New Detroit ambulances breaking down at an alarming rate

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The City of Detroit was given an extremely generous gift from the business community, 23 ambulance rigs. They were custom built and considered the "Cadillac" of ambulances with a luxury price tag of $161,000 per rig.

Now, just seven months later, 7 Action News has discovered many of the ambulances are breaking down at an alarming rate.

Joe Barney is the president of the union representing EMS workers.  "At one point in the past couple of weeks, we've had eleven of the trucks broken down," said Barney.

The scope of the problem is shocking.  Maintenance records obtained by 7 Action News reveal a grim picture of the fleet.

For example, in less than five months, medic 15 has been in the shop fourteen times. Medic 5 has been on the blocks for transmission problems, a leaking air bag, bad headlights and no power.

The other problems are a list of auto repair horrors. A steering wheel that is off center, horns that don't work, complaints of exhaust fumes in the cabin, electrical issues and ambulances that just won't start.

"You take a look at the 40 years EMS has been here, our vehicles are pretty much disposable vehicles. We've never been able to maintain our trucks.

Maintenance was a concern in the original deal for the ambulances. Documents show there was a plant for the vehicles to be leased and maintained by a nonprofit corporation. But, the ambulances were ultimately bought outright and union rules mandated city workers handle maintenance.

Don Austin is no longer commissioner of the department. Jonathan Jackson is the new commissioner and it will be up to him to fulfill Austin's pledge to maintain the rigs.

"We have to do a better job at maintaining our fleet," said Jackson. "We have made some significant changes in our repair facility management. There is more structure, there is better reporting, better tracking of the fleet."

Jackson says the department is running the ambulances hard, in some cases they are on the road 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "These Cadillacs have never seen Detroit's streets. Never been used in the way we use equipment here." said Jackson.

The city is partnering with Tri-County International trucks to assist with repairs. Employees at the repair shop have all been given additional training.

The City of Detroit is also in the process of ordering fifteen more ambulances. They won't be as advanced or as expensive as the donated fleet, but he believes it will help prevent to much wear and tear on the current fleet.

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