Apr 8, 2014 11:32 PM by Andy Koen

News 5 Investigates: Pueblo fleet age at risk for breakdowns

PUEBLO - A majority of the emergency vehicles in the City of Pueblo fleet are old and need to be replaced. However, no money was budgeted this year to a dedicated vehicle replacement plan thus increasing the risk those vehicles could break down on the way to an emergency.

The News 5 Guardians dug through hundreds of pages of maintenance records and found those police cars broke down and needed to be towed at least 20 times last year. Fire trucked need to be towed eight times.

Using fleet inventory records and coordinating with commanders in the police and fire departments, the Guardians calculated the average police car on the street to be 11 years old and have driven 124,500 miles, the same distance as 17 trips between Pueblo and Panama.

Fire trucks, which also use their motors to pump water, are measured by their number of pump hours used. Each pump hour is the equivalent 33 miles driven. The average fire truck in Pueblo is 16 years old and has logged 13,462 pump hours. The equivalent average mileage of 444,275 miles is nearly the same as a round trip to the moon (477,710 miles.)

Even with regular maintenance, vehicles this old are prone to failure. One police car overheated twice last May. After subsequent repairs, the radiator was eventually replaced costing the department $1,009 in total repairs.

Two fire trucks that broke down needed new transmissions. Those repairs cost the fire department $18,031.

"Every time you take an officer out of the street, that's time that we could be responding to calls for service," said Pueblo Police Chief Luis Velez.

City manager Sam Azad said three consecutive years of structural budget deficits forced the city to put-off all vehicle replacement.

"We are behind by about $200 million on our infrastructure needs," Azad said. "I'm not just talking about police vehicles. I'm talking about replacement for fire trucks, fire stations, roads and bridges."

With no money in the budget for replacement, the police department relies on money seized in federal drug raids to buy cars. The problem is, those cars are wearing out faster than they can replace them.

"This past year as an example, I believe we only bought five new cars," said Chief Velez.

Due to the age of the fleet, mechanics give all police cars and fire trucks mandatory 48 point inspections even on a basic oil changes. They are also given a more thorough 65 point inspection once a year.

"The taxpayers are paying for this," said Fleet Maintenance Director Sam Ingo. "We've got to stretch that dollar as best we can."

To avoid escalating maintenance costs, Chief Velez and City Manager Azad plan to ask City Council to implement a vehicle replacement plan. One of the city's oldest fire trucks, a 1975 IHC crash truck stationed at the Pueblo Airport, will be replaced later this year.

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