MALONE — Moments after Franklin County legislators killed a plan to convert an unused bookmobile into a shared mobile-command vehicle, a plea from firefighters resuscitated the idea.
The Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System took its bookmobile out of circulation in September 2001, when it could no longer afford to operate the traveling book-loan program.
The agency offered it back to the three counties because they initially purchased the vehicle, which cost $297,000 and was put on the road in January 2006.
The counties could use existing grant funds from the U.S. Division of Homeland Security to outfit the vehicle into a fully operational mobile unit to be used at disaster sites and as a backup should the Enhanced 911 dispatching center ever go down.
Clinton County has agreed to share and maintain the converted bookmobile; Essex County tabled the issue pending acquisition of more information.
The back-and-forth has lasted weeks between elected Franklin County officials and County Emergency Services personnel who see an opportunity to acquire a low-cost vehicle that would allow them — for the first time — to speak with all federal, state, county and municipal agencies at the same time from one location.
Franklin County’s share of the annual upkeep would be no more than $2,000, officials say, and the Franklin County Fire Advisory Board had sent a letter urging support for the idea.
However, legislators, who will face a tough 2013 budget season in a few weeks, do not want to commit because they say there are too many unknowns and believe the maintenance estimate is not realistic.
During a recent meeting of the Public Safety Committee, they informally voted 4 to 2, with one undecided member, to walk away from the deal.
But when the full legislature session was convened and members heard from Malone Callfiremen Chief Brian Gokey a few minutes later, the seven-member panel asked for more information from County Attorney Jonathan Miller and vowed to bring up the idea again at its next meeting on Aug. 2.
Gokey, who was accompanied by Ron St. Hilaire of the Bangor Fire Department and County Fire Police representative Dick Bolster, reminded legislators that units responding to an emergency operate on different radio-frequency bands, so coordination and public safety are at risk if volunteers can’t talk to each other easily.
A recent example happened during an apartment-house fire in St. Regis Falls, when ladder trucks from Malone, Saranac Lake and Massena were at the site, but “we couldn’t talk to each other.”
Gokey said he had to send a firefighter to verbally relay commands.
“We were pumping 1,000 to 1,500 gallons a minute, and you have to be meticulous,” he said.
Volunteers, victims and the public could also have been endangered because a firefighter was taken off a hose or a rescue team to relay those command messages.
“You’re going to hurt somebody,” Gokey told legislators.
He said the county spends a lot on its Public Transportation system, yet some buses he has seen have just three people aboard.
For that small amount of money, the chief said, “you can fund the bookmobile.”
SHARING THE VEHICLE
The counties kicked in a total of $206,381 on the purchase in 2006, with Clinton County contributing $86,680, Essex County giving $51,595 and Franklin County’s share $68,106.
Those figures were determined based on population, state funding and private donations.
As of September 2011 when it was taken off the road, the bookmobile, with its 100-gallon gas tank, had 100,000 miles on it and could get 7 or 8 miles per gallon.
Title to the vehicle would be held by Clinton County, with Franklin County sharing the insurance cost as part of its $2,000 contribution.
The command unit would be housed at the Franklin County Highway Department garage, where it would remain fueled, charged and ready to go in an emergency.
If disasters occurred in both counties at the same time, priority would be given for its use based on the more dire situation.
E-mail Denise A. Raymo: