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Houston Fire Department fire truck fleet reaching 'critical state,' chief says

HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department’s fire truck fleet is “reaching a critical state,” according to the fire chief.

“It's already affecting our availability. It's already affecting our response times,” Chief Sam Pena said.

Channel 2 Investigates found cases of aging fire trucks breaking down on the way to emergencies, and in one case, catching fire at a fire station.

Across the entire fleet, fire trucks marked active in pumpers, boosters, ladders and towers categories have an average age of 8.7 years.

But the oldest third of the Houston Fire Department’s active fire trucks, including pumpers, boosters, ladders and tower trucks, average 14.1 years old, according to data provided by the Houston Fire Department.

Maintenance costs on the 56 trucks average $14,206 per year.

Channel 2 Investigates found 14 of the fire trucks have ever-growing lifetime maintenance costs that have already exceeded their original purchase prices.

“We're talking about apparatus, that by any standard in public safety, would have been discarded years ago,” Patrick Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, said.

Pena said he believes the average useful life of an "engine" type truck to be about 12 years, but the city of Houston has pegged useful service life at roughly 15 years.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council determine how many fire trucks to buy each year, with recommendations from the fire chief.

This year the city of Houston has allocated money for seven trucks, including four engines and three ladder/tower trucks.

The Houston Fire Department had asked for eight engines and three ladders.

“Engine” type fire trucks cost upward of $500,000. “Ladder” type trucks cost upward of $860,000.

“It's important not just to talk about the problems but the solutions," Turner told Channel 2 Investigates. "We all recognize we have an aging fleet, which in time could affect public safety, but these things just do not come without a cost."

The mayor said that increasingly expensive maintenance costs for older truck, presently, are still cheaper than buying new trucks.

“What's the cost going to be when people lose their lives? That's what I want to know,” Lancton said.
       
Ambulances

Channel 2 Investigates also examined the state of the Houston Fire Department’s ambulance fleet. An ambulance chassis and a “patient transport box” are purchased separately.  A “box” typically outlives a chassis.  

The expected useful life of a “box” is 10 years, according to the city, but the average age of the “box” fleet is 13.4 years, according to data provided by the City of Houston. The ambulance chassis fleet average is 6.3 years. Estimated life span of a chassis is three years.

 

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Across the Houston Fire Department’s ambulance fleet, the city has spent $9.7 million while maintenance costs have exceeded $13.4 million.     

 

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