HFD using trucks that were written off as total losses after Harvey

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

The city of Houston has been using fire trucks and the Houston Fire Department's support vehicles that were submitted as total losses on a FEMA grant application, following Hurricane Harvey.

Channel 2 Investigates uncovered the issue and witnessed the totaled vehicles on Houston streets, in fire stations across the city, and making emergency calls.

Channel 2 reporter, Joel Eisenbaum asked how a vehicle marked as a total loss could, at the same time, be in service.

“I was informed. I requested an audit. We got the audit and I sent it to our finance team and they’re notifying FEMA,” Assistant Chief Ruy Lozano said Thursday.

Lozano said the Houston Fire Department, reeling from Harvey equipment losses, had no other choice but to press the equipment back into service.

Ten so-called “zombie” trucks have been resurrected 

A FEMA representative told Channel 2 Investigates the discrepancy may not be the catastrophe some in city offices feared it could be.

"If repairs were made to simply give them a short extended life until the new equipment arrives and that is funded for another source, there is no issue," FEMA representative, Robert Howard, stated by email.

But the Houston Fire Department has rethought putting at least one of those trucks back into service, since Channel 2 Investigates started making inquiries earlier this week.

Reserve Engine 15, which was assigned as a replacement fire truck at the Denver Harbor fire station, was deemed unfit for service by a captain at Station 27.

“It was returned by the crew. It was unsuitable for front line use so we’ve now completely eliminated it from the fleet,” Lozano said.

Patrick Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, said totaled apparatus returned to service raises a number of concern, including firefighter safety and the public’s safety.

“If it’s not safe, it shouldn’t be on the road,” Lancton said.

The underlying issue of a lack of functioning, reliable Houston Fire Department vehicles, persists.

“We haven’t received any reimbursement,” Lozano said.

Here is a statement from HFD:

"Prior to the impact of Hurricane Harvey, HFD was struggling with challenges of an aging fleet, increasing repair costs and out of service time for emergency response apparatus. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, 28 vehicles from the HFD fleet were identified as needing replacement due to flood damage. However, due to the lack of adequate reserve fleet, this would have resulted in a negative impact on service delivery and response capacity. Since the FEMA reimbursement is a slow process, the city contractor, Tetrotech, advised that minor repairs could be made to vehicles listed for FEMA replacement if needed to remain operational. One of the units was an engine that was repaired to be used in reserve status until FEMA reimbursement would allow its replacement. However, due to the extent of the repairs that were made, the engine no longer qualified for FEMA replacement and has since been removed from the FEMA replacement list. The repairs made were in compliance with the NFPA 1911 standards for fire apparatus. However, even after repairs were made to return this 18 year old engine to reserve status, it has continued to experience mechanical issues, and the Fleet Maintenance Division has removed the unit from service completely. The department now has brought the reserve fleet back up to 8 reserve engines, so this will not affect the operational capabilities of the department. We have received updated information that any repairs made to a vehicle will disqualify it for FEMA replacement. Therefore, we have conducted an internal audit in conjunction with FMD and removed a total of 10 vehicles from the FEMA replacement list to fully comply with FEMA requirements. The 10 vehicles removed include the aforementioned engine company, 2 boats, and 7 light-duty support vehicles."