Merrimack selectmen decide against fire truck purchase

MERRIMACK – It took an hour Thursday night for the Board of Selectmen to decide not to buy a fire truck.

Fire Chief Bill Pepler and acting Town Manager William Mulligan had recommended that selectmen approve the purchase of a fire engine for the South Merrimack station.

The price was $382,058, below initial estimates, and the firm that submitted the low bid was reputable, American LaFrance of Southern New England of East Hartford, Conn.

Trouble was, the company submitted not only the low bid, but the only bid from among the 17 companies invited to submit proposals.

“There is no way in the world right now I would support this,” Selectman David McCray said.

“I cannot believe the economy is going so great that people don’t want to sell fire trucks,” added Selectman Tom Koenig.

McCray and Koenig said the board should hold off on accepting the bid while town officials contact the other 16 companies to ask why they didn’t bother to bid.

Koenig said he feared the specifications for the truck were so narrow that they shut the other companies out of the process.

However, board members Chuck Mower and Carolyn Whitlock argued it would be a serious mistake not to accept the bid.

“I do think that harm will be done by not selecting the bid at this time,” Mower said.

He said rejecting the bid wouldn’t be fair to American LaFrance, which had submitted its bid in “good faith.” Even the public discussion tainted the bidding process, putting the town at a disadvantage if it put the fire truck out to a new bid, Mower said.
Whitlock asked McCray and Koenig what they hoped to accomplish by delaying the contract.

McCray said it wasn’t his intention to reject American LaFrance, only to find out what stopped the other companies from submitting bids.

After several go-arounds, Mower moved to table the discussion until the board’s next meeting on May 27. His motion was seconded by Selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch.

Finance Director Bob Levan, who fell on his sword and accepted blame for not contacting the other companies after a lone bid was submitted, said outside the meeting room that he’ll contact some, if not all, of the other companies in the next week to ask why they shied away from the bidding process.

The contract does not have to be awarded until 60 days after May 11, when the bid was opened, officials said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or