Wrecked in ice storm, Cornelius fire truck awaits repairs
by Staff Writer
by Frank DeLoache
CORNELIUS – In the end, the Dec. 16 call about a fire at Metrolina Greenhouse was a mistake. Someone saw the flare of light from welding work and called 911 about a fire. But Engine 5 from Cornelius-Lemley Fire & Rescue dispatched as backup to Huntersville units, didn’t make it to the scene.
The area had been hit by an ice storm, and even though the crew was trying to drive carefully, only 20 to 25 miles per hour, the fire truck hit an patch of ice on an S curve in Poplar Tent Road, slid into a ditch and rolled on its top.
The four firefighters on the truck escaped with bumps and bruises, but the engine is another story. Six months after the accident, the engine remains in Clintonville, Wis., at Seagrave Fire Apparatus, where it was manufactured, awaiting repairs. At a recent town board workshop, Town Attorney Bill Brown said the town wrestled for months with its insurer, Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Services, to agree on the extent of the damage to the truck and how much the company would pay.
At one point, Brown said he was ready to take the insurance company to court, although the difficulties now appear to be largely resolved, Fire Chief Jim Barbee said last week.
Initially, an appraiser for Volunteer Firemen’s estimated the damage at $105,000, Barbee said. But Barbee and others thought the estimate was too low and had other appraisers look at the truck. They agreed that repairs would cost much more, and the dispute stretched out.
Finally, in March, the department put Engine 5 on a flatbed truck and shipped it to the manufacturer. That decision has helped resolve the difficulty because Seagrave was able to lift the cab and look at the underlying damage. An appraiser for Volunteer Firemen’s has visited the Seagrave plant and looked at the engine and agreed that repairs will cost at least $228,000, Barbee told commissioners.
Seagrave also is sending the motor itself, the transmission and other parts out for separate third-party testing, and Barbee expects the final bill to land somewhere between $275,000 and $300,000.
The town couldn’t really consider replacing the 2005 model truck, since the department expects to get 15 additional years of service from it.
In the meantime, a 1993 fire truck that cost the fire department only $17,000 is filling in ably for Cornelius-Lemley. The department bought the truck last October from the Cary Fire Department.
“We bought it as a reserve truck and thank goodness we did,” Barbee said last week. “The sole purpose was to use it in case we had one of the regular engines in the shop for 10 days. It’s got 60,000 to 65,000 miles, and that’s a lot of miles on a fire truck. But it was well maintained and has been doing a great job.
“That was a well spent $17,000.”
Barbee will be glad to get his full-time engine back in service. He thinks further testing and all the repair work will take six months, and he doesn’t expect to bring the truck back to Cornelius until late in the fall.