PITTSFIELD >> A consultant's report on the condition of Pittsfield Fire Department vehicles describes an aging fleet, despite some recent acquisitions, and notes the lack of a long-term plan for vehicle replacement.
The grant-funded, 64-page report will be submitted by Mayor Linda M. Tyer to the City Council on Tuesday. She recommends it be sent to the council's Public Health and Safety Committee for review.
In a statement issued Friday, the mayor said the report's release "is the continuum of a very important conversation regarding the city's long-term strategic planning, a key aspect of this administration. While the report acknowledges several areas of opportunity, it is important to understand that the public is not in imminent danger, nor are our firefighters at risk."
According to a report summary from consultants Michael Wilbur and Thomas Shard of Emergency Vehicle Response Fire Protection Services, "The city of Pittsfield Fire Department's fleet of nine major vehicles is made up of an aging group of poorly planned and designed apparatus."
Except for two vehicles — one acquired in 2012 and another expected in 2016 — "the apparatus fleet is not well suited for the number of incident responses, with two of the older engines, acquired in 1988 and 1992 respectively, having each been rebuilt to extend their useful life," the report states. "The fleet demographic was so desperate that in 2008 the department acquired a used 1990 model engine with the intent of being utilized as a reserve unit."
Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said Friday that the consultant was hired with a $9,800 grant the department obtained through the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association — the city's liability insurance carrier. The chief declined to discuss the report at this time, but said he plans to attend the council subcommittee meeting on the document, as will a representative of the consultants.
The report stems in part from several days of field survey work in Pittsfield in November by Emergency Vehicle Response representatives, working with Czerwinski and other fire officials. During that visit, according to the report, "there were no reserve units available within the department's fleet, with both the 1988 and 1990 vintage pumpers being operated in front-line service."
The report notes that National Fire Protection Association Standard 1901 "recommends a maximum front-line service period of 15 years, with creditable apparatus serving an additional five years of reserve service."
Within the Pittsfield fleet, the report states, "only four of the nine pieces of apparatus are less than 15 years of age."
Later in the executive summary, the report states: "The impact of past vehicle acquisitions has resulted in a fleet that exhibits safety concerns to the fire personnel that operate the apparatus as well as potential liabilities to the city of Pittsfield and its insurer, the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association."
In the introductory section, the report states that the city "has struggled in the past to provide a modern fleet of apparatus with units assigned to each of the fire department's five fire stations. Partially due to economic climate, tax levy restrictions and community demographic changes, there has been no formal apparatus replacement plan, nor dedicated funding source for major pieces of fire apparatus."
However, the consultants said the city has since 2000 been able to acquire grant funding for the purchase of several units, with the city purchasing only three pieces of apparatus over a 15-year period. The result, the report states, is average age for the front-line fleet of 16.1 years, and the average of the aerial ladder fleet is "slightly better at 13 years old."
Elsewhere in the report, the consultants state: "While the fire department has seen a reduction in fire companies and staffing over the years, the present alignment of five engines and one ladder company are the absolute minimum that would be needed to provide a sufficient level of resources when weighted against the current level of incidents in the city."
Among key observations, the report cites the lack of a formal replacement plan for fire apparatus; signs of premature rust and corrosion at various points on three vehicles, and the current age of the fleet averaging 16.1 years, with seven apparatus averaging more than 17 years.
The extensive report goes on to provide an analysis of each piece of equipment in the PFD fleet — illustrated with numerous photographs — and the workload and frequency of responses to calls and the effect on fleet service life span.
In a section concerning the need for a vehicle replacement plan, the report states: "From an overall perspective, the Pittsfield Fire Department maintains an adequate number of fire apparatus to safely protect the first due response area."
But the consultants add, "The lack of a dedicated capital equipment replacement program, combined with the heavy use of this equipment, has created a condition where the current state of the department's apparatus fleet is critical with vehicles that do not meet current National Fire Protection Association standards and require constant maintenance. On any given day, both of the departments reserve engines are being utilized in front-line service. Reliance upon 27-year-old vehicles and used apparatus is not a strategy for positive outcomes and has increased the operational and maintenance costs across the enterprise."
In addition to supplying options for scheduling the purchase of vehicles over time, the report also provides specific maintenance recommendations concerning existing vehicles, lists onboard equipment that is recommended for fire vehicles, and lists design features recommended for new vehicles to be purchased by the city.
The entire consultants' report is posted along with the City Council agenda for Tuesday, at cityofpittsfield.org/government/city_council/docs/cc_packet_02_23_16.pdf
Mayor's statement on report
Here is the full statement issued by Mayor Linda Tyer on the fire apparatus study report:
"The recent release of the [Pittsfield Fire Department] Fleet Maintenance Audit report, conducted by the MIAA Risk Management Group, is the continuum of a very important conversation regarding the city's long-term strategic planning, a key aspect of this administration. While the report acknowledges several areas of opportunity, it is important to understand that the public is not in imminent danger, nor are our firefighters at risk.
"Each day, the city's fleet upholds the safety of our community through its active and timely response. There has been work toward addressing the Fire Department's apparatus needs, which includes the delivery of a new truck in late March, as well as the purchase of a 2005 used truck, which has less than 30,000 miles.
"However, as the report demonstrates, more work needs to be done to fully and appropriately outfit the city's fleet. At the same time, it should be noted that this isn't a new conversation. Every year, we've had debate and discussion during capital planning time regarding fire trucks.
"This administration is committed to ensuring that this information will be adequately utilized to inform the city's strategic planning efforts moving forward, and meet the needs of our Fire Department and the community."