City of Pittsburgh forced to purchase used fire trucks, respond to fires in SUV

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh’s aging fire trucks are in such bad shape that the city has now been forced to buy used trucks from local volunteer fire departments.

It’s a potentially critical problem that could impact your safety.

Rick Earle discovered that a controversial decision to cancel a fire truck order last year is now having an impact on the failing fleet.

Earle: Have you seen this?

Anthony Coghill, Pittsburgh City Council: What is that, the old truck that we just bought?

Earle: Yes.

Coghill: How many years old is it?

Earle: 25.

Earle showed Coghill a Facebook post from the Emsworth Volunteer Fire Company that contains a picture of the 1998 American LaFrance engine that served the Borough of Emsworth for over 20 years.

The Facebook post indicates that the truck is now “onto its next life with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.”

Earle: I’m assuming this truck is going into the Pittsburgh Fire History Museum?

Coghill: Yea, it’s going down to the Carnegie Science Center. No, it’s a serious problem.

The problem is so serious that the city has had to resort to buying used engines from volunteer departments. So far, they’ve purchased two. The city doesn’t have enough working fire trucks, so when one goes down, there’s no backup.

It’s a difficult predicament for a 630-member paid fire department.

Earle: Is this a little bit embarrassing?

Ralph Sicuro, Pittsburgh Fire Fighter Union President: Well, I wouldn’t say embarrassing. It’s a necessity when you have this lack of following a good plan of action to be able to replace our apparatus.

But the previous administration said they did have a plan.

Former Mayor Bill Peduto approved the purchase of three engines, with plans to buy two more trucks, but the Union balked at the purchase, claiming that the trucks didn’t meet the specifications needed to survive the hilly Pittsburgh terrain and the rugged winter weather.

The Peduto administration disagreed, saying that while not the top of the line, they would do just fine.

Peduto authorized the purchases, and the city ordered the trucks. But when Peduto lost the election, the new administration canceled the entire order.

Earle: If you had ordered them, you’d have them?

Sicuro: First of all, that would have absolutely had brought things in today, but they would not have lasted. They would not have been able to allow us to complete our mission. These were subpar apparatus.

After canceling the order last year, the city placed a new order for four new pumpers and two ladder trucks.   But City Controller Michael Lamb said the city waited too long to place the new order.

“I’m not sure the cancellation was the problem, the problem was when they canceled, they didn’t order. They should have, they should have stepped up right at that moment and ordered new equipment,” said Lamb.

And now those ladder trucks won’t be in until July and Pumper trucks until next April, nearly a year away.

At times during the past couple of months, there have been no spare pumpers.

So when one goes down, firefighters have had to respond to calls in an SUV and wait for a pumper from a nearby station.

Earle: Is this a public safety crisis?

Sicuro: It is a crisis and the fact that if we don’t act, and we don’t develop a purchasing plan, remember, this is two years plus before we are going to get new apparatus in, so. Every day we allow this to go by without figuring out a plan and funding it, we’re going to be in a bigger problem.

Sicuro is now urging the city of Pittsburgh to implement an annual purchasing plan so this doesn’t ever happen again.

“We have to take action soon by getting an order in place, getting it paid for, and moving on to the next one to the next one, year after year, in order to replace the fleet, we currently have and have enough proper spare apparatus for when things go down,” said Sicuro.

“We need the administration to step up, pull the trigger.  Let’s get a plan to renew this equipment because I said the next two years is going to be difficult. We’re going to be seeing more purchases like this,” said Lamb.

Councilman Coghill, who sits on the Equipment Leasing Authority that’s responsible for purchasing fire trucks and all other city vehicles, said he hears the message, loud and clear.

“We see the need. The administration sees the need as well. It’s a matter of finding the right monies in order to up the fleet.  It’s going to be costly.  It’s going to be tough decisions to be made by council, but to me, nothing’s more important than getting our public safety from point A to point B,” said Coghill.

Even with the addition of the two used fire trucks, Sicuro called it a band-aid solution.

Controller Lamb said the city will likely be forced to buy more used fire trucks just to get by until the new trucks come in.

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