the truck, effectively picking up about a fourth of the price tag.

When OU students and business owners needed it, it wasn’t available.

But the city was prepared for that, officials said.

The city has a mutual aid agreement with other fire departments, including Nelsonville and The Plains. If one fire department needs more assistance, it can call on the others to help respond. In this case, firefighters from six departments — Athens, Nelsonville, The Plains, Rome Township, Richland Township and Waterloo Township — responded to the fire on Union Street.

“Basically, we put in plans so that if we need a ladder, we would call The Plains and they would send theirs,” said Ron Lucas, the Athens’ service safety director.

That plan seems to have worked impressively well.

The work firefighters do is not planned. Therefore, as Lucas noted, it’s never a good time to have a fire truck out of service. So fire department officials let other fire agencies know they were down a ladder — giving their officials a heads up that their help will probably be necessary in the event of a fire.

The city’s ladder “certainly would have been helpful, but unfortunately, there was a recall on it, and it happened to getting repairs when the fire broke out,” Lucas added.

Jack McCoy, the fire science coordinator at Columbus State Community College, fought fires in Ohio for about 20 years.

He wouldn’t say if he thought the city’s ladder truck would have altered the final outcome of the fire — especially since Chief Rymer said it wouldn’t.

“I’ll never second guess another firefighter who was on the scene,” he said — but he did say the response sounded good given the circumstances.

“A ladder can be beneficial for rescues … and getting above the fire and spraying down,” McCoy said. “In theory, you’d want that ladder there every second. But it sounds like they did a great job. You’re fortunate to have these guys come in so quickly.”

McCoy said he “can sympathize” with firefighters here for fighting a difficult fire.

It goes without saying that it is not the Athens Fire Department’s fault that ladder truck, which should be back in Athens today, was recalled by the company that made it — just as it goes without saying that the people of Athens should be proud of the dedication of those who responded.

No one, this columnist included, has a right to disrespect people who put their lives on the line to run into fires when everyone else is running out of them. I think questioning whether they fought as best they could would be considered disrespectful and degrading, and I will not go down that road because of my respect for these public servants.

But that does not mean we shouldn’t ask questions about how $250,000 of university money is used — or in this case, not used.


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