Union president demands inspections on all city fire department vehicles

In the af­ter­math of an am­bu­lance fire that caused sig­ni­fic­ant dam­age to an Old City fire­house, the pres­id­ent of the Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics uni­on is call­ing for safety in­spec­tions to all city fire de­part­ment vehicles.

On Sept. 27, Med­ic Unit 44B, a fire de­part­ment-op­er­ated am­bu­lance based at Fourth and Arch streets, caught fire due to a mech­an­ic­al de­fect, ac­cord­ing to Joe Schulle, pres­id­ent of the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers and Para­med­ics Loc­al 22. The flames des­troyed the vehicle and forced the clos­ing of the fire sta­tion, which also houses En­gine 8 and Lad­der 2. No in­jur­ies were re­por­ted. The flames were de­clared un­der con­trol with­in minutes.

In a prin­ted state­ment, Schulle said the Med­ic 44B prob­lem was the latest in a series of mech­an­ic­al fail­ures in­volving Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment vehicles.

“Over the last few years, the mech­an­ic­al con­di­tion of the ma­jor­ity of vehicles in the fire de­part­ment fleet, both fire ap­par­at­uses and med­ic units, has reached a crit­ic­al point,” Schulle said. “Some units are us­ing ap­par­at­uses that are more than 20 years old. Many of the units are vis­ibly leak­ing oil, have sig­ni­fic­ant air leaks or have ser­i­ous sus­pen­sion and brake prob­lems.

“Last week’s shock­ing and de­struct­ive in­cid­ent could have been far worse had the med­ic unit been re­spond­ing to an emer­gency or if a pa­tient had been in the med­ic unit. In either of those cases, we may have in­curred a loss of life.”

Schulle fur­ther stated, “This was merely the most re­cent of sev­er­al in­cid­ents that de­mand an im­me­di­ate safety in­spec­tion of the en­tire fire de­part­ment fleet. It is our po­s­i­tion that, due to the cur­rent dis­repair of many of the vehicles in the de­part­ment’s fleet, there is a sig­ni­fic­ant risk not only to our mem­bers, but also to the cit­izens of Phil­adelphia.”

In 2009, ac­cord­ing to the uni­on, En­gine 56 caught fire due to a mech­an­ic­al prob­lem, caus­ing sig­ni­fic­ant dam­age to the truck. In Novem­ber 2012, Lad­der 34 and Lad­der 31 col­lided due to brake fail­ure.

The May­or Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion re­portedly dis­missed the full-scale in­spec­tion de­mand as “bizarre,” “polit­ic­al” and “op­por­tun­ist­ic” on the part of the uni­on lead­er. Philly.com quoted an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial that “front-line” fire de­part­ment units are “looked at” four to five times an­nu­ally, and that fire ap­par­at­uses have an av­er­age age of nine years.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion and Loc­al 22 con­tin­ue to battle on mul­tiple con­trac­tu­al and leg­al fronts. Last month, the city ended its lengthy leg­al fight with the uni­on over a con­tract ar­bit­ra­tion cov­er­ing the peri­od from Ju­ly 2009 through June 2013. Now, the city and uni­on are in the midst of ar­bit­ra­tion for a new con­tract.

Mean­while, the uni­on has taken the city to court over the re­cent de­mo­tions of 14 fire de­part­ment su­per­visors who were pro­moted pur­su­ant to a court or­der last May. The uni­on has also been seek­ing to re­form hir­ing prac­tices, pro­mo­tion­al prac­tices, work sched­ules and dis­cip­lin­ary prac­tices em­ployed by the ad­min­is­tra­tion. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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