Tenn. fire department SUVs lack radios, sit idle

The city received 20 new fire-red Chevy Tahoes in May, but for the most part they've sat idle

By Marc Perrusquia
The Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Still reeling from an expensive blunder that kept 90 new police cars out of service for months, the city of Memphis' Fleet Services unit is wrestling with another foul up — sidelined fire vehicles.

The city received 20 new fire-red Chevy Tahoes in May — at a cost of $533,000 — but, for the most part, those SUVs have sat idle, for three months now, in a lot at Flicker and Avery.

Just as the police Dodge Chargers were delivered with the wrong flooring, the fire vehicle purchase involves a costly misstep.

The Tahoes, purchased for use by battalion commanders, came without necessary equipment — emergency radios — that were supposed to have been simultaneously ordered.

"This was a case, frankly, where the ball got dropped," said George Little, the city's chief administrative officer.

"The key is assuring there's proper coordination in these projects.... As a practice, having that amount of inventory sitting around is not a good thing."

Little said the radio equipment wasn't available at the time of the Tahoe delivery. The city's Information Technology unit put out a request to potential bidders to purchase radios, but when replies came back in June there was only one bid and it didn't meet specifications, Little said.

The equipment purchase since has been rebid.

"The equipment should be installed by the middle of (this) week," when the Tahoes "should conceivably all be in service," Little said.

The radios will be installed at a cost of $58,762 for equipment and labor, officials said.

The Tahoe purchase originally was bid in December and the cars ordered in January, according to details released by city spokeswoman Tonya Meeks. The cars, costing $26,699 apiece, were received in May from Serra Chevrolet.

While waiting for the radio equipment, the fire department requested that the vehicles' wheels be painted silver. "The paint shop has completed five (vehicles) with 15 remaining," read a statement released by Meeks.

Workers also are attaching blue emergency lights to the tops of the vehicles. Ten of the vehicles observed by a reporter last week lacked blue lights.

Little said some of the Tahoes have been used on an occasional basis for various errands and tasks but none have been put in service.

The development follows the delivery of 150 police Chargers purchased for $3.2 million in April with the wrong flooring.

The cars came with carpeting instead of heavy-duty rubber or vinyl lining needed to ease cleaning of messes that arrestees often leave in the back of patrol cars.

When The Commercial Appeal first reported on the issue on Aug. 7, as many as 90 of the cars remained out of service.

The cars slowly are being put in service as workers replace the carpeting at a cost of $1,132 a car.

Copyright 2010 The Commercial Appeal, Inc.

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