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Audit Of D.C. Fire Department Finds Fleet In 'Overall Poor Condition'

One of 30 new or refurbished ambulances purchased in late August 2013.
One of 30 new or refurbished ambulances purchased in late August 2013.

The fleet of 369 fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles used by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services is in "overall poor condition," according to a 200-page audit commissioned by the department in late July and published this week.

The request for the external audit came after a series of high-profile incidents earlier this year where ambulances weren't available for injured or ill patients, including a police officer hit by a motorcycle while on duty. In one incident, an ambulance caught fire while on a call; during one weekend, so few ambulances were functioning that the city was forced to contract out to cover a game at Nationals Park.

According to the audit, conducted by D.C.-based consulting firm BDA Global, the department's fleet is "aging, showing signs of excessive wear-and-tear, and in overall poor condition that is reflective of years of hard, urban emergency driving compounded by unstructured and deferred preventative maintenance and repairs."

The audit said that lagging and inconsistent replacement of vehicles, failure to conduct preventative maintenance and a maintenance shop that is disorganized and inefficient had contributed to the poor state of the fleet's vehicles.

The problems have grown so pervasive, says the audit, that the city's fleet availability rate ranges from 70 to 86 percent, under the 95 percent industry target.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander said in a statement that he would assess the report and work with the department to decide how to implements its recommendations. "The goal is to fully assess the report, then develop a comprehensive, transparent and measurable implementation strategy," he said.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, criticized the department in a statement.

“This audit report is an indictment of the management and maintenance of our Fire and Emergency Medical Services fleet — of our fire trucks and ambulances. The audit shows that there is not an accountable system to ensure that our fleet is repaired, accounted for and replaced," he said.

Wells will chair a hearing next week focusing on the audit's conclusions.

At a breakfast with the Council on Tuesday morning, Mayor Vincent Gray said that problems at the department date back close to two decades, and praised Chief Kenneth Ellerbe for taking them on. The audit seemed to confirm that the problems have been longstanding: during the first three years of Mayor Adrian Fenty's tenure, the purchase of new ambulances was below expected levels.

In late August Gray and Ellerbe announced the purchase of 30 new and refurbished ambulances.

As a means to bring the state of the city's fleet up to standard, the audit recommends a consistent schedule of replacements, with new ambulances being brought on every three years and fire trucks every seven years. From 2016 to 2019, that could cost the city between $10 and $20 million per year.

Ellerbe also said this morning that he hopes to revive a shelved plan that would change the duration and frequency of shifts worked by firefighters and emergency responders.


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