15% increase in Fire Dept. fuel usage questioned
The Warwick Fire Department has used more fuel than projected for the year – 7,326 gallons to be precise – and Rob Cote believes he knows why. In a letter to the mayor that he has forwarded to council members and other city officials, he reasons there hasn’t been a corresponding 15 percent increase in fire runs and that the fuel is being used when firefighters use apparatus to make trips to local super markets.
But assistant Chief James Kenney has an explanation. On Friday he explained that the department conducted its “largest ever” fire training academy for 24 recruits last summer. The 18-week program involved the use of apparatus for practice runs and the setup of scenarios where trainees connect hoses to engines and complete drills with charged hoses. This requires apparatus to be running.
Cote, who is a regular at City Council meetings, is no stranger to either the Fire Department or Department of Public Works. He has followed DPW vehicles, videoing instances where drivers are in their vehicles for hours apparently doing nothing that are posted to the internet. He has taken video of firefighters allegedly shopping at local markets, leaving with only a few items to an engine left running in the parking lot.
Cote urged for a policy eliminating the practice of using fire apparatus for shopping runs, arguing firefighters coming on duty could make the market trips before arriving at the station. The chief at the time, Edmund Armstrong, responded that the stops were being made as apparatus were returning from runs and that there was no added cost to the city or that safety was being compromised. The Board of Public Safety went along with that reasoning.
In his letter, Cote recalled Mayor Scott Avedisian’s remarks in opposition to use of the vehicles for shopping and then having the board condone the practice. He called it, “political posturing” and an abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.
Kenney reasons the department’s 17 pieces of apparatus need to be run to keep them in good working order. Also, he feels it is good for residents to see members of the department in the community. Overall, neither he nor Chief James McLaughlin thought the additional fuel was extraordinary when spread over the fleet and considering their use for the training academy.
Asked about the impact stops at the supermarket on fuel consumption, Kenney said, “That should have nothing to do with it.” The chief said the department maintains a log of all runs, but does not list stops at the supermarket.
According to data provided by the department, the department’s nine engines had made 18,069 runs last year; ladders 3,787 runs and rescues 13,400 for a total of 35,256. That doesn’t reflect the number of incidents, which totaled 15,986, as two and often three apparatus respond to a single call depending on the nature of the emergency.
Councilman Ed Ladouceur, chair of the finance committee, said Monday he looks at city department budget expenditures as he would his own business. He said he is looking for answers on what is being spent and whether those expenses are justified.
“What you need, you get. What you don’t need you don’t get,” he said.
He said he has questions about fuel usage, adding, “He [Cote] does present some very concerning issues. These are questions that need to be answered.”