Houston firefighters claim broken trucks risk lives

HOUSTON – Houston firefighters say they are being forced to use broken equipment while fighting fires in our city and it is endangering lives.

Alvin White, the president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Union, made the statement to Channel 2 Investigates on Tuesday.

“This is not acceptable. We do not like it,” White said.

A fire truck at station 74 has water leaking from it at about a gallon a minute and requires a hose to be connected when the engine isn’t in use, White said. The engine, which Channel 2 observed leaking, could be out of water when it is needed for a fire if the hose wasn’t connected except during runs, he said.

In another example, firefighters snapped a photo of a 2x4 being used at an angle to keep an overhead radio in place.

A photo given to Channel 2 shows how firefighters used duct tape to fix an air-conditioning problem overhead in a different truck. Tape goes for several feet overhead around air-conditioning vents.

“They had the duct tape around there to hold those vents in place and to cut down on the water condensation from the units,” White said.

Another example, White said, was when engine 60 was responding to an apartment fire with reports of children trapped July 30 near Fondren Road and Bellerive Drive in southwest Houston.

This fire truck heading to the scene was supposed to provide water to another truck, but it had problems while heading to the call.

“They have a malfunction where it stays in one gear so they had to pull the engine over, turn the batteries off, and restart it. This happened two times enroute to this fire. They were the ones who were supposed to run (water) lines,” he said.

For a period of time, another fire truck was without water until truck 60 arrived, White said.

Truck 60 had been in the shop several times before for very similar issues, he said.

“This is a safety issue,” White said. “It affects citizens’ safety and the firefighters that are out there.”

In a written statement, the Houston fire department said city budget cuts mean the city keeps trucks longer and they require more maintenance.

The city’s statement said:

“In 2011, the City of Houston consolidated all fleet operations into one central Fleet Management Division (FMD).

The Houston Fire Department is a quasi-client of the FDM so it would be irresponsible for us to comment on another department’s operations except to say, due to decade old revenue cap, we are keeping fires trucks longer, increasing maintenance, and may increase out-of-service time of front-line units. We have a strong relationship with FMD, so we encourage our firefighters to continue their due diligence and report fleet issues. We would like to thank (the fire union) for the strong partnership and working with administration in helping us continue to provide the highest degree of customer service to our citizens, while providing for the safety of firefighters.”

White says the fire department should have dedicated mechanics that work only on fire trucks.

He does not believe having a central Fleet Management Division best serves the department.

“The same mechanics that work on a fire truck also work on a garbage truck,” he said. “The trucks are very different.”

If you have a tip about this story or another story idea for investigative reporter Jace Larson, email or text him at jlarson@kprc.com or 832-493-3951.