New fire engine fits into Tupelo’s long-term capital plan

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Fire Chief Thomas Walker gave the city’s newest fire engine a test drive Monday.
Returning to the fire station on McCullough Boulevard, Walker showed off the new piece of equipment.
It holds 750 gallons of water, 30 gallons of a special fire-suppressing foam and has thermal imaging cameras to help determine that a fire is out. Something of particular importance to firefighters dressed in bulky, heavy gear – the new fire engine has air conditioning.
Something about the shiny, red, custom-made Pierce fire engine made in Appleton, Wis., specifically for the city of Tupelo seemed to bring out the inner seven-year-old in the mayor and fire chief.
“It’s awesome,” Shelton said.
“It’s like Christmas in July,” Walker said of the new piece of equipment.
Of particular importance serving west Tupelo’s recently annexed areas, the fire engine can provide 250 additional gallons of water than the engine it replaces, something important for parts of the city that don’t yet have fire hydrants.
For the city of Tupelo, the new piece of firefighting equipment also helps maintain a level four fire rating, which allows citizens and businesses to pay less in fire insurance than neighboring areas. In 2012, the city’s fire rating dropped from a level five, decreasing insurance costs.
Walker said he wants to maintain the fire rating and strive for a level three. However, it comes at a cost. Tupelo’s current fire rating requires fire engines be replaced after 20 years of service.
That means five of the seven fire stations in the city must replace fire engines every two decades at a cost of close to $500,000 each, while two stations require ladder trucks, costing significantly more.
The city has bought new fire engines in 2009, 2012, this year and plans to buy another in 2014 and another in 2018.
With big-ticket purchases and construction projects in the city like the $12 million new aquatics center in east Tupelo, the city began planning to buy expensive items using a five-year capital budget in former Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s administration. This forces city department heads to plan and anticipate expensive items, eliminating the anxiety of necessary but unexpected, high-dollar purchases.
Tupelo was the first and remains among the few municipalities in the state that uses a capital budget, funded through bonds, tax dollars and grants.
As Shelton, City Council members and department heads begin looking at Tupelo’s finances for the operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2014, they’ll continue to prioritize what’s important for the city.
The mayor said he appreciates the city’s ability to forecast into the future to plan for large expenses.
“Five-hundred thousand dollars is a big chunk of the budget and requires planning,” he said.
While Shelton will present a budget, the City Council has final say on approving Tupelo’s finances. The process begins this month and ends in late September with adopting a budget.
Back at Fire Station No. 7, Sgt. Ron Allen said the new fire engine will bring value that’s hard to quantify.
“It gives you more peace of mind and more protection for rural areas we cover,” he said.
robbie.ward@journalinc.com