HOUSTON — The Houston Professional Firefighter's Association says at least a dozen fire trucks have been operating without working air conditioning in the more than 100-degree heat .
The union's president says the lack of air conditioning it has led to a rise in the number of heat exhaustion cases among firefighters.
A METRO bus was used as a cooling center for the Ladder 47 crew who spent the majority of the day putting out a fire off the South Sam Houston Tollway West near Kirby.
The temperature outside was as high was 102 degrees and it felt like 108 degrees.
The union's president says it is unacceptable for crews to be working in these conditions with gear and no air conditioning.
“We could be upwards of 25 fire units that have no working air conditioning units and that’s during the hottest week of the year,” HPFFA president Marty Lancton said.
Lancton sent a letter to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday requesting the City do something about the aging fire-response fleet immediately.
Lancton says the situation is desperate as temperatures have continued to break the 100-degree mark.
“We’ve sent more firefighters to the hospital this summer, in fact in this last month, than in previous months," Lancton said. "And we’re sending a lot of firefighters to the hospital. The health and safety of our firefighters is, and should be, our number one priority.”
The city of Houston is using METRO buses to provide some emergency relief.
The city says it is not uncommon to use them this way during the summer months at prolonged incident scenes.
KHOU 11 asked the city how many fire trucks are currently operating without working air conditioning. A city spokeswoman said she is working to find an answer.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña sent the following statement Monday evening:
"The health and safety of our firefighters is our primary concern. Maintaining functioning Air Conditioning on fire apparatus during the peak summer season is a challenge, but it is considered a high priority.
Due to the extreme firefighting conditions in the Houston summer climate, we have taken certain heat stress prevention actions during the summer months, including staffing a second rehabilitation unit, and encouraging Incident Commanders to call for additional resources early in the incident to ensure proper rotation of crews.
We are working with City of Houston Fleet services who has contracted with 2 outside vendors in addition to the City Maintenance facility and are working evenings and weekends to make AC repairs as parts become available and keep up with service demand.
In addition, an aggressive vehicle replacement strategy has been implemented in the last two years. During this administration the FY capital budget was increased to $10,800,000.00 from $5,535,838.
On the heavy apparatus side we have purchased and received 18 engines, 2 Ladder Trucks, and 1 tower apparatus since July of 2018.
In the same time period we have purchased 24 Ambulances as well as the following
10 Emergency/Rescue Support Unitsequipped with the following:
· Ford F250 4x4 Crew Cab
· Portable bumper mounted winch
· Camper top with a slide out tray
· Airpak/air bottle storage
· Vehicle is used to transport personnel and to tow rescue/evacuation boats
7 Incident Command Vehicles
Used by District Chiefs at incident requiring a command presence with high degree of personnel accountability.
These are steps in the right direction as we work to address years of inattention to fire apparatus replacement. Although the number of heat related injuries has declined from 62 incidents in FY18 to 33 in FY19, we acknowledge that any heat related emergency to our personnel and any air conditioning unit not working while in an extreme heat advisory is one too many."
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