During natural disasters, fleet vehicles have to be up and running to respond. That's when early preparation and an effective fleet preventive maintenance program become essential.
In the first week of February alone, nearly eight inches of rain fell on the City of Napa, Calif. Add rain amounts from the three weeks before that and the total surpasses 20 inches. Considering that the average precipitation for that area in January is a little over four inches, that’s a lot of rain — nearly five times the typical amount, in fact.
The impact of the weather has been significant. In addition to flooding, the storms resulted in downed trees and rockslides and mudslides. “Napa sits in a valley, and the hills surrounding our city just can’t take any more water. They’re falling apart,” said Jose Gallardo, City of Napa fleet manager. “Every hour a new road is closed.”
As streets flooded, storm drains clogged, and downed trees blocked roadways, the city’s fleet came to the rescue.
Fleet to the Rescue
The City of Napa fleet manages and maintains the 390 pieces of equipment that allow the Fire, Police, Public Works, and Parks and Recreation departments to do their jobs. While the Fleet Division supports the day-to-day operations of city departments, when emergencies happen, the division is a critical component of the response team.
“When bad weather strikes, crews are out there taking care of the public, and they need fleet equipment to do their jobs. The equipment is a key part of the emergency response,” Gallardo said. “Traditionally, people think about the Police and Fire departments handling emergencies, but when it comes to a situation like this, Public Works and Parks crews are ‘first responders,’ too, removing trees and clearing waterways to get our city back to normal. Our equipment helps minimize the impact of the weather and minimize the impact to public safety.”
Following the massive rain and resulting damage, Napa’s fleet units were put to work. Backhoes removed branches from creeks. Hydro-excavators removed soil from blocked areas. Sweepers removed leaves and debris caught in storm drains. And smaller vehicles such as half-, three-quarter-, and one-ton trucks hauled and delivered barricades to block streets and divert traffic around flooded areas. Without this equipment at work, the city would be crippled. Fortunately, Gallardo’s team is diligent about keeping equipment in tip-top shape, so it was ready to do the job at hand.
“We have a robust preventive maintenance (PM) program that ensures all of our vehicles are ready for emergencies. So when issues arise, our customers have the vehicles and equipment they need to respond,” Gallardo said.
The strong PM program has played a part in flood recovery. According to Public Works Street Maintenance Division Manager Jeff Folks, so far the city has issued 24,000 sandbags and 200 tons of sand to the public.
“Yesterday, 54 field personnel and three staff office personnel received and responded to over 200 service calls,” Folks said. “In a situation like this, our city needs heavy equipment available to perform street maintenance, things like unplugging storm drains, removing debris from creeks, and servicing flooded areas, to keep the public safe. Because our equipment is kept in great shape, it’s ready to go exactly when it’s needed.”
Gallardo said every piece of equipment is essential. For instance, the Fire Department uses a ladder truck, which is instrumental during rescue efforts. When an asset like that breaks down, Gallardo knows the consequences can be dire. Fortunately, breakdowns don’t happen often, but when they do, staff members know to get critical units back on the road as soon as possible.
A responsible and responsive shop keeps equipment capable — and telematics devices help get them to the job. “By using telematics, we know exactly where equipment is located and can deploy it where it is needed,” Gallardo said.
While the equipment certainly gets put to good use, particularly following severe weather, it can get beaten up on the job. “Sometimes vehicles return in bad shape when they’re deployed to a flooded area,” Gallardo said. “We had one truck that was used in a flooded area; water reached the differentials, requiring us to bring it in and drain and replace the fluid.”
Equipment for Emergency Prep
Although equipment is on the scene 24/7 during emergencies, the fleet division’s preparedness allows it to maintain regular hours — 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. “We’re getting the job done despite the huge workload resulting from the storms,” Gallardo said. “We don’t have to work overtime because we take a proactive and efficient approach to our work. That’s because we don’t wait until issues arise. Our vehicles are already serviced and in good condition when they’re needed.”
The division has seven full-time fleet employees, including four mechanics, one supervisor, one administrative role, and one fleet manager. The fleet also employs a part-time staff member.
On top of the division’s dedication to preventive maintenance, it is also focused on quick turnaround of maintenance and repairs. A vehicle won’t sit waiting to be repaired. Gallardo said the city’s fleet management software and telematics devices help staff identify problems when they occur. And when that happens, the shop is on alert — ready with the right parts and an available technician before the vehicle even arrives. They turn it around immediately.
“We call ourselves a NASCAR operation — we view our shop like a pit stop,” Gallardo explained. “We make sure our fleet is tuned up and ready to roll, and we’re eager to get equipment fixed ASAP. In fact, no vehicles stay here overnight; if we have parts available, we try to turn them around the very same day. We always make sure our customers have the equipment to do their jobs.”
The fleet division also gets help from its customers to manage the condition of the fleet. “Our operators do pre- and post-trip inspections using automated vehicle inspections, which are directly reported to our shop via the web; therefore, we always know the condition of a vehicle before it carries out its mission. That also helps the city to be ready in emergency conditions,” Gallardo said. “Engaged operators are definitely one of the keys to our success.”
Going Mobile for Emergency Response
Another tool in the fleet’s belt is its mobile maintenance truck, which is equipped with all the standard repair tools, a welder, torches, air, and even computers with diagnostic software.
“With our mobile maintenance truck, we can find and fix equipment ASAP,” Gallardo said. “It’s a state-of-the-art piece of equipment. It has everything it needs to truly be a mobile shop.”
The mobile service truck is especially helpful during storms, as it can be deployed straight to a piece of equipment for roadside repair. Without the time spent getting an asset to and from the shop, repair time is reduced dramatically. “The last time something like this happened, it only took an hour to repair it,” Gallardo said.
The mobile maintenance truck is helpful in non-emergency situations, too. The city has two water treatment plants in remote areas. When a piece of equipment needs to be serviced, the mobile repair truck can make the trip. “We have very little downtime thanks to this piece of equipment,” Gallardo said. “It definitely keeps our customers’ productivity up.”
Always Staying Ready
With any luck, the weather pattern will change and Napa will get a break from the rain — and all the damage that results from it. But with the fleet’s proactive approach to maintenance, one thing won’t change: when the next challenge arises, staff members will be ready.