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  1. #1
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    Default Philly Apparatus Troubles

    http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=10897
    Burning Issue

    Some firefighters contend their fleet is becoming dangerously decrepit.

    by Gwen Shaffer



    Last week a Philadelphia fire engine sat parked in a repair shop, a plastic milk crate placed under the steering wheel as a makeshift seat. While the truck looked absurd, Philadelphia firefighters are more concerned about faulty parts they can't see, such as transmissions and brakes.
    They contend that out-of-service and aging vehicles in the department's fleet pose a potential safety threat to both the public and firefighters themselves. More than 16 percent of the Fire Department's front-line engines awaited repairs in a Fleet Management garage last week--11 of 68 front-line trucks. Front-line engines are the trucks sent out on runs immediately after residents call in emergencies to 911.

    In addition, 19 of the Philadelphia Fire Department's 24 reserve fire engines are awaiting repairs or being utilized in the front line, Fire Capt. Scott Sladek said during an interview in mid-October. Sladek serves as apparatus officer for the department.

    The repair backlog has led to other problems at the Fleet Management shop, sources there say.

    About 60 Fire Department vehicles, including front-line engines and ambulances, are behind in their preventive maintenance, according to a list updated by the city's department of Fleet Management two weeks ago.

    Fire engines are scheduled for preventive maintenance every four months. But the list shows that some front-line trucks were last tuned up April 12, 2004; May 13, 2004; June 1, 2004; and Aug. 7, 2004.

    Both the Fire Department administration and Fleet Management adamantly deny the repair logjam poses a safety threat.

    "If any parts are unsafe or broken, the vehicle comes out of the fleet immediately," says James Muller, director of Fleet Management. "Our mechanics go over equipment with a fine-toothed comb."

    Robert Fox, administrative services director for Fleet Management, says down equipment in no way impedes firefighters from performing their jobs. "The question is, does the Fire Department have enough apparatus to cover the city? And the answer is yes."

    But members of Local 22, the union representing Philadelphia fire fighters, say they're worried about both the deteriorating condition of older trucks and the lack of backup equipment.

    "The guys are saying the quality of the reserve apparatus is about the worst they've ever seen," says Dave Kearney, recording secretary for the union. "They're driving around in pumpers with bungee cords holding the doors closed and holes rusted through the floor."

    Kearney says the issue of vehicle safety has come up "during a number of recent membership meetings." Union leadership is encouraging firefighters to refuse to drive trucks they perceive as unsafe, he asserts.

    "But their fear is the entire company will go out of service," Kearney says. "Do they take out equipment just good enough to get the job done? Where should they draw the line?"

    Ernest Hargett Jr., deputy commissioner for the Philadelphia Fire Department's technical services unit, says he hasn't heard any Local 22 members complain about the condition of the department's equipment.

    Fox says firefighters lack the expertise to know how an engine is running. "It isn't their business," he says, adding that mechanics working for Fleet Management "do a terrific job."

    The Philadelphia Fire Department, which makes nearly 200,000 runs annually, doesn't control its own equipment budget. Instead, it gives a "wish list" to the department of Fleet Management. The two departments, along with the managing director's office and the city's finance director, discuss needs, says Muller. Then the Procurement Department gets the competitive bid process rolling.

    It would be more efficient to purchase a predetermined number of new engines and ladders "on a scheduled basis," Hargett acknowledges.

    "The Fire Department is currently developing a plan to present to Fleet Management and City Council that would allow us to schedule purchases of apparatus each year," he says.

    Fox says Fleet Management is about to "close the deal" on a plan to lease $7 million worth of ladder trucks and engines.

    Fleet Management budgeted nearly $7 million for new Fire Department equipment for next fiscal year. This year saw the purchase of 10 new ambulances, which cost about $85,000 each, Muller says.

    The Fire Department owns 10 backup ladder trucks, to be used when front-line ladders are out of service or when firefighters respond to a major blaze. But not a single reserve ladder is available right now "because so many front-line units are out of service," says a source familiar with the situation.

    The equipment shortage is the result of an aging fleet and fewer mechanics working in the Fleet Management facility charged with repairing the city's fire, police and medical vehicles, Kearney says.

    Many of the city's fire engines were built in 1991, and manufacturers no longer make some of their components. Sixty-eight of 94 fire engines in the department are at least a decade old, according to Fire Department records.

    "It's tough getting trucks out of there because of the wait for parts. Mechanics are hunting and pecking for parts," Fire Capt. Sladek says.

    Fleet Management director Muller denies this is the case. "Finding parts is an issue, but it's a small issue and we're working through it," he says.

    The average front-line engine is nine years old, and the average front-line ladder is eight years old, Hargett says. The average front-line medic unit--or ambulance--is four years old. (That will change, of course, when the 10 new units arrive.)

    Fire truck engines wear out more quickly than typical "over-the-road" trucks, says Carl Peterson, assistant director of the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) public fire protection division. Fire runs are "the worst kind of service you want to impose on an engine," he says.

    A fire truck engine starts hard, runs idle for a while, then starts up again. "This is tougher on an engine than driving 10 hours straight at 70 miles per hour," Peterson says.

    Kearney of Local 22 adds that potholes in Philadelphia streets add to the wear and tear on fire trucks and ambulances.

    "We attempt to comply with the national standards for rotating out apparatus," Hargett stresses.

    Fleet Management's Fox says firefighters want "shiny new equipment" and are disgruntled when they don't get it. "Fire officials tell me there's nothing you can do to please these guys."

    Vincent Fragale is the newly elected business agent for Local 1927, the union representing Fleet Management mechanics. He worked in the shop for 15 years, and says the number of mechanics there has decreased dramatically over the years.

    Even so, Fragale says firefighters are safe in department trucks. "Could they be in better condition?" he asks. "Sure. But they are road-worthy."

    Mechanic Steve Kepner repaired Fire Department vehicles till he left his job with Fleet Management 10 months ago to work for the city's school district. He says the lack of preventive maintenance is particularly alarming.

    "You can defer that basic stuff for only so long, and then it's time to pay the piper," cautions Kepner, who acknowledges he left Fleet Management on bad terms after 19 years with the department. "It's just like with your own car. You can't let preventive maintenance go."

    Muller says that while the employee shortage has caused "some problems" with keeping up on preventive maintenance, Fleet Management is compensating in other ways. "Now we have a mobile service guy coming to the fire houses and changing oil."

    Fox says shop supervisors shift priorities daily to accommodate repairs. While preventive maintenance may get pushed back because of this, firefighters are able to "complete their mission."

    In a perfect world, firefighters would have access to newer and more fire equipment, Muller says. "But we don't live in that perfect world."



    Gwen Shaffer (gshaffer@philadelphiaweekly.c om) last wrote about the Philadelphia Gas Works budget.


  2. #2
    Forum Member DaSharkie's Avatar
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    To add fuel to the fire, I just read an article about Philly not having enough EMS units available. Pretty sad actually. Politicians playing with people's lives, sadly a 22 y/o kid is now dead.

    http://citypaper.net/articles/2005-11-10/cb.shtml

    If they add more EMS units like they "Promised to" this situation is only going to get worse. The FD needs its own people to work on these rigs, not a centralized repair place. Just sounds rediculous to me.
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    What brand of apparatus does Philly use? dont tell me KME.

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    From this website:

    http://www.mfrconsultants.com/pfd/

    Looks like a little bit of everything.

    Click on 'photo gallery' and you'll see that for engines Philly has 28 KME's from 95 and 96, four '98 ALF Squrts, 2 '93 Seagrave Sqirts, a '99 E-One/Freightliner 4-door commercial, and 14 E-One's from '87 (most are reserve).

    Ladders are 3 '93 Simon/LTI tillers, 8 '90 Seagrave tillers, 2 KME-body snorkels, and a pair of mack aerialscopes.

    There are mentions of newer equipment on the site.

  5. #5
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    Philly has a mix of everything like mentioned before. They have a few of their older (early 90's) Seagraves still running fairly regularly, a lot of KME's as they were on a big KME kick a few years back, and now a lot of ALF's which is what they've been buying for the past few years. Most of the front line ladders are ALF tillers. The Mack Scopes are long gone as far as I know. It's an eclectic city to say the least. I'd place bets they are having most of their troubles with the KME's and the ALF's.

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    Forum Member FWDbuff's Avatar
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    -The Mack Scopes are LONG gone.

    -The Snorkels, (which are ALL over 20 yrs old, re-chassied booms) are 2 KME's and a Pierce. (funny, the Pierce has less shop time than the other 2)

    -Philly has 59 Engine Companies and 30 Ladder Companies. The bulk of the engines, as mentioned, is unfortunately, K Mart Express. There are still a few Seagrave pieces here and there. There are also a few ALF/3D Squrts.

    -The bulk of the ladder fleet is ALF Tillers. Still a few Seagrave Tillers here and there, the Duplex/LTI Tillers, and the Snorkels.

    Funny......Whenever I am out buffing, and drive past Shop 2, all I see in the lot is stuff manufactured in Nesquohoning, Pa!
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    Expecting the troops to keep their equipment up and running is normal.Not replacing what has worn or aged to the point of uselessness is idiotic.

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    I have to admit that our apparatus' are all dated. they are all still in safe operating condition, but that's because we have a few "handy" guys on our crew. We take it upon ourselves to keep our lives safe and keeping our equipment safe. As a small department with limited funds, if we didn't do the repairs, we would never get anything fixed because we can't afford it.

    A lot of departments just don't have the funds to have new stuff, so we have to do with what we have. That's where creative fundraising is needed. Grants are also an option. With homeland security a big topic now, there are many grants and mucho dinero to be given out. We have a few guys that make it part of their jobs to see what grants are there and to apply for them. Very useful.

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    Well let's see here...

    Mayor Streets wants to close firehouses; ALS units are being understaffed; rigs are being beaten on a daily basis traveling those horrible, craterous streets and then not maintained.

    The Philadelphia Fire Department, which makes nearly 200,000 runs annually, doesn't control its own equipment budget. Instead, it gives a "wish list" to the department of Fleet Management. The two departments, along with the managing director's office and the city's finance director, discuss needs, says Muller. Then the Procurement Department gets the competitive bid process rolling.
    The ironic thing mentioned in the article is that there are several different entities involved with the specification process. Yet, all the FD can do is "wish" from the department irresponsible for maintaining the fleet??? It is apparent that they go with the lowest bids each time. This would answer why there is not a fleet of sole source manufacturers which would seem to help remedy the problem of scavenger hunting for these various vendors' parts

    How hard can it be to get parts from KME? They (KME) ought to have plenty in stock since they are regularly selling replacement parts for Keepin' the Mechanic Employed .

    I know, in the REAL WORLD money talk$$$$ and......

  10. #10
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    Default Our trucks suck

    Ill tell you this, my engine company has been using a reserve engine since about april when our KME was involved in an accident. The reserve piece is so bad its laughable. It still pumps the hell out of water but is slow as crap and doesnt turn to well. My piece is a 2002 ALF tiller, its got its problems, but all in all I like it. A little slow on the take off, but when it gets rolling its rolling. Like some of the options, hate the standards. This is just another problem that our dept has had to deal with for the last few years. Our previous administration refused to spend as much as necessary and now has dumped many of those problems on the current administration who is then faced with budget cuts.

  11. #11
    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    -The Snorkels, (which are ALL over 20 yrs old, re-chassied booms) are 2 KME's and a Pierce. (funny, the Pierce has less shop time than the other 2)
    Would they like another? I've got a 1963 boom on a 1990 Pierce chassis that will be available in the next few months.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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