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Report: Fire vehicles had ‘unacceptable mechanical conditions’

By Staff | Apr 13, 2011

A new report filed by Bill Towler claims at least four city fire department vehicles had “unacceptable mechanical conditions” as a result of “irregular and substandard preventative maintenance and inadequate inspections.”
Towler wrote that the vehicles — which included two 2002 Pierce Rescue Pumpers, a 2002 Pierce Pumper/Tanker and 2003 Pierce Pumper Rescue trucks — were neglected and have since been inspected and repaired by Lee County Fleet Fleet Maintenance staff.
Eighteen more fire department vehicles are waiting to be scheduled for inspection by county staff, according to Towler.
The “Operational Effectiveness Consultant” identified the four vehicles as being in various states of disrepair, including leaking radiators, worn brake pads, possible steering hazards and various oil leaks, among other issues.
Towler also wrote that a vehicle serviced by the city’s fleet department was returned to service with a host of problems, including unchanged oil, non-operating emergency lights, bare wires and a frozen pumping gauge cable, to name a few.
Towler, Chief Bill Van Helden and Financial Services Director Victoria Bateman did not return requests for comment.
Councilmember Bill Deile said a process has to be put in place to ensure that safe emergency vehicles are on the city’s roads.
Deile added that it was unclear which department — fire or fleet — was responsible for specific “echelons” of maintenance.
Deile said City Manager Gary King wants to enter into an interlocal agreement with Lee County to do the maintenance work on city vehicles, but did not know if that would pertain solely to emergency vehicles or the city’s entire fleet.
Deile said the city manager will be bringing the matter forward for discussion during council’s next workshop on April 25.
Deile said the issues with the fire department vehicles could be the “tip of the proverbial iceberg” when it came to mechanical issues within the city fleet, and is likely an oversight from previous management.
“This is something (Chuck) Pavlos and (Terry) Stewart weren’t paying attention to. This didn’t happen yesterday,” he said.
Towler’s report states there are “considerable associated repair costs” to “bring the city fleet up to acceptable industry standards,” but does not identify, specifically, what amount of money could be saved by keeping up on preventative maintenance.
Deile said he’s not sure of the potential cost, or cost savings, but the state of the vehicles might convince him to enter into an interlocal agreement with the county regardless of the price.
“If they want more money — it’s still possibly a no-brainer,” Deile added.
Councilmember Marty McClain, who has been vocal about his concerns with Towler’s work on the city’s fuel consumption, said he would need to see “historical data, service records and maintenance schedules” before taking the memo seriously.
“I’m not going to take a Bill Towler memo as gospel,” he said.
McClain also doesn’t feel city staff or firefighters are knowingly putting faulty equipment on the roads.
“They are not purposely going to put a piece of equipment on the street that would put citizens, or the equipment operator, at risk,” he said.
Lee County Fleet Services Director Marilyn Rawlings confirmed the work reported by Towler, adding that it has come to $10,000 of total work so far.
Rawlings said Lee Fleet Maintenance also does work for Estero and Fort Myers Beach fire districts, and that the county was “helping however we can”.
“I wouldn’t want an ambulance breaking down if I were in the back,” Rawlings said. “We’re making sure (the vehicles) are safe and up to the standards identified by the proper authorities.”