Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Defective Maintenance Program Defined

I can sum up the report in one word: STARTLING!

Mercury Associates, Inc. is a company that provides fleet management consulting services. According to the report, in the last three years alone, they have provided their services for some very large and very high profile cities, including the Boston POLICE Department (Don’t they talk to the Fire Department?).

The last paragraph in the introduction to the report is very telling. It opens a door to a culture that has existed at Boston FD for at least since the 1980s (see report). It states:

Ideally, an assessment of this type would have included the review of policy and procedure statements and other documentation that specifies ‘how’ all maintenance and repair activities are to be performed and the calculation of a variety of key performance indicator statistics and their interpretation using suitable industry benchmarks so as to gauge ‘how well’ they are being performed.

However, as will become clear in this report, neither of these types of information are readily available in BFD because they are not used to any significant degree to manage the maintenance and repair of the fleet.

I interpret this to mean that no one (1) person was tasked with insuring the safety of Boston’s fleet of fire apparatus.

An “informal” system to prevent problems, identify problems and correct problems with apparatus was in place, but was an ‘orphan’ in its treatment by the city and FD leaders.

Again; remember the outcry after Lt. Kevin Kelley was killed. Both heart-wrenching grief AND gut-wrenching anger remains. Remember that it was quickly noted in articles after the tragedy that this was not an isolated incident where the safety of the vehicle was identified as a potential problem.

It becomes very clear after reading the report how apparatus with problems remained in service.

It leaves me wondering AGAIN why someone has to die in order for Change to occur.

How can a department as storied as Boston’s have a fleet maintenance department that is described as “archaic”?

How can ANY department treat maintenance of their equipment with such indifference?

Small departments such as mine, understand the importance of keeping equipment properly maintained to avoid costly repairs because, in many cases, they do not have a budget that could support such costs. Most likely, the money would have to be borrowed if not covered by warranty.

In larger departments, where apparatus sees multiple calls in a day, there has to be a clearly defined system for recognizing mechanical problems, taking the unit out of service for repair and a “loaner” to take its place until that unit is repaired and placed back into service. It cannot be left to chance!

At a time when the focus is on personal safety, what could possibly be more important than equipment that gets us to and from the scene?

What good does it do to hammer home the idea that we should only use professionally designed, professionally built apparatus if we’re not going to keep it in safe, operating condition?

Where I came from, it wasn’t unusual for a department to refurbish or rebuild their own trucks to save money. Water tanks would be increased in size without any regard for gross vehicle weight. No tank baffles and a higher center of gravity was a rollover waiting to happen!

Forget about stopping quickly; the extra weight made sure THAT wasn’t going to happen, but again, it was about saving money and not about safety.

Read the report. Carefully review the twelve (12) recommendations that were made.

After you read the report, ask yourselves if any of it resembles how you regard vehicle maintenance and if it does, then it’s time to get something done about it!

Ignoring problems won’t make them go away. It only makes for bigger problems and if you’re like my department, you won’t have enough money in the bank to cover it.

But, most importantly, you won’t have enough heartache, sorrow, tears or anger should it contribute to a fatality.

Here is a related, FireRescue1 article.


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1 comment:

  1. Art, If I only read the report I would probably agree with everything you wrote. Having said that I feel the need to tell you some facts that were omitted from it :
    1) The city fired the mechanics almost 30 years ago and put the brother of the Mayor in charge of maintenance
    2)Former Commisioner Pierce in the mid 90s reported to the city that the condition & maintenace of apparatus is lacking and without proper funding future safety will be questionable.
    3) the Motor Squad is only tasked with minor repairs, all other repairs are sent to city approved vendors
    4) Only recently have computers been installed and even still we have major issues with the computers constantly OOS
    There are others and yes both sides deserve some responsibility in the conditions but if you do some research on the present admin you will find a history of public attacks on all the unions of the city during contract negotiations.
    Even now as supervisory positions are being eliminated due to budget concerns (cities statement) we are hiring civilian personnel at the same pay grade ?
    I could go on but I won't. Remember there are always 2 sides to a story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.


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