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Unreliable fire trucks force crews to shuttle to emergencies in SUVs

HOUSTON – The Houston Fire Department has resorted to shuttling firefighters to emergencies in SUVs because reliable fire trucks are increasingly becoming a rarity.

The fire department internal memo, describing the policy, was first released in 2013, but highlights a growing problem that poses a threat to public safety: not enough reliable equipment to outfit the city's fire department.

The memo, obtained by Channel 2 Investigates, is still in effect today, and describes the use of so-called "Manpower Units" when main apparatus is out of service for six hours or less.

Chief Sam Pena said last week in an interview with Channel 2's Joel Eisenbaum that switching from a broken fire truck to a presumably better-working reserve fire truck can make firefighters unavailable for emergency service for hours at a time.

"Manpower Units" are intended to condense the amount of time firefighters are unavailable for duty.

[READ: Houston Fire Department fire truck fleet reaching 'critical state,' chief says]

But the use of "manpower units"  has a number of drawbacks according to a firefighter, speaking on background: including firefighters arriving at fires without fire trucks.

Since Channel 2's investigation aired Tuesday, KPRC has received a number of photos and anecdotes from frustrated HFD firefighters illustrating more breakdowns, including two fire trucks that broke -- one wouldn't start, the other would not pump -- that were dispatched to the same fire.

Other crews were able to manage that small fire on Houston's northeast side.

In another incident, an ambulance broke down and was unable to respond to a cardiac arrest call, according to a department source not authorized to speak on the matter.

Another ambulance responded, the source said, but the patient's fate is unknown at this time.

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