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Review slams Boston Fire's 'loosey-goosey' approach to firetruck maintenance
By Donovan Slack, Globe Staff
The Boston Fire Department has for years employed a "loosey-goosey approach" to "virtually all areas of fleet management," failing to perform adequate preventive maintenance on fire trucks, keeping shoddy records of repairs, and relying on a staff of insufficiently trained firefighters without such fundamental knowledge as how often oil changes are recommended by manufacturers, according to an outside review.
The review by a Maryland-based fleet-management consultant also concluded that firefighters who drive the trucks are inadequately trained and do not complete sufficient daily inspections of the trucks. Overall, the department suffers from a lack of defined policies and procedures for maintenance, repair, and procurement of city fire trucks.
"The current business culture or philosophy in the Maintenance Division simply is not one that emphasizes objectivity, precision, thoroughness, accountability, economic efficiency, or myriad other goals or values that characterize a technically rigorous approach to management," the consultant, Paul T. Lauria, wrote in a report of his review.
The review was commissioned after a fatal fire truck crash in January was blamed on brake failure.
In his 19-page report, Lauria recommends the department immediately hire a fleet safety coordinator and develop a preventive inspection procedure for the department's 57 front-line fire trucks and two dozen backup vehicles. In addition, he recommends computerizing maintenance records and providing more training for firefighters who drive the trucks and those who maintain them.
Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser, who commissioned the review, said today that he agreed, in general, with the consultant's findings and has already taken steps to correct some of the problems. He is currently conducting interviews for a professional fleet manager and expects to hire licensed mechanics shortly to help the firefighters in the department's maintenance division who do not have the necessary technical knowledge.
"I commissioned this report because it is important to get at the ground truth of the problems with our maintenance process," Fraser said in a telephone interview. "While the report recognizes the progress we've made in the past couple of years, it points out the hard work we still need to do to bring about the systems and cultural reforms necessary."
Fire Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley was killed Jan. 9 when the fire truck he was riding in careered down a hill and slammed into an apartment building in Mission Hill. A review of maintenance records for the truck found that its brakes had not been inspected since March 2008, even though the truck's manufacturer recommends inspections every three months.
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.