By Chris Mc Loone
The Boston (MA) Fire Department experienced a tragedy on January 9, 2009, when Ladder 26’s brakes failed as it traveled down a hill—eventually reaching a speed of 57 miles per hour—ultimately crashing into a building and killing Lieutenant Kevin Kelley. Initial investigations after this line-of-duty death revealed myriad deficiencies in the department’s fire apparatus maintenance program—both at the fleet level and the company level. Since that time, the department has been going through an evolution. It has been a process to bring the department’s fleet to a point where it is what Lieutenant Jim O’Brien considers “mission-capable.”
Deputy Chief Robert Calobrisi, O’Brien, and consultant Ralph Craven took the stage on the second day of the 2017 FDSOA Apparatus Symposium to discuss where the department’s apparatus fleet was, where it is now, and how it is now going through a significant transition at the fleet maintenance level.
In what Calobrsi described as a “terror ride,” Ladder 26 accelerated to 57 miles per hour in approximately 20 seconds before striking a building, coming to a stop four to six feet in the building. One firefighter on the rig had fastened his seat belt, and only after being told to brace himself because it became evident the truck was going to crash.
As with any process, there will be bumps along the road. After an investigation into the state of the fleet and maintenance procedures, the department began to overhaul the fleet. However, the trucks it was building weren’t appropriate for Boston. They were too big. And, maintenance had not gotten any better. The department laid out a plan for its fleet based on standardization, reliability, accessibility, maneuverability, operability, and braking power.
With support from the mayor and fire commissioner, the department underwent a maintenance division assessment, which is when O’Brien came into the picture.
Craven had initiated a two-phase plan for the fleet. In the second phase, he conducted a shop review. After the shop review, the department determined that its fleet maintenance division required an overhaul as well that included uniform oversight. O’Brien has taken on that role. Since taking charge of the fleet and its maintenance division, the department has added new ladders and has placed an order for new engines. At the fleet management level, he has instituted a system approach, with clear goals. “If you goals are clear,” he said, “you can more easily determine if you are reaching them.”
O’Brien admitted that it is all still a work in process. Having a fleet maintenance division that is supporting the fleet means that the fleet can support the mission of the fire department.
For more information on the Boston apparatus replacement program and fleet management changes, visit http://www.fireapparatusmagazine.com/articles/print/volume-21/issue-10/features/creating-a-mission-capable-fleet.html.