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Special Report: Fresno Fire's Aging Fleet
In 2009, the Fresno Fire Department lost one-fifth of its employees and shut down six engine companies when the economy collapsed and many city departments had to slash their budgets. Five years later, crews are worried about the toll of those cuts on some of their biggest pieces of equipment - and on the people in charge of fixing them.
Dave Aguilar is one of four mechanics in the department. He says the shop is short-staffed, and his biggest fear is having equipment break down at the scene of a fire or one the way to one. He says, "You gotta make sure that the engines and trucks stay on the road and not have a major breakdown going to a medical aid or to a structure fire."
The mechanics sometimes work round-the-clock to maintain the fire departments fleet of 16 engines, four ladder trucks, support vehicles and other equipment, including pumps and oxygen tanks. They say they're so busy fixing problem that they're sometimes unable to work on avoiding future ones.
"We're constantly fixing what's breaking," says spokesperson Koby Johns. "We can't do preventative maintenance...Just because we're behind the eight ball, so to speak."
There's a big concern over the wear and tear of the fleet's ladder trucks. One is nine years old and has almost 80,000 miles on the odometer. The 50-foot long, 40-ton vehicles aren't designed to go on roughly 3,000 calls a year - most of them medical.
During last week's state of the city address, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin touted investment in the department. The next budget will fund four new engines, a ladder truck, a water tender, and two smaller support trucks. It also includes money for two more mechanics.
The mayor says, "We know we need to increase the number of firefighters and frankly, if there are additional resources, then that's the priority. To extend the number of firefighters on duty at any given time."
Workers would like to see a ratio of one mechanic per five pieces of equipment. When you add up all the trucks, engines and other department tools, that equates to ten mechanics. They don't think funding for that many will come anytime soon.