The path to Al Curtis’ passion for safety began on Feb. 24, 2017, with a distracted young driver and a German Shepherd named Max.
Curtis, who is director of fleet management for Cobb County, Ga., was taking Max out for a walk when a young woman — with headphones on and a phone in her hand — started backing her vehicle toward Curtis and his dog.
“I had been seeing it day in and day out driving back and forth to work,” Curtis said. “Everybody’s got their phones in their hands, not really paying attention to what’s in front of them.”
Curtis and Max were able to avoid getting hit by the vehicle, but the incident heightened Curtis’ interest in the safety of his fleet. He started a safe driving campaign at his own fleet, showing a determination to tackle new challenges as they come up.
Curtis’ work in safety is one of several factors that led to his peers honoring him with the Legendary Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the public fleet industry. His other accomplishments include being the first government fleet in the state to deploy electric vehicles, leadership in fleet and clean energy groups, and a willingness to share his knowledge to benefit the industry.
Sponsored by Sourcewell, the award recognizes one member of the Public Fleet Hall of Fame for lasting industry contributions. Fleet professionals selected the winner through online voting.
The Military and Beyond
Before his time at Cobb County, Curtis started out as a vehicle parts clerk in the Army, which he described as a job like that of a service writer. He moved up to become a motor pool sergeant, overseeing several technicians and their preventive maintenance work.
“In the Army, when dealing with the motor pool fleet, it’s all about readiness,” Curtis said. He wrote status reports every week on when vehicles in the repair shop would be back in service. He served from 1985 to 1993 and spent time helping prepare for Operation Desert Shield before retiring as a staff sergeant.
After the service, Curtis entered the private sector, selling auto parts. There, he became passionate about sales and communicating with people.
Then 16 years ago he was hired as business manager for Cobb County. He oversaw the fleet department’s finances, and he went on to become interim, then permanent, fleet director.
Recent Activity: Strong Focus on Safety
Soon after the dog-walking incident, Curtis began implementing fleet safety initiatives. His department held an event featuring a distracted driving simulator.
In the simulator, employees sat in the vehicle with a phone in their hand. The vehicle would encounter simulated potholes, pedestrians, and other distractions that drivers had to navigate while looking at their phones.
“None of them could do it effectively,” Curtis said. “Each time they would run over somebody or hit something, a police officer would give them a mock citation.”
Attendees could wear virtual reality goggles and play distracted driving games on a tablet. “We had a lot of things going on to really push the distracted driving piece hard,” Curtis said. “We actually put four wrecked cars on the road with distracted driving signs…to let them know [that by] driving distracted, this is what could happen.” At the event, employees signed a pledge to not drive distracted.
Initiative Sustainability Projects
At Cobb County, Curtis implemented environmentally friendly initiatives that he learned in the private sector, such as selling waste oil instead of paying others to dispose of it.
His environmental interest extended to alternative-fuel vehicles, and the county’s fleet of more than 2,700 vehicles and equipment includes biodiesel, propane, flex-fuel, and electric vehicles (EVs).
Curtis deployed what he believes to be the first EVs in a government fleet in the state and is known as a go-to speaker regarding EV implementation. He has spoken about EVs at Duke University, at an Ohio chapter meeting of the Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association, at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference, and at webinars.
His department plans to add about 15 more electric vehicles and 10 charging stations this year.
As the award is voted on by the industry, leadership in local groups and partnerships with industry suppliers have helped put his name on the map.
“My name has been out there for a while, through my work with NAFA and Government Fleet,” he said.
Curtis serves on the board of his local Clean Cities chapter. He conducts seminars for members of the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, including serving as a key speaker about adopting EVs for the group’s tri-city tour. Curtis is also Atlanta chapter chair of the NAFA Fleet Management Association, where he was charged with increasing engagement and membership — a goal that so far seems to be successful.
Among his partnerships is one with T-Mobile. A successful, 300-vehicle telematics deployment led the company to film a commercial with the fleet operation, spreading Curtis’ and his fleet’s name even further.
With every article, presentation, or even commercial, Curtis hears from other fleet operations in the nation wanting more information. And with Curtis’ friendly nature and willingness to share what he’s learned, that may be his biggest contribution to the industry.