Government Fleet Top News

Kansas City Fire Truck Involved in Fatal Accident Had Bad Brakes

December 29, 2004

KANSAS CITY, MO — Some Kansas City Council members said December 23 they wanted to know why a fire pumper with improperly adjusted brakes was in use when it was involved in a fatal accident, according to the Kansas City Star newspaper.Acting captain Gerald McGowan, 57, became the 100th Kansas City firefighter killed in the line of duty when the pumper crashed into a tree in early September. Four others were injured. A police report, obtained by the Kansas City Star on December 15, said the truck's brakes were "out of adjustment" and that the 35,400-lb. pumper could have stopped 70 feet before hitting the tree if they had worked properly.Assistant City Attorney Alan Holtkamp told the Star that the Kansas City Fire Department expected to be involved in litigation because of the accident, so the city would not allow employees or officials to comment on the report. Pumper 33 was headed to a fire just before 5 p.m. Sept. 5 when a car turned left in front of it. According to police reconstruction of the accident, the truck was traveling at 51 mph. Its driver braked as the pumper struck the car's left front corner. As the driver continued to brake, the pumper skidded 129 feet across the asphalt, striking a stopped car nearly head-on along the way. It then slid off the street and across 95 feet of grass before hitting a large tree.The driver of the first car, 37-year-old woman, was unharmed, but she has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving while her license was revoked. The police report noted that even if the truck's brakes had been properly adjusted, it could not have avoided hitting the woman's car. Prosecutors said the brake troubles were not relevant to their case against the woman, who told police she did not see or hear the fire truck approaching."When a driver puts an accident into motion by failing to yield and turning in front of a fire truck, they become responsible for anything that happens in that accident," said spokesman John Liebnitz. "The driver is responsible for all foreseeable and nonforeseeable consequences." The police report said that if the pumper had been considered a commercial vehicle, it "would have been in violation" of federal law and "placed out of service," meaning it would have to be repaired before returning to service. Government vehicles are exempt from commercial vehicle inspection.The fire department has said it has two employees who perform most repairs, but some work such as transmission and brake jobs, is done by outside shops. This is not the first time questions have arisen about maintenance of Kansas City Fire Department vehicles, according to the Kansas City Star.City Auditor Mark Funkhouser warned in a 1991 report that there wasn't adequate preventive maintenance and vehicles were too old. A 1995 audit found that little had changed. In 1996, so many of the fire department's aerial trucks had mechanical and safety problems that the department used a 30-year-old truck that had been mothballed.

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