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3 more fire vehicles pulled out of service

Roxbury station left without ladder truck

By Eric Moskowitz and Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / January 15, 2009
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With a number of Boston firetrucks temporarily out of service for inspections following a fatal accident last week, the department was forced to leave a Roxbury firehouse without a ladder truck last night after new concerns emerged about the condition of some active vehicles.

In addition to the systematic inspection of all of the fleet's engines and ladder trucks initiated after the accident, the city pulled three vehicles last night because of concerns raised by a union maintenance consultant who examined them yesterday. Two engines were immediately replaced, but one ladder truck could not be replaced last night, because of a temporary shortage, a department spokesman said.

Just hours after the funeral for Lieutenant Kevin M. Kelley, the president of the firefighters union sent a written request to Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser seeking the immediate removal, inspection, and repair of Engine 21, Engine 18, and Ladder 6, at the advice of an outside consultant hired by the union.

Kelley died Friday when the firetruck he was a passenger in, Ladder 26, lost control on a steep Mission Hill side street, barreled across Huntington Avenue, and slammed into an apartment building, killing the 52-year-old father of three and 30-year department veteran and injuring three firefighters.

"Our expert said they are in immediate need of a full inspection and that they're not roadworthy," Edward A. Kelly, president of Local 718, said in an interview last night. Kelly said the union hired an emergency-vehicle specialist with roughly 40 years of experience investigating fire apparatus accidents and maintenance "to assist us and advise us in what direction we need to go to ensure our members are working safe and the citizens of Boston are safe."

In addition to a vehicle review, the commissioner instituted an internal review of the department's practices after discovering apparent gaps in the maintenance schedule for the fleet. The first ladder truck inspected after the accident had to be taken out of service Monday after mechanics discovered loose brake components.

All of the department's 33 frontline engine, or pumper, trucks, 23 frontline ladder trucks, and two rescue vehicles will be inspected over the coming weeks by outside garages, as will the replacement vehicles the department rotates into duty when frontline trucks are being serviced, said Steve MacDonald, a department spokesman.

Prior to the union concerns, the department, as of yesterday, had sent 11 vehicles out to be inspected since the accident. Six of them - three ladder trucks and three engines - immediately passed inspection, while five pieces were found to have issues that needed repairing - three ladder trucks and two engines. Three of those five vehicles are expected back today.

Because of those temporarily out-of-service vehicles, along with a reluctance to use replacement vehicles that had not yet been inspected, the department did not have enough vehicles to operate with a full frontline fleet last night after the union raised its new concerns, MacDonald said. Of the three vehicles that were pulled last night, Engine 21 was from the Columbia Road station and Engine 18 and Ladder 6 were from the Dorchester Avenue station.

Those three vehicles will be sent out for inspection and will be repaired today, he said. The two engines were actually replacement vehicles; the frontline engines for those two firehouses were restored to duty when the replacement vehicles were removed, MacDonald said.

However, due to inspections and repairs, the city had no additional ladder trucks ready to fill in for Ladder 6 last night, he said.

As a result, the city transferred a ladder truck from an area with denser firehouse coverage - in this case, Roxbury's Grove Hall neighborhood - to cover for the missing Ladder 6 in Dorchester's Peabody Square, MacDonald said, adding that the department takes the firefighters' concerns seriously.

"As the commissioner said, if our members report problems, they will be looked at and fixed," he said.

"If we have the firefighters that work on the apparatus report that there were problems with the vehicles again, we'll get them in the shop and do what it takes to get them fixed."

The union president said the accident and Kelley's death prompted the union to hire the consultant, Ralph Craven, who has nearly 40 years of experience working in fire apparatus maintenance and is a cofounder of the National Institute of Emergency Vehicle Safety.

The citywide inspection is unprecedented in recent memory. The Globe reported Tuesday that the department has relied almost solely on annual state-mandated inspections and done little in the way of preventive maintenance.

Ladder 26 had not had its brakes inspected for 10 months, even though the manufacturer, Florida-based E-ONE, recommends inspections every three months.

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