Saturday, February 23, 2002

New firetrucks won't fit garages

Manufacturer files lawsuit after city refuses delivery

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's fire department has ordered four new firetrucks that officials say won't fit in city garages.

        It's a matter of 6 1/2 inches that could get taxpayers hosed in a $1.1 million federal lawsuit.

        But it also means that the city must continue relying on four pumper trucks that fire officials say should have been replaced several years ago.

        “We still have the pumpers we planned on replacing,” Assistant Fire Chief Robert Kuhn said Friday. “We are sort of behind schedule. We are supposed to replace them every 10 years.“

        Lawyers for the South Dakota company that built the trucks, who served the city with a court summons Friday, say the city doesn't have to wait.

        In a lawsuit filed Feb. 12 in U.S. District Court in South Dakota, they say the city has refused to take delivery of the pumpers, despite offers to rebuild them or discount them from the original price.

        And even though the city has not paid a dime for the trucks, city lawyers say that the company, Luverne Fire Apparatus in Sioux City, should fork over a penalty payment — equal to the total cost of the trucks — for failing to deliver them.

        “That's the thing that finally set Luverne off,” Luverne lawyer Bob Jonkers said in a phone interview Friday. “These are people who care about firefighting. They went back and made an offer to cure” any problems.

        He said the company wants the court to find the city in breach of contract and order Cincinnati to pay the $1.1 million for the trucks or cover any losses if the pumpers are sold to someone else. He also said the city should have to pay all the company's legal fees.

        “The city's decision to reject the firetrucks as initially built, and to reject the concessions offered by Luverne, is legally and factually unjustified,” the lawsuit says. “Luverne has gone out of its way to propose a costly rebuild, at Luverne's expense, in an effort to maintain the city as a satisfied customer.”

        Instead of reaching an agreement, the city replied last month with a three-paragraph letter demanding that Luverne turn over a $1.1 million performance bond built into the contract to ensure the city got its trucks.

        Deputy City Solicitor Bob Johnstone says it doesn't matter if the city paid anything for the pumpers or not — the bond was supposed to guarantee the trucks met all specifications and were delivered four months ago.

        “The real issue is: Will they fit in the fire station?” he said. “Fire officials feel they will not. They did not meet all the specs.”

        Fire officials say the trucks — which cost about $300,000 each — were 4 inches too wide, 1.4 inches too high and 1 inch too long when inspected at Luverne. They were ordered in December 2000 and were supposed to be delivered last October.

        The four existing pumpers are considered front-line vehicles. One was built in 1986 and three were built in 1988. Under the city's schedule, they should have been replaced in 1996 and 1998.

        Assistant Chief Kuhn said the city also has second-line vehicles that can be used if a front-line breaks down.

        Luverne has been making fire equipment since 1912 and recently delivered pumpers to the Cleveland and Chicago fire departments and to departments in several other states. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the company built and donated a firetruck to the New York City Fire Department.


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