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EXCLUSIVE: More Issues With Philadelphia Fire Department's Fleet

By Matt Rivers

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Eyewitness News has obtained a memo over safety concerns sent to members of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Engine 45's brakes go out while driving, its driver pulling the emergency brake to get it to stop. Eight hours earlier, the medic unit from the same fire house is towed away, unusable after transmission problems. And on May 22nd, a Philadelphia truck enforcement police officer tells officials at the firehouse one of their engines is unusable. Its tires suspect to blow out at any moment.

The sources that told Eyewitness News about those problems say they are merely symptoms of a department-wide issue. Fire trucks and medic units that are old and break down too often.

Firefighter Union President Joe Schulle agrees.

"The condition of the fleet has never been this bad."

The union provided us with two months of maintenance records from July to September of last year. During that 60 day period, individual fire trucks and medic units were placed out of service 56 times due to mechanical problems. And Schulle says, sometimes firefighters don't even report all issues.

"Even if front line apparatus, their main truck has deficiencies, they hold onto it because they know the reserve truck they're going to get is in worse condition."

It's all the result of an aging fire department fleet, one that regularly uses vehicles with 250 thousand miles, all hard city miles.

Photos given to Eyewitness News show exposed engine wiring, heavy rust and cracks. The only solution here is for the city to buy new vehicles, but that's easier said than done.

"We recognize that there is solution that will pop up overnight, we recognize that you can't just go to the dealership and get ten new trucks and bring them in."

Still, the city's fleet department has requested $7 million to buy new equipment next year.

It's a start, but that budget still has to get approval, and one fire engine alone can cost over $500 thousand.

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