When the town of Elon Fire Department receives an emergency call, the first vehicle sent to the scene is always its almost 18-year-old ladder truck. But the ladder truck, which has a life cycle of 20 years, is quickly approaching its expiration date, and Assistant Fire Chief Charles Walker said it's time for an upgrade.

“These trucks are run hard at numerous times throughout a 24-hour shift,” Walker said. “So it just comes to a point where preventive maintenance and stuff on it is not enough anymore.” 

The new truck, set to be delivered in 2025, will cost more than $2 million to pay for the parts and special compartment customizations, according to Town Manager Richard Roedner. The town of Elon officially purchased the new truck and is set to use a payment plan to pay for it over time.

“What we plan to do is enter into an installment loan program, as it gets close to the time when the trucks actually become available,” Roedner said. “And then we'll pay it off over time as anybody would do with their car or their house or something like that.”

Elon’s Town Council voted at its last meeting to change the fire tax rate for Elon taxpayers to account for inflation and improvements for the fire station.

The new truck will be shorter in length in order to access more areas around town.

“Some may think, well, what's the big deal with that?” Walker said. “Well, as you drive around our community, when there's more construction going on, there's limited access for us. So a shorter truck means we can get it into tighter places, like on campus or in our community.”

Property taxes pay for emergency department expenses, but nonprofit organizations like Elon University do not pay these taxes to the town of Elon. Roedner said there have been conversations about who will be funding the new vehicle, but no concrete responses. 

“This gets a philosophical question. The savings we have has been from our taxpayers in the past — do we make them pay for the new vehicle? Or do we have the taxpayers of the future pay for it who are actually enjoying the benefit of it?” Roedner said.

Roedner said both Elon President Connie Book and Vice President for Finance and Administration Janet Williams went to the fire department to take a look at the state of the current ladder truck. Williams declined Elon News Network’s request for an interview.

So far this year, the Elon Fire Department — and its ladder truck — responded to calls specifically from Elon University almost 150 times and the rest of the community over 450 times. 

“We use it on single-story buildings on up to five-story buildings in our district,” Walker said. “The versatility of that truck is only limited by us really with it. So, it's a very important piece of our operation here.” 

According to Roedner, Elon University and Twin Lakes Community agree a new ladder truck is necessary, but no donations have been made. 

“We would love to have their participation since they’re some of the prime users of the new equipment, but it's not something we can force them to do,” Roedner said.