A deadly fire truck accident seven years ago triggered what was thought to be a major overhaul of the Boston Fire Department’s fleet maintenance division, but 5 Investigates has learned that promised overhaul has been an “abject failure,” according to a key safety expert.
The city made changes to the fleet maintenance division after the tragic crash in 2009 that killed Lt. Kevin Kelley. At that time the engines and ladders were not being maintained and were in very poor condition.
Now 5 Investigates has learned that the condition of the fleet is not any better and could be worse, and Boston Police are investigating possible corruption in the Fire Department.
In January 2009, Ladder 26 barreled down a hill, plowing through a major intersection with no brakes. The truck slammed into a building, killing Lt. Kelley and injuring two firefighters.
Investigators found brake failure caused by improper maintenance was partly to blame, and the accident exposed major flaws in the department’s vehicle maintenance program, flaws that put the safety of firefighters and the public at risk.
The city overhauled the Fleet Maintenance Division, replacing firefighters who were performing maintenance with licensed mechanics.
But a report obtained by 5 investigates calls that move an abject failure, suggesting the hard lessons from Lt. Kelley’s death have not been learned.
According to the report, daily inspections have been abandoned and preventative maintenance is in disarray, with some trucks more than 200 days past due on inspections.
In addition, the report found no one in the department knows how to use the computerized fleet management system and tests on engines to make sure they pump out enough water at the right pressure were not properly done.
“When you look at a total of 60,000 inspections or tests that were supposed to be done and that less than 500 were done that’s problematic,” said Boston Fire Department Commissioner Joe Finn, who launched a review after hearing about safety concerns from firefighters.
Richard Paris, president of the Boston Firefighters Union, said the condition of the department’s fleet is putting lives at risk.
Firefighters “are concerned when they go out the door,” Paris said. “Is that truck door going to open up? Am I going to have brakes? Can I stop at that red light? Will I get water when I show up to a building?”
The safety report found the maintenance department allowed one heat-damaged ladder truck to stay in service for a year, putting “firefighters and civilians at risk. The (fire department) dodged a bullet.'”
And there is also plenty of waste, according to the report. The department paid about $200,000 for a mobile repair truck that sat unused for years and machines to clean diesel parts with a price tag of $10,000 were bought in 2010, but never installed.
The report also questions the purchase of 22 engine trucks from the manufacturer KME even though problems with their motors were well known in the industry. Now Boston’s trucks are consistently out of service, “costing the city time and money,” the report found.
Many of those repairs were under warranty and fixed by Boston fire mechanics. But fleet safety director Peter Kakaridas admitted he never sent the manufacturer a bill so the city could be reimbursed.
Kakaridas resigned nine days before the report was finished.
“I was completely at my wits end as to why equipment was not up to snuff and why all these safety concerns were coming forward,” Commissioner Finn said.
“It’s a big risk for the person inside the building and our firefighters,” said Paris, the union president. “You can’t put a dollar sign on someone’s life.”
5 Investigates attempted to speak with Kakaridas, but our calls were not returned.
We also took a look at the maintenance division’s overtime, which cost taxpayers about $500,000 last year. The division’s second in charge raked in almost $89,000 alone.
5 Investigates has also learned a criminal investigation by the Boston Police Department is underway, focusing in part on overtime costs, payments to vendors and billing, missing property, and missing maintenance and inspection records.