Following Report, Boston Fire Commissioner Wants to Hire Civilian Mechanics

March 11, 2009
A report by a city-hired consultant recommends sweeping changes to the department's vehicle repair methods.

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Hub Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser is vowing to replace the department's firefighter-run maintenance division with civilian mechanics following a report by a city-hired consultant that recommends sweeping changes to the department's vehicle repair methods.

"It's an ugly, ugly report," Fraser said this afternoon. "It doesn't have much good to say about maintenance."

Fraser commissioned the study, by Maryland-based Mercury Associates Inc., following the tragic death of Lt. Kevin M. Kelley in January, who died in after the brakes failed on his ladder truck, sending it careening into a Mission Hill high-rise. The crash highlighted a stunningly lax approach to maintenance of the department's fleet of ladder and engine trucks.

The 19-page report was derived from two days of interviews last month with department officials, firefighters in the division and union officials as well as a review of documents and cost data pertaining to maintenance.

Union officials criticized the consultant for spending only two days doing interviews in the Hub. Boston Firefighters Local 718 President Ed Kelly could not immediately be reached.

According to the report:

The BFD needs a professional fleet manager, a position that Fraser is holding interviews for today.

BFD does not have an effective vehicle inspection program. "There is a lack of a sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, apparatus within a given field company," the report states. "An engine or ladder truck typically is operated by as many as 16 different firefighters, so it "belongs" to everybody - and to nobody."

There is no "formally defined preventative maintenance program for fire apparatus."

The Maintenance Division has a software program to track work orders but "it is not used on a real-time basis to process or manage work orders."

Vehicle "misuse and abuse" are common.

The report indicates that firefighters themselves do not take maintenance seriously.

"The chiefs who oversee the Division generally are close to retirement when they are assigned to it; have no particular background in the field of fleet or facility management or maintenance; and, due to their short time horizons, have little motivation to invest time in learning the finer points of these activities," the report reads.

Fraser noted that the report recognizes progress made under his stewardship, which has included the purchase of 11 new trucks. He also implemented annual truck safety inspections for the first time and a competitive bidding process for buying fire apparatus, as well as launching an advanced driver training class for firefighters.

But, he said, "there's more work to be done."

"I hope the union will partner with me in this effort," he said.

Republished with permission of The Boston Herald.

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