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Concerns Raised Over Emergency Vehicles In Philadelphia

Matt-Rivers-web-headshot Matt Rivers
Matt Rivers joined CBS 3 and The CW Philly’s Eyewitness News team ...
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By Matt Rivers

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Your life could depend on them — ambulances and fire trucks.

But some firefighters are telling Eyewitness News, the Philadelphia Fire Department’s emergency vehicles are breaking down far too often, potentially putting people in danger.

Eyewitness News reporter Matt Rivers tries to find out why and presses for answers from the city.

A car accident last Fall left Derek Quinn seriously injured and as he was being rushed to the hospital:

“All of a sudden everything goes dark and I hear oh sh– we just lost power,” Derek Quinn said.

The ambulance he was in broke down on the Platt Bridge delaying his arrival to the ER, where his worried wife was already waiting.

“I assumed that he didn’t make it and that he wasn’t coming to the hospital because he didn’t survive,” Lindsay Quinn said.

Another ambulance came and eventually got Derek to the hospital.

“If there had been brain damage or swelling of the brain, or anything where minutes mattered, he wouldn’t be here,” Sheila Quinn, Derek’s mother said.

“In that time of waiting for the next ambulance, what if that would have been the end?” Derek Quinn said.

And Eyewitness News has learned an ambulance breaking down on the job in Philadelphia may not be that unusual.

The same goes for fire trucks, at least according to several veteran firefighters.

“If we can’t put equipment on the street that works, what are we even doing here?” a firefighter said.

Three firefighters, who spoke to us on the condition we withhold their identities say the department’s fleet is old, and not well maintained.

“Not in the shape you would want if you were having an emergency,” a firefighter said.

They gave us pictures of rust, exposed wiring, and this video of a leak on a pumper truck.

Experts say fire department vehicles in large cities can be worn out in eight to 10 years if not properly maintained.

In Philadelphia, the average age of a fire engine is 13.

For ladder trucks, it’s 10.

The oldest truck we found  — a 1995 pumper. That’s 19-years-old.

You don’t want that truck coming to get you,” a firefighter said.

One truck our sources told us about — Ladder 15.

Maintenance records obtained by CBS 3 show it’s needed repairs 51 times in the last three years.

“These trucks have been this way for a long time and they come out and say there’s nothing we can do about it. The truck is old,” a firefighter said.

“We provide them with the best equipment that we can afford,” Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer says they’re dealing with a limited budget from the city. He admits that some of the trucks are old, but says the fleet is well maintained.

“They should want brand new equipment every year. But it doesn’t mean that the equipment that they have isn’t working,” Sawyer said.

The Deputy Commissioner says the department has added 21 pumper trucks to its fleet since 2012, and that they plan on buying more vehicles next year.