Parking the gas guzzlers
By Jean Porrazzo, Enterprise staff writer
When gas prices started inching up, Easton Police Chief Thomas Kominsky decided it was time to park the department's 1999 sport utility vehicle.
"We're not going to use it on routine patrols," Kominsky said.
Private citizens are not the only ones coping with gas prices that now exceed $3 a gallon. Cities and towns also face rising fuel costs for police cruisers, fire-rescue vehicles, public works trucks, elder services vans and other municipal vehicles.
In Raynham, police officers are turning off their cruisers for 20 minutes every hour to save gas, and the only police cars allowed to continue to idle are those with police dogs inside.
In East Bridgewater, the 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe assigned to the former police chief was taken off the road when he retired in December and the SUV will be sold this fall. Police are using motorcycles more often; they get about 40 miles per gallon as opposed to the 20 mpg the cruisers get, said Police Chief John Cowan.
Halifax and East Bridgewater are requesting more money to pay higher fuel costs.
Easton department heads will meet in the next couple of weeks to discuss ways to cut costs and conserve gasoline, Town Administrator Martha White said.
Easton's chief Kominsky decided to stop using the Ford Explorer for routine patrols because the vehicle was getting too old and was costing too much in gas.
"It carried special equipment and was used as a command vehicle by the supervisors," he said. "We already planned not to replace the vehicle."
Kominsky said vehicles such as SUVs are more costly to run and do not "lend themselves to routine patrols as the Crown Vics (Ford Crown Victorias) do."
With gas prices more than $3 a gallon, city and town officials are doing everything from temporarily taking gas-guzzling vehicles off the road to making sure tires are properly inflated to get the best mileage.
But SUVs won't be out of the picture completely in Easton or other communities since some are used for command vehicles and others are needed to get through rough terrain and snow in an emergency.
For example, the Easton fire chief is assigned a 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe as a command vehicle. The vehicle carries communication equipment and necessary tools, he said.
"We bought it for their space capabilities and the all-wheel-drive feature, especially in New England," Fire Capt. John Howard said. "The chief was issued that as a take-home vehicle because he is on call 24-7."
While the town looks for ways to save gas, some residents have concerns firefighters are using emergency vehicles for what appears to be personal use.
Easton Fire Capt. David Beals said the department is short-staffed, and on-duty firefighters are allowed to use emergency vehicles such as ambulances or trucks within the district during their lunch or dinner break so they can respond to an emergency without returning to the station first.
"Many times, the apparatus will stop to pick up lunch or dinner on return trips from a public safety call," he said. "Due to the nature of emergency work, the Fire Department doesn't have assigned lunch periods. We grab it when we can."
East Bridgewater Fire Chief Ryon T. Pratt is on call 24 hours a day and is assigned a 2002 Chevy Tahoe he uses as both a command vehicle and an administrative and response vehicle.
"I don't personally care for them, but they are useful in an emergency involving civilians," said Pratt, who is also the town's emergency management director.
The SUV's four-wheel drive feature makes it possible to access remote and difficult areas, he said.
"The price of fuel isn't going to change the need," Pratt said. "It makes us more conscious of the expense, but doesn't change the need."
In Halifax, only the fire chief, who is on call 24 hours a day, is assigned an SUV, Town Administrator Charles Seelig said. But that doesn't mean Seelig is not concerned about the price of gas.
The town will have to add more money to its combined heating oil and gasoline budget at the Oct. 17 town meeting, he said.
The town budgeted $60,000 for gasoline and $30,000 for heating oil for fiscal 2006.
"The highway surveyor has asked us to double that amount," Seelig said.
East Bridgewater added $45,000 to the $57,522 budgeted for gasoline in fiscal 2005 and will probably have to add to the $62,000 budgeted for fiscal 2006, Town Administrator George Samia said.