Springs firefighters working with outdated fleet of vehicles

Posted at 10:56 PM, Jul 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-31 00:56:03-04

The busiest fire engine in all of Colorado Springs runs between 12 and 15 calls everyday.

It’s Engine 8, housed at Station 8.

Lt. Jason Buckingham is one of a four-firefighter crew assigned to work on the engine, which responds to just about all calls the department handles.

"They’ll run first out for all our medical calls. We’ll run hazardous material calls. They’ll run on motor vehicle accidents, and of course any type of fire, cause they’re carrying water," Buckingham said.

Engine 8 is also one of the oldest pieces of front-line apparatus the Colorado Springs Fire Department has. It was a custom build in 1996, which now has more than 300,000 miles on it.

The manufacturer no longer makes parts for the engine, because it’s so outdated. In fact, 16 of the department’s 43 front-line trucks and engines are outdated, according to standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

"Parts are tough to find. And then, of course, the older things get, the more stuff breaks, so you’re replacing more," Buckingham said.

That’s why the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters are pushing for a collective bargaining deal with the city. It would include an apparatus replacement plan to bring the department’s outdated fleet into the 21st century, like trucks with louder sirens, brighter lights and easier maintenance.

Engine 8 was recently sent to the shop for repair when mechanics discovered a hole in its fuel tank. Thankfully, city staff were able to create a new one, but that repair kept the engine out-of-service for even longer.

"And in that, that additional cost for making those parts obviously drives up the maintenance costs for the apparatus, and it also increases the amount of down time for the apparatus to get back into service," said David Noblitt, president of the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association.

It’s also an issue of firefighter safety, ensuring the men and women tasked with fighting fires can actually get to them.

"When we get in the 2016 aerial truck, we expect it to start every time and perform the way it’s supposed to perform," Buckingham said.

The department will receive a trio of new front-line trucks next year, but it will still leave some stations still working on outdated equipment.

"Even receiving the three additional apparatus are still going to put us five to six major pieces of equipment well behind their time frame, as far as replacement," Noblitt said.

Last week, Mayor John Suthers spoke against the collective bargaining proposal before the city council. He said he fears it would open the door for other city employees, like police officers and utility linemen, to ask for the same privileges without increasing city revenue.

Council is set to vote on the measure in its August 14 meeting. If it passes, Colorado Springs voters will decide the matter in the April 2019 election. If it doesn’t, the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters have already committed to a petition process to get onto the ballot.