Atlanta struggles with apparatus shortage, increasing call volume
Atlanta firefighters are dealing with several trucks out for repair and sharing others across firehouses
By Riley Bunch
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — Atlanta’s fire stations are sharing trucks amid a shortage of vehicles in the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department that, according to the city, is due to slow repairs and supply chain issues.
Since the beginning of 2023, the city’s fire department has responded to more than 63,000 calls for service — mostly medical emergencies — with more than 80% of calls located in downtown Atlanta.
But the department is struggling with a pervasive fire truck shortage that, officials say, is in large part due to the difficulty getting specialized parts for repairs and the slow purchasing of new trucks driven by supply chain backlog.
Last week, Atlanta Fire Chief Rod Smith told City Council members that Atlantans could rely on the department to respond to emergencies despite the equipment troubles.
“Our members are answering the call no matter what the conditions of the equipment,” Smith said.
As of last Monday, the department had 14 vehicles in need of repairs, including 7 ladder trucks and one rescue truck. According to the department, at least 8 trucks are being shared across different stations to accommodate calls.
Council member Dustin Hillis, chairman of the public safety committee, said he requested the department provide an update to council on the issue after a fire on Northwest Drive engulfed an apartment building.
“It was a two-alarm fire which should have had six engines and six trucks at it,” he said, noting that crews were only able to respond with two ladder trucks — including one of which that wasn’t fully functional.
Hillis also mentioned reports of trucks from the airport being utilized to respond to city fires, although the Hartsfield-Jackson fleet is specifically allocated for the airport alone.
“We’ve (gone) multiple years — I believe six plus years — over the past decade where we have ordered either less than we should have or zero fire apparatus,” Hillis said.
The city will need to purchase three to four fire engines a year and two to three fire trucks a year to make up for the lapse. But Smith said that even if council approves new trucks, those vehicles won’t come in from distributors for at least 36 months due to slow purchasing.
“This condition is not unique to a lot of our rescue, this is going on across the country,” the fire chief said. “So we basically would be getting in line with everybody else trying to purchase what is available.”
National standards recommend trucks be completely replaced after about a 10- to 15-year life cycle, while most of Atlanta’s trucks have been in commission for at least two decades, Smith said.
Currently, the department is waiting on the delivery of 11 pieces of equipment.