If you did a double take while driving through Apponaug recently because you saw multiple fire apparatuses from several other communities parked at Warwick’s Station 1, no, you don’t need new glasses.
These trucks, from places such as North Providence, Cranston, North Kingstown and West Warwick, are actually reserve trucks being lent to Warwick by those municipalities to compensate for as many as six Warwick Fire Department vehicles that were off the road in various states of disrepair this week – two of which are reportedly the newest apparatus purchased by the city; the most recent in 2015.
“We've had issues with our aging fleet,” said Michael Carreiro, president of the IAFF Local 2748 Warwick Firefighters Union. “We've had mechanical issues, electrical issues, and it’s not safe for us to be using these as frontline apparatus. We don’t have any reserve apparatuses to replace them with for the frontline.”
Carreiro said that Engines 1, 6, 8 and 10, along with a ladder truck and a rescue ambulance have experienced issues that necessitated they be taken out of commission for repairs in recent days, requiring the department to lean on available reserve apparatuses of other communities to compensate.
According to Carreiro, having other communities lend apparatus to Warwick does not cost anything extra to the city, and the trucks would respond from stations in Warwick in the event they needed to be used, so there shouldn’t be issues such as longer response times to deal with.
“It's mutual respect between most of the communities,” Carreiro said. “If we had our full fleet in service, we would loan to them, and vice versa.”
The city, however, is responsible for repairing any breakdown to equipment while it is in its use.
Carreiro said that a variety of issues take the trucks off the road for repairs. He said the issue that took the rescue out of commission was the air conditioning stopped working, which in this recent heat wave could put victims being ferried at risk of harm.
Other issues have included blown fuses and other quick but persistent fixes, such as a reoccurring problem with one truck’s windshield, according to acting DPW Director Mathew Solitro. Solitro said that he wasn’t concerned with the high volume of trucks currently experiencing issues.
“That's an anomaly, it's generally not that high,” he said of the recent string of necessary repairs, adding that there was a full-time mechanic within the Department of Public Works dedicated to working solely on fire apparatuses. “It doesn’t concern me only because we have a routine maintenance schedule and do a ton of repairs to vehicles, so no.”
However, Carreiro and other firefighters (a few visited the Beacon office on Tuesday) say that this is merely an extreme symptom of a problem that has been ongoing for a long time. Carreiro said that, outside of grant money, the city has not invested in a new fire truck in more than two years.
“When you have trucks that are 15, 20 years old, things start breaking down and things have to get replaced,” he said. “It's only going to get worse if we don’t address the issue.”
Last September, the fire department brought forward a request to purchase a new truck for $350,000 – which was $80,000 lower than its regular sale price and included $10,000 in optional equipment at no extra charge. The reasoning was that Engines 1 and 8, which had each clocked over 170,000 miles at that time, needed to be replaced and the department’s reserve trucks were “on their last leg.” However, the City Council Finance Committee shot down the request outright, saying they couldn’t commit the funding so early in the fiscal year.
Mayor Joseph Solomon said on Wednesday that it was misleading to insinuate that age is the underlying factor in why fire apparatus are being decommissioned when one of the down trucks is newer than most in the fleet and another is, in fact, the newest. He said that he has learned the 2015 truck, manufactured by Pierce, has a mechanical suspension flaw that has become so widespread it triggered a safety advisory from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“To say the equipment is antiquated and that's why it's out of commission, I would say that the problem is when this equipment was spec'd out, they should have known, or maybe they didn't know at the time, that there has been a problem with this type of suspension system,” Solomon said.
Solomon said that the reserve equipment lent from other communities were also aging and had more mileage than some of the Warwick equipment, but were running fine.
“It's a matter of keeping good maintenance of these items, keeping them up to date and staying on top of them,” he said, adding that he gave the city’s DPW “five stars” for the job they’ve done maintaining the city’s fleet of emergency and municipal vehicles.
As Solomon was the City Council President when the last request for a new fire truck came before the council, he reiterated a need for good due diligence to ensure that the city not only had the financial means to afford new vehicles, but that the vehicle wasn’t prone to mechanical failures like the 2015 Pierce truck is now experiencing.
“Under my administration, before we acquire apparatus that is recommended to us by the fire department, or any department, we will perform our due diligence as to the longevity and the problems related to that apparatus and maintenance costs of that apparatus,” he said.