Accident Killed KC FIRE CAPTAIN
Associated Press 1-23-05
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A fire pumper truck whose poorly serviced brakes contributed to a fatal crash had not undergone a routine inspection when recommended because of a maintenance backlog, city records show.
The accident that killed acting captain Gerald McGowan, 57, happened Sept. 5 when a car turned left in front of the fire truck. The driver of the truck hit the brakes as the pumper struck the car’s left front corner. The truck then skidded across asphalt, struck a stopped car and hit a tree. Three other firefighters and the driver of the second car were treated for injuries.
A police report said the truck’s brakes were “out of adjustment” and that the 35,400-pound pumper could have stopped at or near the tree if they had worked properly.
The pumper was scheduled for a service overhaul, including brakes, four months before the crash. But it wasn’t performed, Gerry Calk, Kansas City’s new fleet manager, told The Kansas City Star.
City records obtained by newspaper show the pumper had not had its brakes serviced since May 2003.
Sixteen months is far too long to go without maintenance, according to the Missouri Commercial Driver License Manual and the city’s own protocols.
The state manual recommends a seven-step inspection procedure every day a driver takes any heavy vehicle on the road. For trucks with air brakes, one of the steps is an inspection of the system that failed on the pumper truck.
The city also requires a daily check of each vehicle, including the brakes. But those checks are not conducted in depth, and records of them are no longer kept.
The city protocol also calls for a more comprehensive preventive maintenance service for each vehicle once a year, with less extensive service every three months. The pumper’s manufacturer recommends checking brake performance every three months and servicing brake parts every six months.
Fire Chief Smokey Dyer said there was a shortage of reserve vehicles for stations to use while their regular vehicles were serviced after firefighters responding to a blaze in south Kansas City were attacked in February 2004. A paramedic, shot twice in the chest as she took cover behind an ambulance, survived. But the gunfire damaged six vehicles, four of them significantly.
The shooting as well as maintenance headaches left over from a 2002 ice storm prompted the department to defer all but the most basic of service on the fleet of more than 50 vehicles. Dyer said the lack of reserve vehicles would have forced him to close some fire stations to meet the maintenance schedule.
“I made that decision, and I have to live with that decision,” Dyer said in an interview Friday. “Would I make the same decision today? I don’t know. Probably not. … In this job we make life-and-death decisions and then we have to live with those decisions.”