The Baltimore Fire Department will be able to replace many of the aging vehicles in its fleet, thanks to additional funding added to the city's 2024 fiscal year budget. The city council added around $3 million to the budget to improve the fleet of fire trucks, after the department shared about problems with its aging fleet earlier this year. The additional funding is part of a $5.4 million funding package given to the fire department by the council.
In January, Government Fleet reported that the fire department proposed three replacement options to the city council during budget hearings. That came after a report in December 2022 from the department that it was operating with 30% fewer fire engines than it needed to properly cover the city.
The president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association told the council's public safety and government operations committee that some of its stations were not permanently staffed, not due to staffing issues, but because the department didn't have enough fire apparatus for the stations.
Transitioning to a Healthy Fire Apparatus Fleet
In 2015, the fire department initiated an apparatus replacement initiative, with a goal of eventually having a fleet with all first-line engines and trucks being less than 10 years old and EMS transport units being less than three years old. A younger fleet would allow the department to have a longer life expectancy on its reserve fleet.
The National Fire Protection Association calls for a 10-year cap on front-line vehicles; WYPR reported that the fire department is using trucks for an average of 11.4 years.
"Anytime you get above that, you're subject to more vehicle breakdowns, maintenance repairs, and things of that nature, which can make operations a little bit challenging," Baltimore Fire Department Director of Communications Dep. Chief Kevin Cartwright said.
The city council increased the entire fleet replacement budget from $26 million annually to $35 million annually. A portion of that funding, $8.9 million, comes from the Department of General Services' leasing fund and will be used by the fire department. The added funding will allow the department to modernize its fleets, and will increase the number of assets purchased annually by 28.5% (based on the average asset cost), according to the budget.
"We are thankful for the mayor, city council, and board of estimates to have greatly considered the needs of the Baltimore Fire Department," Cartwright said. "We are a very progressive and very busy metropolitcan fire department. We respond to more than 325,000 fire emergency calls annually. So because of that, our units encounter quite a bit of needs for repairs. As a result of that, apparatus have been placed out of service periodically."
The department's goal is to have fire trucks on its first-line fleet that are no older than 10 years, and medic units that are no older than three to four years, Assistant Fire Chief of Support Services Christopher Caisse told Government Fleet.
Two new fire trucks that had previously been ordered were just delivered to the department. A few more trucks will be delivered this year, and the department will receive even more next year. Caisse said the department will achieve its fire apparatus vehicle age goal once those are delivered.
The department's first-line fleet is the youngest in the history of the department. It took several years for the department to catch up on fleet replacements, due to a lack of purchases during and after the Great Recession of 2008.
Minimizing the Effects of the Supply Chain Crisis
Cartwright added that the department has also faced delays in receiving fire apparatus and replacement parts due to supply chain constraints.
In addition to the increased funding, the Departments of General Services and Finance are collaborating to shorten the turnaround time for acquiring fleet assets by utilizing multi-year contracts for purchasing the equipment.
Medic units, fire engines, and fire trucks are at the top of the department's list of vehicles that need to be replaced.
Because of supply chain issues, the department has been forced to purchase used equipment while waiting for equipment that's on back-order. But the used equipment is better than continuing to use the aged apparatus the department already had, Cartwright explained.
"The ideal situation is to have brand new apparatus across the board. Fiscally, the resources are not there for us to be able to do that, but our goal is to maximize as much of the budget as we can," Cartwright said.