Situated about 30 miles west of Chicago is the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Illinois.
Named the 2023 No. 1 small fleet for the Leading Fleets Award, the Forest Preserve runs an active and efficient fleet of approximately 350 on- and off-highway vehicles.
Innovative Power Solutions and Electric Vehicle Integration
A significant achievement within DuPage’s fleet operations involved the activation of solar arrays on the facility building, generating an estimated surplus of 110% of the power requirements. Complementing this initiative, the installation of two solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations on the premises marked a pivotal step towards sustainability.
These stations seamlessly integrate with the solar arrays, reflecting the organization's commitment to green energy practices. As part of this transformation, the fleet welcomed the incorporation of two all-electric Ford E-Transit cargo vans, signifying the introduction of work truck EVs to the fleet. Anticipation surrounds the imminent arrival of two Ford Lightning pickup trucks by year-end, strategically expanding the EV fleet.
DuPage is currently working on increasing its safety training department — currently a part of the fleet — to provide a hands-on driver training refresher course for all district employees. Driver training is already mandatory for all new employees during their first week of employment, which Webster stated has dramatically decreased vehicle incidents.
“Our goal when we took over the district’s safety and training department was to dramatically reduce the number of incidents and injuries reported every year,” Webster explained. “This will improve the health and safety of the employees and help reduce liability costs for the agency.”
Additionally, as new equipment is acquired, all operator training sessions are being recorded to compile into an online library resource for all departments to reference to help with their new employee training and to provide periodic refresher training to seasoned employees.
Addressing supply chain disruptions, Public Safety & Services Assistant Director Michael Webster, CAFM, BCFP explained that a universal challenge amongst fleets is the ability to order and receive all of the vehicles and equipment replacements that are needed.
“Supply chain issues and production delays by the vehicle manufacturers are still a constant challenge,” Webster stated, adding that small vehicle allocations are pushing off their replacement vehicles, potentially driving up maintenance costs from keeping existing trucks much longer than expected.
Furthermore, he adds that the absence of governmental incentives and preferences has hurt fleet budgets with fleets required to be fast to respond to open order banks with vehicle manufacturers as there may only be open for 24 hours at most before closing.
“Traditional bidding is too time-consuming to react this quickly so we’ve resorted to using more national co-ops like Sourcewell to speed up our ordering process,” Webster noted. “Our Finance Department and Board of Commissioners have a good understanding of the current state of affairs and have been supportive of our changing purchasing procedures”
Standing Out as a Team and Keys to Efficient Leadership
Webster believes the fleet distinguishes itself through its commitment to conservation and the environment. As a forest preserve, the operation is dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint across multiple facets, extending beyond vehicles alone.
An impressive 95% of their on-road fleet utilizes alternative fuels such as E85, Biodiesel, LPG, CNG, hybrids, or EVs. Moreover, all off-road diesel-powered equipment within their possession operates on biodiesel. Initiatives to promote environmental sustainability include the adoption of biobased synthetic motor oil, transmission fluid, and parts cleaner in their workshop, contributing to a more eco-friendly approach.
Notably, they have also commenced the procurement of Goodyear soy-based tires for law enforcement vehicles, with plans to extend usage to work trucks as additional sizes of these tires become available.
When it comes to leadership among the team, Webster sees this as a responsibility to provide a safe work environment while also providing the tools needed to perform all tasks required of a large fleet operation and ensuring the employees receive continuing education to stay on top of a quickly-evolving field.
As Webster points out, technicians have to continually train to keep up with new advancements such as electric vehicles, EPA changes in the use of refrigerants, and be able to diagnose ever more complex vehicle computer systems.
“It is leadership’s role to hire skilled technicians and let them do their job without micromanaging while taking the time to show staff appreciation and understanding of the difficult nature of their job,” Webster explained. “Senior leadership and elected officials play a role in approving the policies and budgets that allow fleet management to do the job of effectively managing all the varied fleet assets.”