Houston’s Mayor and Fire Chief are at odds with the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association over aging fire engines.
At one point last month, 22 units were in need of A/C repair as the city faced triple-digit temperatures, reported the Houston Chronicle. Last month, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association’s president, Marty Lancton, wrote a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner, stating that firefighters in bunker gear face heightened risk for heat exhaustion and illness without air conditioning.
But, in a statement, Fire Chief Sam Pena pointed out that staff members have been working on fixing A/C, and the city has updated the fleet, with increased replacement funding for fire equipment over the past year.
Since July 2018, the City of Houston has purchased and received 18 fire engines, two ladder trucks, and one tower apparatus. In the same time period, the city purchased 24 ambulances and seven incident command vehicles, as well as 10 emergency rescue/support units built on a Ford F-250 4x4 Crew Cab for transporting personnel and towing rescue/evacuation boats.
Fleet Management Director Vic Ayres told Government Fleet that, like many other government fleets, the city’s vehicle replacement budget comes from the general fund. But in recent years, the city fleet has received more funding than in the past.
“Since the mayor’s taken office, our budget has gone from $20 million in the general fund to $30 million. And that’s the budget. That doesn’t include supplemental funding that may be available depending on how the revenue’s coming in. So we’ve basically been able to increase the fire department funding from a sporadic funding methodology to where they’re getting just over $10 million a year for equipment. And that has been hugely successful in helping us address some of the issues that we’ve been confronted with,” Ayres explained.
Harry Hayes, chief operating officer for the city, pointed to the upcoming mayoral elections as part of the motivation for this conflict between the union and the mayor. Several mayoral candidates have already spoken on the city’s fire department fleet.
To ensure vehicles were repaired with minimal downtime, the city’s Fleet Management Department contracted with two outside vendors to assist fleet staff in making A/C repairs during evenings and weekends.
“When the first instinct is to blame the mayor with no regard for the hardworking city of Houston fleet management employees working nights and weekends to fix AC in HFD apparatus, you know this is not air conditioning,” Mayor Sylvester’s Press Secretary Mary Benton tweeted shortly after the letter was released.
As of last week, A/C repairs were still in progress.