The president of the Philadelphia Firefighters and Paramedics Union Local 22 wants a safety inspection of the fire department’s entire vehicle fleet in the wake of last week’s ambulance fire that spread to a local firehouse.
On Friday, an ambulance caught fire inside Ladder 2 at 4th and Arch Streets in the Old City section of the city. A spokesperson for the Union announced on Tuesday that a mechanical defect to the vehicle sparked the flames. The spokesperson also claimed it was one of a “series of mechanical failures” of Philly Fire Department vehicles.
"Over the past few years, the mechanical condition of the majority of vehicles in the Fire Department fleet, both fire apparatuses and medic units, has reached a critical point," said Union President Joe Schulle. "Some units are using apparatuses that are more than 20 years old. Many of the units are visibly leaking oil, have significant air leaks or have serious suspension and brake problems.”
Schulle also said that since Friday’s fire, other firefighters have reported problems to their vehicles.
“This was merely the most recent of several incidents that demands an immediate safety inspection of the entire Fire Department fleet,” Schulle said. “It is our position that, due to the current disrepair of many of the vehicles in the department’s fleet, there is a significant risk not only to our members, but also to the citizens of Philadelphia."
A spokesman for the union told NBC10 they asked police to conduct the inspection instead of the fire department in order to remove the “shadow of subjectivity out of the equation.”
NBC10 tried to contact Philadelphia Police as well as Pennsylvania State Police for comment but have not yet heard back from either organization. However, Mark McDonald, press secretary for Mayor Nutter, told NBC10 that the city is rejecting the plan.
“The City rejects the poorly thought out demand from the union boss because the City has a strong safety inspection system,” McDonald said. “Instead of playing the worn-out political games that the firefighters union is now known for, it might be more fruitful for the union to sit down with management and communicate its concerns in a professional way. In addition, it might help if the union took the time to get the facts first.”
McDonald stated that police are not trained or certified to inspect fire department vehicles. He also claimed the city has an “excellent fleet management unit” with certified inspectors and a “sophisticated” repair team.
“Fleet implements the state safety inspection system but goes beyond that with a detailed preventive maintenance program,” McDonald said.
McDonald also told NBC10 that medic units are inspected four to six times per year and that the remaining fire department vehicles are examined two to three times a year.
McDonald also commented on the age of the department’s vehicles.
“The Fire Department has an average fleet age of 8 years for front line vehicles,” McDonald said. “In the last two years, the City bought 21 new pumper trucks. For medic units, however, the average age of 4.4 years. Last year, the city purchased 11 new medic units and another 11 are only three years old.”