Dallas firefighters to rent trucks as resources continue to run low

The Dallas Fire Department plans to rent trucks by the end of the month because it does not have enough working vehicles in its fleet.

The two leased ladder trucks could arrive as early as this week to help cover nine trucks that still need repairs due to mechanical issues or damage sustained in crashes, according to Dallas Fire Chief Dominique Artis. The department uses seven older trucks usually stored in reserve to help respond to emergency calls.

Supply chain issues for parts and a lack of mechanics are also contributing to delays in getting vehicles back on the road, firefighters say.

“Before the pandemic, we never had issues like we’re seeing now where we just don’t have enough equipment to get back into service as quickly as we were seeing then,” Artis said. “With parts, you might see a week to two week delay or other issues that delay it further. It’s just all over the map.

Artis said the plan is to lease the trucks for two months and the price is under negotiation.

The lack of trucks is the latest in a series of problems with fire service equipment and buildings that have alarmed firefighter associations and have repeatedly been brought to the attention of city council. The city has millions in repair needs for its fire stations, although the department typically receives the second-largest annual amount from the city’s general fund, behind the police department.

The department has spent nearly $74 million on 176 new vehicles over the past five years, including 17 new ladder trucks, according to the city.

Several fire station rehabilitation projects that will be funded from a $32 million share of 2017 bond money earmarked for public safety facilities have yet to begin, according to city records.

The same rings true this year, as Dallas Fire-Rescue is proposed to have a budget of nearly $368 million starting in October, which would be a $31 million increase from what city ​​council approved last fall.

The department also had problems with the buildings of the training academies. For parts of this year, the building used to simulate fire suppression was not deemed safe enough to train recruits and cost at least $11,000 to repair.

Last month, city officials said recruits had resumed live-fire training, but a small tower and another training building intended to simulate an apartment also needed repairs.

The Dallas Police and Fire Associations sued the city earlier this year, alleging city officials were unduly delaying pay raises for first responders. The lawsuit was dropped in June pending an updated negotiated settlement between the city and the associations on wages, working conditions and other issues. Otherwise, the associations could sue the city again.

In June, continuing issues led to a letter of support from the Dallas Fire Fighters Association to possibly fire City Manager TC Broadnax.

The letter cited pay issues, being short of more than 10 mechanics and having 12 trucks without working air conditioning.

“The equipment we depend on to protect citizens lacks basic preventative maintenance, leading to breakdowns and some fire stations do not have equipment to cover this area of ​​the city,” the letter said.

Jim McDade, president of the association, said most trucks’ air conditioning problems had been resolved over time, but he estimated the department still had about 10 mechanics left.

“They’re hard to find because they have to be very specialized and there’s more money to be made in the private sector,” McDade said. “It was certainly years of mismanagement by our mechanics in our workshop that led to this problem.”

Eighteen of the department’s 59 fire stations also need HVAC repairs or replacements, according to an estimate of the city’s inventory needs in August. The city estimates it would cost $9.1 million to fully fix the problems at 50 of the stations and an additional $1.5 million for the agency’s maintenance repair shop. Almost half of the stations, 28, were built in the 1970s or earlier.

Rescue Lt. Robert Borse, in a memo sent to the mayor and members of city council last week, said structural degradation had been seen at Fire Station 11 in the Oak Lawn area, including with the facade of the building. Built in 1909, it is the oldest fire station in the city and is a historical monument.

A crack breaks through an exterior brick wall at Dallas Fire Station No. 11, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022 in Dallas.(Elías Valverde II / Personal photographer)

The construction issues pose a potential hazard to personnel and pedestrians, and the condition of the building is still being assessed, Borse wrote.

“In the meantime, a security perimeter is being established with barriers to help mitigate the danger to pedestrians,” the memo reads.

No barriers were seen outside the station on Tuesday, but there were several cracks in the structure.

Last year, the city budgeted $15 million to maintain and supply fire department equipment. Nearly $17 million is proposed for the next fiscal year.

In response to the fire association’s letter, Deputy City Manager Jon Fortune told council members in August that the department’s facilities issues were due to “decades of deferred building maintenance.” He said the city has made progress in providing more money to meet the needs of the department and improving the department and the services provided to residents in recent years.

He listed a series of staff benefits and services that have been added, such as the construction of new ones or the replacement of six fire stations since 2017.

“While I believe we have room for improvement and should continually strive to improve, I am proud of the programs implemented and the efforts of our team to serve both DFR employees and our residents,” Fortune wrote.

The department could get more money. Mayor Eric Johnson plans on Wednesday to propose budget changes to channel more than $2.8 million for repairs and equipping DFR buildings. He proposes that the money should come from a planned pension stabilization fund, although he publicly opposed using the fund as a source for other resources when it was proposed earlier this month.

Artis said he was looking forward to the new budget, saying he thought the additional funding could mark a turnaround.

“I just hope and pray that the market improves a lot and that the delays we’re seeing right now” in getting broken equipment back on the street goes away by March, he said.