San Diego spending $59M on new fire engines, ladder trucks

The city will purchase more than three dozen new vehicles to upgrade its aging fleet


David Garrick
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — San Diego's effort to upgrade and standardize its firefighting fleet includes a new $58.5 million contract to buy more than three dozen ladder trucks, brush rigs, water tenders and other vehicles.

The four-year deal does not include plans to begin shifting the fleet to electric vehicles. San Diego officials said they are delaying such a shift until they see how the Los Angeles Fire Department fares with its first electric truck.

The city of San Diego will purchase $58.5 million in new vehicles to upgrade its fleet, including 16 fire engines and nine ladder trucks. (Photo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The city of San Diego will purchase $58.5 million in new vehicles to upgrade its fleet, including 16 fire engines and nine ladder trucks. (Photo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Councilwoman Barbara Bry last week asked why the deal includes an additional contingency fund of nearly $10 million and an unusually large inflation rate.

City officials said the cost of fire vehicles has been volatile in the wake of new tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The deal will help the city progress toward its goal of having all San Diego fire vehicles made by Pierce Manufacturing, which simplifies service and parts replacement, said Casey Smith, director of fleet operations for the city.

"We only have to stock one type of part for our fire apparatus," Smith told the City Council's Budget Committee March 11.

The deal covers the purchase of 38 total vehicles, including 16 fire engines, nine aerial ladder trucks, four brush rigs, two heavy rescue vehicles, two water tenders, two aircraft rescue vehicles, one bomb unit, one cliff rescue unit and one hazardous materials unit.

The city's need for aerial ladder trucks, which cost more than $1.5 million each, has increased as high-rise structures have been built in more neighborhoods across San Diego.

Most of the new purchases will replace aging fire vehicles, which typically have a lifespan of 12 years. Some will be used at new fire stations the city plans to open.

The contract includes $45.2 million for the vehicles, $2 million for parts, a $1.5 million contingency in case there is an unanticipated need for an additional vehicle, and a $9.7 million general contingency fund.

In addition, the contract uses an inflation rate of 3.5 percent to determine the purchase prices of fire vehicles the city will receive in the outer years of the contract, which runs through 2023.

"There's a lot of 'extra' built into this contract," said Bry, who requested that any use of contingency funds be brought to the Budget Committee for approval.

Councilwoman Dr. Jennifer Campbell asked why the contract doesn't include a shift to electric vehicles, which would help slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Smith said there is only one manufacturer that has begun to make electric firefighting vehicles. He said Los Angeles has ordered one vehicle, which is expected to be built and delivered in 12 to 14 months.

"We're very curious to see how that vehicle performs and if it could benefit the city," Smith said.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery questioned the structure of the contract with Pierce. Smith said the company won a competitive bid in 2018 to supply the city fire vehicles under a cooperative agreement.

He said having an exclusive agreement with one company is allowing the city to efficiently standardize its firefighting vehicles.

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©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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