Atlanta conducts audit on fire fleet amidst equipment shortages

March 1, 2024

City audits fire department fleet due to maintenance and supply issues

The City of Atlanta has initiated an audit of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department’s (AFRD) vehicle fleet as it confronts longstanding equipment challenges exacerbated by maintenance difficulties and a backlog in orders.

City Council members highlighted concerns last fall regarding the inconsistent availability of fire trucks and ladders, noting that at any given time, between 15 to 20 vehicles could be sidelined for repairs.

A memo from the City Auditor’s Office, addressed to Mayor Andre Dickens and council members in December, revealed that a comprehensive review of fire fleet maintenance practices is in progress, with completion anticipated by late April.

The audit was spurred by concerns over public safety and postponed maintenance.

“Our risk assessment flagged public safety and deferred maintenance as areas of concern,” stated the City of Atlanta Audit Committee.

The lack of operational fire apparatus has heightened the city’s liability, affecting both the safety of fire department personnel and the public, according to Danielle Hampton, chair of the committee.

Recent developments and comparisons with other cities

This audit follows the department’s recent celebrations marking the completion of significant projects, including a new EMS hub and fire station in southwest Atlanta, which is notably burdened with a high volume of EMS calls.

In 2023, the AFRD responded to over 15,000 fire-related and nearly 50,000 medical emergency calls.

An analysis comparing Atlanta’s fleet renewal strategy with those of other cities revealed a stark contrast in investment and renewal rates.

Prior to recent investments by the City Council, Atlanta had acquired only 12 new fire equipment pieces since 2017, with no new acquisitions in the past five years.

This is in sharp contrast to cities like Nashville, which invested $15 million to procure 32 new engines and ladders in recent years.

The analysis suggests that Atlanta’s fleet renewal rate should be tripled to meet current needs.

Leadership and community responses

Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Rod Smith acknowledged the city leadership’s commitment to reinforcing the fire fleet.

“The mayor has been very supportive in addressing our fleet needs, to the point of we’ve had $20 million of capital purchases and we have well over 20 pieces of equipment that have been ordered and we are waiting for it to arrive,” he mentioned during a recent event.

The city’s efforts to enhance its fire services infrastructure were celebrated with the opening of a new micro-station and Fire Station 36 in Princeton Lakes, replacing the now-closed Fire Station 31.

These developments come as a response to equipment and staffing challenges that have led to the closure of at least three fire stations.

Looking towards a sustainable future

The city is also exploring innovative solutions to its vehicle challenges, including the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) for the fire department.

The Atlanta Fire Foundation initiated a fundraising campaign in December to acquire an electric fire engine, poised to be the East Coast’s first.

This initiative, supported by significant donors, aligns with the city’s clean energy goals and represents a potential long-term solution to the current equipment predicament.

Furthermore, the Atlanta City Council is contemplating a resolution to establish a Fire Station Design Committee that would include frontline firefighters in the planning of future fire service projects, addressing current infrastructural inadequacies.

FSJA Comment

The audit of Atlanta’s Fire Rescue Department’s fleet underscores the critical intersection of public safety, municipal accountability, and the pressing need for infrastructure modernization.

As the city grapples with the dual challenges of maintaining an effective emergency response capability and transitioning to more sustainable practices, this situation highlights the broader implications of urban growth and technological evolution on public services.

The move towards electric vehicles, in particular, marks a significant shift in addressing both operational efficiency and environmental sustainability, setting a precedent for other cities facing similar dilemmas.

Atlanta’s proactive stance in revising its fire fleet management and exploring innovative solutions could serve as a valuable blueprint for integrating traditional public safety measures with forward-thinking environmental policies.

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