I-Team: Fire district waits for truck, could be out $300K
LINCOLN, R.I. —
The Manville Fire District covers one square mile in Lincoln.
Firefighters are part-timers and volunteers.
It's a little department with a yearly budget of approximately $355,000.
And here's its problem.
The district spent $300,000 on a down payment for a ladder truck that may never be used to fight a fire.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions with this situation and people want to know where's our money?" said Dan Desmarias, a resident and former deputy chief.
The money was for a Quint-style truck, which was being built at the American LaFrance factory in South Carolina.
The truck was about three-quarters complete until the company suddenly shut its doors in January. The company laid off employees and said it was not expected to reopen.
Video obtained by WCBD-TV in South Carolina showed gates at the factory chained closed.
"I think they're out the $300,000. I don't think that's coming back," said attorney Mark McBurney, who is representing residents reviewing the contract.
Some in town were irate and demanded answers.
The Board of Fire Wardens, which governs the district, didn't say much at their last meeting other than the down payment was protected by a performance bond.
Speculation grew. Did the board miss a deadline to get the money back?
"Yes, they are incompetent. They couldn't run a lemonade stand but there's some malice there as well," McBurney said. "There were several warning signs. Individuals had warned the board that this was a mistake, that the truck was unneeded, that the company had a bad history of bankruptcy."
American LaFrance went through bankruptcy six years ago.
Manville Fire Chief Peter Adam travelled to South Carolina in December to check on the truck.
Several attempts to contact him at Adam's house and by phone went unsuccessful.
Both Charlie Malenfant, who is now the acting chairman of the Board of Fire Wardens and board member Bob Lake agreed to meet with the I-Team and answer our questions.
Malenfant denied allegations that the board was trying to avoid questions from the public.
"As far as the board trying to be secretive, no. I mean we sit at the meeting. If you want to come to the meeting, everything is in the open, no secret meetings nothing like that," he said.
"I'm a taxpayer. I'm very interested in protecting everybody in the district," Lake said.
They showed NBC 10 a copy of a certified letter sent on Jan. 31 to the bonding company, Westchester Fire Insurance Company, essentially a claim for the $300,000. The district learned of American LaFrance's fate on Jan. 17.
When asked if he was confident the district would get its money back, Lake said he thinks so.
However if the district doesn't, taxpayers are going to have to cover the money.