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Fire truck posed problems for previous owner

South Carolina agency sold vehicle back to manufacturer over problems with ladder

POSTED: July 30, 2014 10:09 p.m.
NAT GURLEY/The Times

Hall County officials continue to examine the truck involved in last week's training accident that injured three firefighters.

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The fire truck involved in a July 22 incident that injured three Hall County firefighters was sold by the fire department that owned it previously because of mechanical problems.

The vehicle, a 2006 Sutphen, was sold back to the company in 2013 after Bluffton Township Fire District in Beaufort, S.C., determined “the truck poses too great a liability to maintain it” in the fleet, according to a 2013 Beaufort County Council report.

The vehicle identification number for the truck owned by the Bluffton department matched the number listed for the truck involved last week with the injuries to Will Griffin, TJ Elliott and Stephen Jackson. The vehicle was purchased in April after refurbishing by Sutphen, Hall County Fire Services spokesman Scott Cagle said last week.

“An inspection of the aerial lift device on the ladder truck was conducted prior to Hall County receiving the vehicle by Mistras, a provider of asset protection solutions used to evaluate the structural integrity of public infrastructure, who presented Hall County with a Certificate of Inspection on March 28, 2014,” Hall County public information officer Katie Crumley wrote in an email.

Griffin was listed in satisfactory condition Wednesday, according to Northeast Georgia Medical Center officials. No information was available for Jackson and Elliott, who were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta after the accident.

All three have had surgeries performed in the days following the incident, including one firefighter having two rods inserted for two broken vertebrae.

In a report prepared by Bluffton Township from September 2013, the department lists a litany of concerns with the truck, calling the aerial ladder “the most problematic part of the apparatus.”

Failing extension cables were the culprit in three separate incidents between 2009 and 2011 for Bluffton.

“On Jan. 20, 2010, two Sutphen employees were here working on the ladder as it was having problems retracting,” the Beaufort County Council report reads. “While the two Sutphen employees were elevated on the ladder the 3rd set of extension cables failed.”

After these incidents, “the rank and file firefighters have lost all confidence in the truck and its safety and capabilities,” the report reads.

The truck was then sold back to Sutphen in 2013, according to Bluffton Township Battalion Chief Robert Payne.

The other ladder truck owned by Hall County is a 2001 KME that was purchased in 2001. According to its vehicle history report, the fire truck has been registered in Gainesville since March 2001, being repaired twice for collisions in 2007 and 2012.

The Gainesville Fire Department owns only one ladder truck of the 10 vehicles in its fleet, a 2001 KME similar to the fire truck involved in the accident last week. The vehicle was purchased by Gainesville in 2001.

When purchasing a fire truck, a committee of six members of varying rank meets to decide what kind of truck is needed. That information is then sent to manufacturers for bidding.

“We specify, if we’re doing like that platform truck, how much weight we want our bucket to hold or high we want it to go, and then the truck company does all the other work,” Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said.



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