IG: Taxpayers foot the bill for vehicles that bring firefighters home

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Top Baltimore fire officials, many of whom travel to and from Pennsylvania in city-owned SUVs and pickup trucks, cost taxpayers $ 775,168 over the life of the vehicles.

That’s the conclusion of a report released today by Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming on one of the city government’s most coveted perks – getting a car to take home.

Cumming found that 35 firefighters traveled more than 350,000 miles driving such vehicles to and from work between November 2019 and November 2020.

An employee drove a Ford F-150 truck 59.4 miles (as the crow flies) from his home on the east coast to the fire department headquarters next to City Hall. Mileage was just a fraction below the 60 mile limit in which a city employee is not eligible for a vehicle.

The employee’s use of the pickup (no one was named in the report’s public synopsis) cost the city $ 3,220 in fuel and $ 8,020 in annualized maintenance and repair costs, according to data provided by the General Service Department.

In another case, an EMS supervisor traveled 25,513 miles to commute in a 2018 Ford Police Interceptor, a feat that cost taxpayers $ 7,182 in annual fuel and maintenance costs.

A total of 19 employees drove less than 15 miles to and from work, costing the city $ 341,826, while 11 drove 25 miles or more each way, costing taxpayers over 270 $ 000, according to the report.

Dorsey: “I’m blown away”

Cumming said the investigation was carried out following a complaint that “the lack of oversight and unnecessary enforcement of the take-out vehicle policy” at the BCFD allowed employees to abuse vehicles belonging to the BCFD. in the city.

His report to Mayor Brandon Scott includes detailed conclusions on maintenance, fuel, corrective repairs, damage and other costs related to vehicles, but does not draw any conclusions. Neither Scott nor city administrator Chris Shorter responded in writing to the report.

The fire department’s rationale for assigning take-out vehicles to senior supervisors – that is, so they can respond more quickly to fires and other emergencies – has been met with contempt by Councilor Ryan Dorsey.

“There is no emergency that can be encountered by an agent who lives outside of an emergency response area. Whether he has a city vehicle or has his own vehicle, he will be the last on the scene when he lives so far away, ”he said. The drink this evening.

Dorsey continued, “The city does not provide paid transportation to and from work for other employees. I am blown away by how anyone can justify this practice.

According to the report, any BCFD employee with on-call duties and living in town or within 60 miles of a fire station is eligible for a take-out vehicle.

In practice, however, take-out vehicles “are automatically allocated to BCFD employees who have the rank of deputy leader and above,” Cumming wrote, as well as to team leaders who work 24-hour shifts. , eight to ten days a month.

A discharge on the batteries

Deputy leaders typically use the vehicles for their daily commutes to the city, while team leaders – the majority of whom live out of state – often drive less than 15 days per month to complete their duties.

It has not been possible to determine how the 35 officers use the cars when they are not on duty, Cumming wrote, as firefighters disconnected the vehicles’ global positioning system (GPS).

It was not possible to determine how the officers used the cars outside of duty hours because the service disconnected the vehicles’ GPS.

Cumming said Fire Chief Niles R. Ford told his office that “GPS devices were uninstalled from BCFD take-out vehicles because their implementation drained the vehicle’s batteries.”

The commanders generally used the cars only for commuting. Once in their designated positions, they were assigned a separate vehicle for work assignments, a practice Dorsey described as “crazy politics and a waste of taxpayer money.”

Chief Niles Ford at the start of his tenure in 2015 as Baltimore Fire Chief, replacing James Clack. (Marc Reutter)

A relaxed policy

BCFD’s Procedural Manual (MOP) states that take-out vehicles are for official activities only and should not be used for personal activities, with the exception of routine errands when commuting.

Cumming, however, said Chief Ford had expressed “a more relaxed policy” regarding vehicle use, saying all 35 assistants and team leaders were allowed to go to restaurants with their families in city vehicles to ensure a quick response if called. an emergency.

“The head of the BCFD recognized that the family of the custodial member may need to accompany the member in an emergency in these scenarios. The MOP does not specify who is allowed to board city-owned vehicles. This can present a risk management problem for the city.

Looking at vehicle policies in Bowie, Laurel and Greenbelt, Cumming found that municipalities set distance requirements based on the fire station closest to an employee’s home.

They usually asked the employee to park his assigned car at the station and drive a personal vehicle home.

Ford: we have reduced the number

In a written response to the report, Chief Ford noted that his department had reduced the number of take-out vehicles by 10 in FY20 and “intends to closely review the current distribution of take-out vehicles and related policy to make possible adjustments ”.

He defended the city’s vehicle allocation policy to senior management, saying this improves “the effective and efficient performance of the BCFD’s emergency operational response”, while noting that it is also important to ” take into account the need to avoid potential financial waste “.

“We appreciate your review and the conclusions of your investigation as we continually strive to provide the best service to the citizens and visitors of Baltimore,” he concluded.

To reach this journalist: [email protected]

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