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DC Fire Department Still Has No Preventative Maintenance Program

The D.C. fire chief told the city council Monday the preventative maintenance program still consists of one guy, despite the 2013 audit that found the program to be woefully inadequate.

Interim FEMS Chief Edward Mills testified during a budget oversight hearing that aerial ladders are still poorly maintained and not up to industry standards, and over half of the city’s ambulances are out of commission.

“Without expanding our ability to this operate, this office cannot hope to keep pace with our growing city,” Mills said.

BDA Global, an independent consulting firm brought in to audit the agency said in the audit if they could identify only one issue to correct in FEMS it would be “the virtual absence” of a preventative maintenance program.

There are currently 98 ambulances in the city’s fleet, but just 49 of those are in service and many of those are “in a state of disrepair,” according to Mills, meaning it would cost more to give them the repairs needed than it would to buy new ones.

The vehicles have been in a state of disrepair for around 15 to 20 years and will only get worse without a serious investment in their upkeep.

In addition to the lack of ambulances, the city’s fire trucks are also in need of serious repair. A response to performance oversight questions from the city council found that just 29 of the city’s 63 pump trucks are certified for use and only 11 of the city’s 26 ladder trucks are certified.

The preventative maintenance program at FEMS consists of a single mechanic who travels to each fire station to change oil filters and identify any major problems. D.C. has 33 fire stations.

Virtually no one interviewed for the audit felt that the roving mechanic’s services were adequate, and said it “does not in any meaningful way adequately address the complex needs of a comprehensive PM program.”

Performing a real preventative maintenance program on a fire truck can take as long as a week.

“It is simply impossible to subject apparatus to the 24/7 beating that most FEMS vehicles endure, not maintain them, and then expect them not to break down,” the audit reads.

Mills said the department started a preventive maintenance program that includes inspection forms and training materials to build and refine the process, but it is hard to implement the program at current staffing levels.

The city’s busiest ambulances average 15 calls per day and spend about 16 out of 24 hours a day in service. Mills said sometimes call volume is so high, there are no ambulances available to respond to calls.

There is money set aside in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed 2016 budget to fund six new employees in the preventative maintenance system.

This funding will allow FEMS to “move in the right direction” to get a robust preventative maintenance program, and Mills said he wants to do “more sooner than later,” but it’s going to depend on how quickly new hires come in and start to work on vehicles that are currently out of service.

Mills attributed some of the issues facing FEMS to Obamacare causing an increase in emergency calls. He said the department saw a 17 percent increase in calls in 2014 over 2013, and current 2015 totals outpace 2014.

A lot of calls are coming from the same small number of people, Mills said. Less than 600 patients, or around one percent, were transported 10 or more times and accounted for 12 percent of transports in 2014. This puts the ambulances out of service for an increased period of time while drivers fill out paperwork at hospitals.

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