Firetruck repair leaves neighborhood vulnerable
A D.C. fire truck whose ladder became stuck during a three-alarm fire in September failed again last week, leaving Eastern Market without its services for 2½ days.
The D.C. Fire and EMS Department (FEMS) lacked a replacement for Truck 7 as it was being repaired Thursday through Saturday, two department sources told The Washington Times.
The truck’s crew took it to the department’s repair shop after finding leaks in its hydraulic system, the sources said. But what should have been a 24-hour repair stretched into 72 hours when firefighters discovered that the hydraulic pressure was so high it could have triggered the ladder to extend while the truck was being driven.
Meanwhile, a van provided to the crew to drive back to the station broke down, the sources said.
Citing five FEMS sources, The Times first reported Monday that the fire department has lagged in purchasing new vehicles and has allowed a backlog of repair orders to grow.
Truck 7’s ladder had failed during the Sept. 19 fire at the Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing building. As Truck 7 sat in the shop for an extra night last week, its crew couldn’t assist with a two-alarm fire in Congress Heights on Friday evening, said the two department sources.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners said they were unaware of the truck’s issues before being contacted by The Times.
Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg said she was “quite concerned” to hear her community lacked full fire protection, “because you don’t ever know when something is going to happen.”
“What is the mayor’s plan to fix the maintenance backlog?” said Commissioner Denise Krepp.
Neither Mayor Muriel Bowser nor Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety, responded to multiple requests for comment.
A fire department spokesman declined to comment. The Times reported Monday that a review of a random sample of fleet condition reports from 20 days in September and October found that the department had no ladder trucks in reserve for any of those days.
Under FEMS Special Order 2007-66, the department is required to keep nine ladders in reserve to replace vehicles in need of repair or to provide water support.
“My conscience has been shaken,” said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and member of the Safety Committee.
Ms. Cheh said that Capitol Hill going without proper protection left her “very disturbed.”
The five FEMS sources cited slow repair work by uncertified mechanics and the department’s failure to adhere to regularly scheduled vehicle purchases as part of the problem.
A FEMS spokesman has told The Times that two of the repair shop’s 23 mechanics have completed training for their Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification.
City legislators in 2016 enacted a law requiring that all of the shop’s mechanics be certified by October 2019.
“Anytime we don’t have full coverage of our firefighting capabilities, I’m very concerned,” said council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Safety Committee.
Mr. Allen, who represents the Capitol Hill neighborhood, said he wants to fund a new mechanic shop “much sooner than the current timeline.”
Mr. Allen and Ms. Cheh noted that the District has increased the department’s vehicle purchasing budget.
However, the $99 million, six-year budget falls short of independent auditors’ recommendations for what’s needed to restore the fleet and keep pace with the city’s growing population.