Long delays force fire departments to rethink new truck purchase process

Local fire departments in Waterloo region say they're having to purchase equipment and trucks well in advance due to supply chain issues and shortages. The Cambridge Fire Department asked city council to approve funds to buy a new fire truck this year because the truck could take more than 25 months to get.

Deputy chief of Cambridge Fire Department says new truck will take 25 to 36 months to get here

To get the equipment and vehicles on time, fire departments in Waterloo region say they are having to look ahead and forecast when they'll need them and start the purchasing process much earlier due to supply chain issues and manufacturing delays. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Local fire departments say supply chain issues and shortages are forcing them to order new trucks and equipment well in advance, in some cases years in advance.

The Cambridge Fire Department, for example, needs a new fire truck and during budget talks this month, a motion asked council to approve a portion of the 2024 forecast budget to get the process of purchasing started now.

Deputy Chief Brad Churchill told councillor the supply chain issues are due to the pandemic . He said approving the funds now would allow the department to get in line with a manufacturer as they anticipate the process will take anywhere from 25 to 36 months. 

"Basically we're getting a spot in the queue as there's manufacturing delays in the supply chain across North America, mostly in the heavy equipment sector, which fire apparatus fall into," Churchill said.

"We're asking for the procumbent two years early and we'll likely get the truck one year late."

Churchill said the new truck will replace an older truck that the department has done expensive repairs to, spending $50,000 in 2018 and another $25,000 in 2021.

During that Feb.16 budget meeting, councillors voted unanimously to allocate $1,322,900 from the equipment reserve fund for the department to purchase a hybrid fire truck. That decision was ratified in a special council meeting this week.

Brad Churchill, deputy chief with the Cambridge Fire Department says they need t start the process of getting a new truck now to have it delivered in 25 to 36 months. (Cambridge Fire Department/Twitter)

Taking a different approach

The long delays are not unique to Cambridge.

Terry Gitzel, who is the deputy chief of the Kitchener Fire Department, told CBC News that on average, it use to take them 300 days to get a new truck. That went up to 500 days or more since the pandemic.

"I think we've just begun to adapt maybe some new strategies around being able to buy things and order things on predictable timelines," Gitzel said.

The process of getting a new truck usually takes time, Gitzel said. The trucks have to be custom made according to the department's and municipality's need.

There are also a limited number of manufactures in North America that build fire trucks, which Gitzel adds has also contributed to longer delays.

Gitzel said his department will need to replace several trucks in the next three years and with the anticipated delays, the department is putting in an order for five trucks with one manufacturer.

"Our approach this time is unusual for us as well. We've never previously entered into large contracts," he said.

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Jake Herring, deputy chief of operations with the Waterloo Fire Department, says costs of a pumper fire truck is now on average at the $1 million dollar mark. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Inflation impacts cost

The impact of inflation is also being felt by the local fire departments. Jake Herring, deputy chief of operations with the Waterloo Fire Department, told CBC News a fire truck is already an expensive purchase due to its custom build.

Inflation means departments are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

"The prices have gone quite high. Estimates based on last year's pricing, you can see quite a jump from previous years," Herring said.

"For a pumper it could have been in that $600,000 to $700,000 [price] and some quotes are up to $1 million now."

Prices can even go up to $2 million for the trucks that have the extendable ladder, Herring said, because those trucks are more complex and require more engineering.

Herring and Gitzel said they don't expect the issues their departments face to get trucks and equipment won't go away any time soon.

"We have this conversation with our suppliers. We're being led to expect that this will be [the case] the next year to two years," Gitzel said.